- This article is about the location in the series. For the location in the film, see Southern Water Tribe. For other tribes, see Tribe (disambiguation).
The Southern Water Tribe is an independent state located at the South Pole and is the southern division of the Water Tribes. A federation of several smaller tribes, the South is ruled by a Council of Elders, who also elect the tribe's chief. The Southern Water Tribe has had an eventful history and saw times of prosperity and freedom as well as decline and genocide. Before the Hundred Year War, the South was thriving and had a unique culture and waterbending style.
After a series of brutal Fire Nation raids, however, the South Pole was left devastated and nearly all the surviving waterbenders had been taken prisoner. By 99 AG, the Southern Water Tribe was on the brink of extinction, with its culture shattered, its main city largely abandoned, and its unique waterbending style effectively erased. This changed when Katara and Sokka discovered Avatar Aang in 99 AG and began to travel together with him in order to end the war and save the world. After this group's involvement in the Siege of the North, the Northern Water Tribe administrated a relief effort led by Master Pakku, who brought along a number of warriors, waterbenders, and healers to aid in the Southern tribe's redevelopment. This mission proved to be successful, resulting in political rapprochement between the two tribes.
Following the Hundred Year War and the re-involvement of both Water Tribes in international affairs, the South became a major economic power: Both its population and infrastructure swelled, with people mostly living in its coastal capital and several villages nearby. The people of the Southern Water Tribe are modern, progressive, and focused on commerce and trade, but in contemporary times lack the spirituality that had long defined their culture. However, the Southern Water Tribe achieved true independence only after the Water Tribe Civil War that Avatar Korra ended with the South's independence. in 171 AG; before this, they had been an autonomous tribal confederation under the Northern Water Tribe's jurisdiction.
Foundation and growth
Originally, the Water Tribe existed as one nation, solely based in the North Pole. However, following civil unrest, a large group of warriors, waterbenders, and healers journeyed to the South Pole to engender a new tribal confederation of several autonomous chiefdoms. The Southern Tribesmen eventually agreed to reaccept the Northern chief as their ruler, as long they were granted autonomy and their own government for internal affairs. As such, the chiefdoms of the South were governed by a supreme Council of Elders that in turn answered to the Chief of the Water Tribes. Otherwise, the minor chiefdoms worked with each other on equal terms and had far-reaching autonomy, including making their own laws. Over time, Southerners married into the ruling family of the North, strengthening the tribal ties.
Despite this political rapprochement, the enormous geographical distance between the two sects caused them to evolve differently. Even though their cultures were still similar—as they maintained common customs and celebrations until 40 AG—the people of the North and South developed completely differently in regard of society and politics. The Southern Water Tribe was far less hierarchical than the North, enjoying a high degree of gender equality. The Southern tribesmen eventually built a massive inland city as their political and cultural center and the tribe began to prosper, even though it never reached the size and importance of the North. Some tensions remained between the sister tribes, as some Northerners regarded the Southerners as barbarians, whereas some among the latter believed the North to be an oppressive society. During these years, a tradition of celebrating the Glacier Spirits Festival began, during which the people would fast and meditate, and the tribal elders would commune with the spirits as they danced in the sky to create the southern lights; it ended on the day of the winter solstice.
The Southern tribesmen also began to travel around the world. One group of Southern waterbenders discovered the Foggy Swamp in the Earth Kingdom thousands of years before the Hundred Year War. They decided to stay because of the abundant amounts of water there, engendering the Foggy Swamp Tribe in the process. However, as the Foggy Swamp tribesmen maintained isolation, the people of the South Pole never learned of these events.
Economic stagnancy and the age of pirates
Though the Southern Water Tribe remained relatively stable, it was unable to prosper to the same degree as its sister tribe. By late 4th and early 3rd century BG, the south was comparatively weak in economic and political terms, and regarded by outsiders as impoverished and technologically outpaced. At the time, it claimed the uninhabited Chuje Islands as its own, but was too weak to force the Earth Kingdom to give up the islands.
The South's weakness contributed to many Southerners taking up piracy as profession to achieve the wealth and power they could not gain through legitimate means. As the South lacked a professional navy due to a lack of native woods to build warships, pirates quickly became widespread around the South Pole, further isolating the Southern Water Tribe economically. One family of Southern descent in particular became infamous as leaders of the Fifth Nation, an ethnically mixed people of corsairs that roamed the seas for generations. The Southern Water Tribe eventually disowned the entire family tree of Tagaka, head of Fifth Nation at the time. Regardless, Tagaka portrayed herself as protector of the Southern Water Tribe, and even attempted to get appointed as "Guardian of the South Pole".
In 296 BG, the Fifth Nation was defeated by a force led by Yun, an Earth Kingdom man presumed to be the Avatar. Afterwards, the Earth Kingdom's leading politician Jianzhu requested Lu Beifong to grant the South a loan to develop its own deepwater navy to protect itself as well as trade in its waters, thereby ensuring future progress and prosperity. Jianzhu's efforts came to naught due to the machinations of his political rival, Chamberlain Hui, and the Beifong patriarch refused to grant any loans. As result, the Southern Water Tribe remained politically and militarily weak.
The Great War and near-destruction
With the outbreak of the Hundred Year War in 0 AG, the Southern Water Tribe took up arms against the Fire Nation. Fire Lord Sozin ordered the Fire Nation's navy and air force to attack the tribe at the conflict's start, but it endured these attacks rather unscathed. Around 40 AG, however, Fire Lord Azulon began to perceive the South as a threat for his expansion and ordered his navy to annihilate the tribe's military strength. Consequently, the Fire Navy employed raiding forces of firebenders and cruisers in order to capture or kill as many Southern waterbenders as they could. By doing so, the Fire Nation hoped to destroy all resistance in the South. Despite being outnumbered, the waterbenders and nonbending warriors were able to defend themselves against the raids through fierce resistance, boasting minor victories such as successfully trapping a Fire Nation ship which eventually developed into the shipwreck. However, their determination was not enough and a systematic set of attacks eventually left Hama as the only waterbender left, prior to her eventual surrender.
Following the widespread destruction and loss of life that the raids had caused, tribal unity declined and the capital city was largely abandoned. The small chiefdoms and tribes that formed the Southern confederation divided and scattered throughout the South Pole and all contact to the Northern Water Tribe was lost. Many Southerners would blame the North for effectively abandoning them to the Fire Nation and eventually sought to aid the Earth Kingdom in their deepest crisis. Even though the South was virtually defeated, the raids continued by the Southern Raiders, who attacked the minor tribe of Chieftain Hakoda in 94 AG; they had been informed that one waterbender remained in the Southern Water Tribe and were subsequently assigned to eliminate that person. Knowing that the remaining waterbender was her eight-year-old daughter, Katara, Kya gave her life by confessing to Captain Yon Rha that she was the person they were after. Her death provided the Fire Nation with the impression that the Southern waterbending lineage had been completely eradicated, which left Katara as the sole known survivor. At least two other waterbending children, Siku and Sura, survived in hiding in a remote village deep in the South Pole's interior.
In the final years of the Hundred Year War, the Southern Water Tribe was in dire straits and teetering on the brink of extinction. As its population struggled to survive, many old traditions to appease the spirits were abandoned or forgotten, rendering the land spiritually unbalanced as well. As a result, angry spirits turned dark and formed the Everstorm. Many remaining male warriors left their chiefdoms for the Earth Kingdom to aid them against the Fire Nation, leaving the population of the tribe to be consisted mostly of elderly, middle-aged women, mothers, and very young children.
In 99 AG, Katara and Sokka discovered Avatar Aang, which resulted in Fire Prince Zuko raiding their village and capturing Aang. Sokka and Katara subsequently left the village as well in an attempt to save the Avatar and began to travel together with him to end the war. After the Siege of the North, a group of waterbenders and healers from the Northern Water Tribe were sent to the South to help rebuild it, one of whom was the waterbending master Pakku. This mission became known as the "Southern Reconstruction Project".
The Southern Reconstruction Project
- See also: Southern Reconstruction Project
Even though the initial Northern relief expedition aided the Southern Water Tribe in the slow process of rebuilding, the living conditions and economic situation of the South remained dire, forcing several Southerners to seek work abroad. The end of the Hundred Year War made the Southern Reconstruction Project easier, and the situation of the Southern Water Tribe started to improve greatly by 102 AG. Political unity was restored, and Hakoda, originally a local chief, was elected Head Chieftain of the entire South. Under his guidance and with the aid of the Northerners Maliq and Malina, a new city was erected in the place of Hakoda's old village, factories as well as docks were built, and new technologies were introduced to improve the living conditions in the south and help it become an equal partner in world politics. One company that aided the Southern Reconstruction Project was Earthen Fire Industries.
The growing influence of the North did not meet universal approval, however, as many Southerners feared that their sister tribe was actually planning to subjugate the south and wipe out its unique culture. An extremist faction led by the Hundred Year War veteran Gilak consequently prepared for a rebellion to overthrow Hakoda and drive out all Northerners as well as foreign influences.
When a gigantic amount of crude oil was discovered beneath the South Pole, however, the Northern Water Tribe decided that the Southerners were not ready to handle such a resource. Secret plans were drafted which would effectively make the South a colony of the Northern Water Tribe. Malina later decided that they should abandon this approach, but unbeknownst to her, Maliq continued to prepare for the colonization of the South Pole. Gilak's followers managed to steal Maliq's documents in 102 AG, and revealed his plans to the public at a festival celebrating the Southern Reconstruction Project's success. Though Gilak failed to kill Maliq and Malina, and was captured along with most of his militants, his message spread among the South's population. Resentment grew about the Northern Water Tribe, and elements of Hakoda's security forces subsequently helped the extremists to break out of prison.
As Hakoda held a conference with Fire Lord Zuko and Earth King Kuei to discuss international collaboration in developing the South, Gilak and his nationalist rebels entered and began attacking, successfully managing to kidnap the Earth King. Gilak sent a messenger hawk to the town hall, offering to exchange the king for Chief Hakoda. During the exchange at the Bridge of No Return, Team Avatar deceived Thod and his chi blockers by wearing protective chainmail, though Gilak refused to surrender and cut the suspension rope in an attempt to kill Kuei and Hakoda. Team Avatar ultimately managed to rescue the two heads of state, although Gilak fell to his death in the ravine, putting an end to the nationalist revolt.
Resurgence under Northern rule
- See also: Dark spirit incidents
Over time, the North restored its rule over the Southern Water Tribe and sent many more waterbenders and resources to aid its sister tribe. Eventually, the South grew prosperous again, prompting the North to demand taxes in return for their help. With the South's economic and social resurgence, the old Council of Elders was restored and resumed their rule over the South Pole, maintaining the tribe's autonomy under jurisdiction of the Northern chief. Following the creation of the United Republic, the South was given a seat on the United Republic Council, charging one of its residents with helping to oversee the sovereign state. Many of the Southern Tribe's citizens also emigrated to the United Republic over the years, where a cultural center was built for them in the capital itself.
In 153 AG, the next Avatar in the cycle, Korra, was born in the Southern Water Tribe. A large compound was built for her to train under the Order of the White Lotus in waterbending, earthbending, and firebending. By this time, the tribe's villages had grown into cities and the formerly uninhabited tundra became colonized. With its growing economic power, the Southern tribesmen became more independent and discontent with the North's rule and its taxes. Support for independence became widespread and the Northern chief was seen as little more than a figurehead, as opposed to the Council of Elders and the local chieftains, who were more readily accepted as rightful rulers of the Southern Water Tribe. In 170 AG, Avatar Korra left the compound and the Southern Water Tribe to help the world.
By early 171 AG, dark spirits began to attack tribesmen at the South Pole and ships in the Southern Tribe's waters. Consequently, Unalaq, chief of the Water Tribes at the time, traveled to the South in order to restore local spirituality and end the attacks. Taking Korra as his spiritual disciple, the chief traveled with her to the center of the South Pole in order for her to open the spirit portal and allowing the spirit lights to return, thus lighting up the Southern sky with dancing spirits once more.
- Main article: Water Tribe Civil War
After the spirit portal was opened, Chief Unalaq summoned his forces to the tribe in an abrasive attempt to unite the North and the South. Most Southerners felt that the Northern military presence was threatening their autonomy and unrest soon ensued, resulting in talks of a rebellion. Avatar Korra attempted to defuse the tension by reminding her people that they were all part of the same tribe, though her mediation was seen by the Southerners as her siding with the Northern regime.
Eventually, a group of rebels, supported by Varrick Global Industries, made an attempt to kidnap Unalaq, though Korra thwarted the plot as it was being carried out. The chief commanded that the rebels be thrown in prison forever, but Korra successfully convinced him to allow them to stand trial, as she thought it would appease the South. However, Unalaq suspected Korra's parents, Tonraq and Senna, of being part of the attempted assassination and ordered them arrested. The accused were brought before Judge Hotah, who acquitted Senna but sentenced the others to life imprisonment. Korra later confronted Hotah and learned that the entire trial was a sham orchestrated by Unalaq. Thus, she and her friends broke her father and the rebels out of prison, officially igniting a civil war between the Water Tribes.
Now led by Tonraq, the rebels subsequently retreated to the hills outside of the capital city. Unalaq decided not to confront them, however, opting to increase the protection of the spirit portal, as it was vital to his plans. With Harmonic Convergence nearing, Tonraq went on the offensive, though his forces were completely defeated by the Northern troops, who received help from dark spirits.
Despite this defeat, Avatar Korra defeated Unavaatu, the merger between Unalaq and Vaatu. Soon after, she declared the Water Tribe Civil War to be over and announced the Southern Water Tribe's independence with the reinstated Council of Elders having elected Tonraq as the new chief.
Just a week after gaining its independence, the South was infiltrated by Hundun's dark spirits and Equalists. They occupied large parts of the South Pole's hinterland and the local spirit portal, though were eventually driven out by Avatar Korra.
Months later, Korra spent two years at the Southern Water Tribe, recovering physically from her mercury poisoning suffered at the hands of the Red Lotus, until her departure to the Earth Kingdom in 173 AG.
Head of State: Chief
Head of Government: Chairman of the Council of Chieftains and Elders
Originally, the individual villages and sub-tribes of the Southern Water Tribe were each led by a single leader, or chief. Hakoda led the southernmost tribe in 100 AG, for instance. During this time, the Southern Water Tribe was a much smaller and less stratified society, unlike its Northern counterpart. The chiefs treated each other as equals, and the smaller tribes had great autonomy over their jurisdiction. Following the Hundred Year War, Hakoda was elected Head Chieftain of the Southern Water Tribe, making him the South's head of state.
Years later, the Southern Water Tribe accepted the authority of the Northern Water Tribe Chiefdom, but retained autonomy. A Council of Chieftains and Elders officially govern the Southern Water Tribe, consisting of male and female representatives of the different cities, villages, tribes, and social classes within the settlements. The council assembles in the Southern Water Tribe Royal Palace, which serves as the formal seat of government in the South Pole. Traditionally residing in the North, the tribal chief does not hold much more than a figurehead position to the Southerners; his primary duties involve ceremonial and representative tasks.
In times of crisis, nevertheless, the Chief of the Northern Water Tribe can take a much stronger hold on the Southern Water Tribe's functions. Northern intervention, however, is not well received in the South, as was evident when a blight involving dark spirits prompted Chief Unalaq to intervene in the Southern Water Tribe's affairs. Many tribesmen saw Unalaq and his forces as oppressors, demonstrating the strong spirit of independence in the South.
Citizens of the Southern Water Tribe who commit a crime have the right to a trial prior to being incarcerated. The following tribunals are held in a courtroom located inside the royal palace, where a single jurist oversees the court proceedings.
- Main article: Southern Water Tribe capital city
The old capital of the Southern Water Tribe, positioned on a northern shoreline, was a large inland city by 40 AG, and consisted of dozens of tents and igloos surrounded by a very large ice wall. A central igloo lay in the center of the village, which was circular in design. However, the capital shrunk in size due to constant raids by the Fire Nation and the departure of the Water Tribe warriors.
Toward the end of the Hundred Year War, the capital had been reduced to a tiny village, was surrounded by a low, roughly circular snow wall broken up by a snow watchtower, which was built by Sokka, to the north and a non-gated entrance to the south. Inside were eight residential tents, arranged in a semi-circle around a communal fire pit. A giant igloo hugged the east wall, while a handful of smaller units clustered the north wall. Outside, to the right of the entrance, was a small igloo structure that served as the village outhouse. The remaining population stood at less than two dozen, with ten older women, ten young children and one domesticated polar dog.
In the years after the end of the Hundred Year War, the capital grew considerably, a testament to the success of the Northern Water Tribe volunteers who helped rebuild the Southern Water Tribe during the time of Avatar Aang. By 102 AG, it had expanded to become a major town with a town hall, and was surrounded by an ice wall with better watchtowers. Docks had been constructed, though they were not yet part of the town.
By 171 AG, the once small capital had grown into a large, modern city, and the docks had been expanded into a large harbor at the edge of the city.
- Main article: Shipwreck
West of the village lies a Fire Navy ship, torn open by jutting ice shelves. Though the shipwreck is a relic of the Fire Nation's historic first strike, its booby traps are still in working order, as Aang accidentally set off a flare that was meant to signal the Fire Nation. It is later revealed that the Southern waterbenders were responsible for the wrecking of the vessel, as a brief scene shows them raising the ship up with ice and grounding it.
- Main article: Southern Water Tribe compound
The Southern Water Tribe compound lies deep within the South Pole, outside the capital. It is a small, isolated encampment secured by thick ice walls and a large gate. The enclosure features several watchtowers, large buildings for shelter, an obstacle course and sub-level pens lined with hay for fauna, such as Naga. A large raised platform made of ice is located in the center of the camp, both for Korra's bending training and combat practice. Members of the Order stood on a wooden pavilion overlooking the platform, where they monitored Korra's progress. Sentries from the White Lotus also man the watchtowers and clear any individual wishing to enter or exit the encampment.
A significant stretch of tundra covers most of the South Pole. In contrast to the mountainous landscape of the North Pole, the frozen plains of the South are broken only occasionally by mountains. The harsh terrain was made all the more dangerous by a brutal, unending storm that had battered the South for decades.
Known as the Everstorm, this spiritually-charged blizzard rendered the land uninhabitable. Dark spirits were known to haunt the tundra's ice caves. Within the tundra lies a great frozen forest where many dark spirits reside. In the center of this sacred forest is a portal to the Spirit World, which is only accessible by the Avatar on a solstice. It is also the source of the southern lights.
Bridge of No Return
- Main article: Bridge of No Return
In the mountains of the Southern Water Tribe lies the Bridge of No Return. The rope bridge was said to have once served as a form of punishment for criminals of the South, who would be forced to walk across it and never return. The terrain on the other side of it was the most treacherous in the entire South Pole, making it impossible to survive there.
- Main article: Ice dodging
The tribe has a unique rite of passage called ice dodging, a coming-of-age ritual that serves as a young boy's first step toward being realized as a true warrior. When a boy reaches the age of fourteen, his father takes him out to sea and challenges him to guide the boat through iceberg-studded waters. The father watches but doesn't interfere. If the boy succeeds, his father places a ceremonial mark on his forehead symbolizing the virtue he demonstrated most prominently during the test. The Mark of the Wise is awarded to those who show leadership and decisiveness, the Mark of the Brave is given for inspirational displays of courage, and the Mark of the Trusted is bestowed upon those who prove themselves to be exceptionally steady and dependable.
The Southern Water Tribe is willing to adapt traditions such as ice dodging when circumstances warrant it. When Bato realized that Sokka had never undergone the ritual due to Hakoda's departure, he took Sokka, Katara, and Aang on an ice dodging expedition in rocky Earth Kingdom waters. When they succeeded, he marked all three and declared Aang an honorary member of the Water Tribe.
While the Northern Water Tribe is an exceptionally strict patriarchal culture, gender roles in the Southern Water Tribe are far less rigid. Katara was shocked to learn that the Northern Tribe forbade women from learning waterbending apart for healing purposes, seeing how her father Hakoda recognized her bending abilities early on and unsuccessfully sought a master to teach her. Female waterbenders actively participate in battle, and female nonbenders such as Lirin also serve in combat roles such as officers and guards. Furthermore, women are never forced into arranged marriages, but are instead free to marry whomever they see fit.
Nevertheless, the Southern Tribe doesn't seem to be entirely free of gender roles: Until his encounter with the Kyoshi Warriors, Sokka displayed a sexist attitude, claiming on numerous occasions that men are naturally better than women at tasks like hunting, fishing, and non-bending combat. During the siblings' childhood, Katara was responsible for "women's work" like washing and mending clothes, including Sokka's. In contrast, he was allowed to spend his time training younger boys to defend the village against the Fire Nation, despite the fact that his preparations were inadequate to deal with any real attack. However, even Sokka was notably shocked and confused to learn of the Northern Water Tribe's patriarchal customs. In general, the Southern Water Tribe seems to have a simpler, less hierarchical culture and a more open-minded and flexible mindset.
Children of the Tribe play a game called penguin sledding, which consists of catching an otter penguin and riding its back as a makeshift sled. One typically lures in the otter penguin with a fish to make catching it easier.
In 99 AG, most of the residents in Sokka and Katara's village slept in tents made of sealskin. However, prior to the destruction inflicted during the Fire Nation attacks, residents of the Southern Water Tribe lived in igloo-like structures.
The inside of a typical Southern Water Tribe hut contained a number of animal pelts that were placed on bamboo floors. At one end of the hut, a sealskin tent would be set up for use as a sleeping chamber. Ceremonial animal headdresses, spears, and animal skins were usually displayed on the walls of the hut.
In the center of the hut would be a square fire pit, surrounded by a single line of bricks. The fire provided heat for the hut, and was also used to prepare food. There were mats for sitting on all four sides of the fire pit. A stew post, used for cooking, would hang suspended from the ceiling, hovering above the fire.
Warriors of the Southern Water Tribe wield weaponry that includes clubs, scimitars, bone spears used in spear fishing, bladed boomerangs, machetes with whale teeth on the dull side of the blade, and highly resistant shields. Black and white warpaint in a pattern reminiscent of a wolf is traditionally applied to the face before entering a battle. During the invasion of the Fire Nation, all the warriors wore wolf-headed helmets and suits of armor.
It seems as though all adult men of the tribe are expected to be fully trained warriors. Two years prior to Avatar Aang's reawakening, all the tribe's men sailed to the Earth Kingdom to join the war effort. It is unclear whether women without bending abilities are ever allowed to train as warriors; but there are very few women left behind, so the lack of women in the war party may simply reflect the tribe's overall population decline as a result of Fire Nation attacks. It is clear that women who are waterbenders are accepted as fighters in the Southern Water Tribe: A flashback shows Hama and other women using their waterbending abilities to defend the tribe against the first Fire Nation raid. and the northern faction's custom of restricting female waterbenders from combat takes Katara completely by surprise.
Although the tribe had grown significantly in size after the end of the Hundred Year War, by 171 AG, it still lacked manpower and organization when compared to the Northern forces.
Natural resources and foods
Inhabiting frozen poles near the seas, the Water Tribes inherently are dependent on the oceans and the frozen tundra for a majority of their natural resources. The South Pole harbors the greatest known deposit of crude oil in the world.
Skins from seals are used to create tents, while pelts from polar bears and other furry animals are used for clothing and as covering for barren surfaces. Naturally, hunters and fishermen of the Water Tribes are some of the best in the world in their field.
Sea prunes are a particular favorite fruit and ingredient. Squid and seaweed can be used to make a wide variety of dishes, including soup, seasoning, and even bread and cookies. The Southern Water Tribe has its own cuisine which is similar to that of the Northern Water Tribe, but still has many unique elements. It is dominated by meat. Following the foundation of the United Republic, the Southern cuisine spread there as well. For instancance, a renowned restaurant, Narook's Seaweed Noodlery, offered authentic Southern Water Tribe cuisine in Republic City by 170 AG.