|"They came again and again, each time rounding up more of our waterbenders and taking them captive."|
|— Hama to Team Avatar.|
The Southern Water Tribe raids were a series of incursions by the Fire Nation military forces on the Southern Water Tribe. They had the long-term strategic goal of eliminating all waterbenders in the Southern Water Tribe, as well as decimating its population, as part of the Hundred Year War. The raids appeared to be a victory for the Fire Nation with the death of Kya, who was thought to be the last waterbender. However, Kya had lied about her identity in order to safeguard the survival of one of true last waterbender, her daughter Katara.
The Southern Water Tribe was founded by separatists of Northern Water Tribe descent. Unlike its sister tribe in the north, the Southern Water Tribe was split into numerous quasi-independent sub-tribes, and remained much weaker in economic and military terms. It lacked a powerful navy, and technologically outpaced by the rest of the world. Regardless, it had a significant population including a substantial number of talented waterbenders, and its center was a fortified city protected by thick walls of ice.
In 0 AG, Fire Lord Sozin launched a war on the other nations. The Fire Nation planned to conquer the entire world in the War. This inevitably meant an attack on the Southern Water Tribe. However, as the South Pole was less strategically important to the Fire Nation, with limited resources and only a small population, Fire Lord Azulon, Sozin's successor, came to the conclusion that eliminating waterbenders would be the best strategy, as this would prevent larger participation in the Hundred Year War, reducing resistance against the Fire Nation in the Earth Kingdom.
The Fire Nation did not intend to defeat the Southern Water Tribe in one great battle, as it was not necessary and would waste resources that could be used elsewhere. Their goals could be achieved more effectively and with less loss of life through a series of short raids that prevented a coordinated counterattack. To this end, the Fire Nation sent a number of naval forces south.
The first raids began in 40 AG. The raids first occurred on an ordinary day in the Southern Water Tribe, when no attacks by the Fire Nation had been anticipated by the local populace. The people were tending to their normal activities when a large force of Fire Nation Navy warships appeared on the shores of the South Pole. These ships bombarded the many villages scattered across the South Pole, forcing the unprepared waterbenders and nonbending warriors to defend their tribe.
In the course of the following years, the waterbenders and nonbending tribesmen put up a valiant fight against the firebenders and were successful in sinking or trapping several of their mammoth warships. However, they were outnumbered and outgunned, as the Fire Nation troops often overwhelmed their defenses, killing many waterbenders, warriors and civilians. The Fire Navy soldiers also used special tactics to trap and arrest the waterbenders.
Eventually, a special task force, the Southern Raiders, was created by the Fire Nation for the sole purpose of hunting down and killing the remaining waterbenders of the Southern Water Tribe. Consequently, the Fire Nation Navy did not participate in the raids anymore and left them to the raiders, who dealt with the task brutally and successfully.
Ultimately, all of the known waterbenders were captured or killed by the Fire Nation over a 54-year period, and the Southern Water Tribe was left in ruins. With the waterbenders gone, the nonbenders were forced to fend for themselves and without any sufficient means of defense, they barely controlled their own waters, which were patrolled by Fire Nation raiders.
All captured waterbenders were subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment in maximum security prisons, where they were denied water except for drinking. The only prisoner to escape was Hama, who did so using a new technique called bloodbending; she would later dedicate her life to exacting revenge on the nation that destroyed her tribe through the continued use of bloodbending during the full moon. Hiding in a Fire Nation village, she terrorized the locals for many years.
In 85 AG, the last known Southern waterbender, Katara, was born to a minor chief, Hakoda, and his wife Kya. As the last waterbender, Katara was a source of hope for her ailing tribe, despite her inexperience with the powerful art. Hakoda attempted to find a master for her, but his efforts ended in failure. A few years later, two other waterbenders, Siku and Sura, were born among another tribal group. Whereas Hakoda's people regarded Katara as their last hope, Siku and Sura's family feared that their abilities made them a target for the Fire Nation. As result, Siku and Sura were forbidden to openly use waterbending, and their small tribe settled deep in the South Pole's interior to avoid detection.
The Southern Raiders's commander, Yon Rha, was eventually informed by unidentified "sources" that one last waterbender still lived in Hakoda's village. To ensure that this waterbender could not impede the war effort, he launched a raid with the sole purpose of killing the waterbender.
The raid occurred in 94 AG; people saw snow mixed with soot beginning to fall from the sky, the now well-known sign of a Fire Nation attack. Southern Raider ships landed on the shores and the residents prepared for battle. While Sokka joined the fight alongside his father, Katara ran for her mother.
Upon arrival, the Southern Raiders charged at the outnumbered and outmatched warriors, who were led by Hakoda. Despite their disadvantage, the warriors managed to defeat many of the Raiders with little effort, but this was only a diversion so that Yon Rha could infiltrate the village in order to hunt down the waterbender.
Katara ran into her family's igloo to find that her mother, Kya, was being held hostage by Yon Rha. He was interrogating her on the waterbender's identity. Kya insisted that Yon Rha let Katara go. Katara was reluctant as she feared for her mother's safety, but fled when Kya reassured her that everything would be okay.
When Katara left, Yon Rha once again demanded to know who was the waterbender. Kya stated that there were no waterbenders, as they had all been captured in earlier raids. Yon Rha shot her down, saying that he was fully aware that one waterbender was still left, and that they would not leave until they found her. However, Yon Rha did not catch on to the fact that Katara was the waterbender, so Kya turned herself in as the last waterbender in order to protect her daughter. She agreed to be taken prisoner, but Yon Rha was not taking any prisoners this time, so he killed Kya with firebending, and fled back to his unit.
Katara ran to her father for help, and she and Hakoda rushed back to the igloo to save Kya. By the time they reached her, she was dead and Yon Rha was gone. The Southern Raiders fled the village, confident that they had achieved victory.
Aftermath and significance
The raids, particularly the earlier attacks, were very successful, depleting the Southern Water Tribe of most of their waterbending warriors. The final raid, however, conducted to kill the last remaining waterbender, inadvertently became a strategic failure, as Katara survived the assault and grew up to be one of the most powerful waterbenders in the world. She played a pivotal role in the demise of the Fire Nation, discovering the long-lost Avatar, Aang, six years after the raid and preventing Fire Lord Ozai's chosen heir, Azula, from claiming the throne by defeating her in battle.
Kya's death had a severe impact on her family: Hakoda and the last remaining adult warriors left the tribe for the Earth Kingdom in an effort to contribute to ending the war. This left Sokka in charge of the tribe, while Katara handled becoming the mother figure that the Southern Water Tribe had lost.
Apart from eliminating many of the Southern waterbenders, much of their culture was destroyed as well. The South fell out of balance with the spirits, causing the disappearance of the southern lights. This spiritual decay would continue for decades after the conclusion of the Hundred Year War.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Book Three: Fire (火)
- Hama stated that the raids started in 40 AG and that the Southern waterbenders stranded a Fire Nation cruiser during one of the first raids, a ship that, according to Katara, had been haunting Kanna ever since she was a little girl. However, Kanna was born in the Northern Water Tribe and only came to the South Pole as a teenager.