By Amaya

As an author of fanfiction, sometimes reviews can be a wonderful thing, and sometimes they can be…less so, but sometimes, reviews make you think, and that was the situation that led to this little essay.  I realized that I had done my readers a great disservice and forgotten to give them  the appropriate background assumptions from which I was working for my determination of the rites of passage to adulthood in Na’vi culture.  This is, of course, only my interpretation, there is plenty of debate on this subject on the forums at learnnavi.org, but having read through the Activist Survival Guide (an imperfect resource, but one of the only ones yet available) the Pandorapedia (similar disclaimer applies) and the Avatar script, I was not able to find anything definitive, and so had to make some assumptions.

Having some training in Anthropology myself, I’m fairly familiar with what constitutes a “Rite of Passage” and, more importantly, how rites of passage vary between different groups even within one clan.  Generally there are more and more physically difficult rites of passage for those who wish to attain a higher status, such as warrior.  In this essay there are two main rites of passage I will deal with:  Iknimaya and Uniltaron.

About iknimaya, Neytiri herself tells us “You will bond with your ikran and then become taronyu, hunter.”  Therefore I interpret this to mean that iknimaya is a rite undertaken only by those who will be hunters.  Weavers, singers, and other craftspeople do not generally undertake the rigors and possible death involved with iknimaya.

Uniltaron, on the other hand, I interpret to be a general rite of passage into adulthood.  This is harder to understand from the movie alone, as the scenes detailing Jake’s uniltaron were omitted from the final copy, but they are still in the script which is/was online, and the uniltaron scene was included with other deleted scenes in the Collector’s Edition.  Uniltaron is what Jake is talking about when he says “I just have to do this one last thing, the last stage of becoming a man, and then I can speak and they have to listen.”  It is spoken of as a “second birth” and the rite following which one takes one’s place among the clan.  “The Na’vi say everyone is born twice”.  This is actually a very telling statement.  In many, many human societies, the rite of passage into adulthood involves a “death” of the child and “rebirth” as an adult.  Uniltaron, then, I interpret to be the rite EVERYONE undertakes in order to become an adult member of the tribe.  As Neytiri says, it is only after uniltaron that Jake can “make his bow from the wood of hometree and (more importantly) take a woman.”  If only those who have passed through uniltaron may mate, and if uniltaron was only for warriors, (a misinterpretation I have seen more than once) then either EVERY member of the tribe would be a warrior (unlikely, as a warrior class tends to be a rather elite class in any society.  Anyone can fight if pressed, of course, but a trained warrior is special) or mating would be limited to those who were of that elite class, an equally unlikely situation.

As far as rites of passage to become a warrior, I don’t believe we’ve actually seen or been told of any as yet, and that also makes a lot of sense since these sort of rites are usually EXTREMELY well-protected by their individual groups and kept VERY private.  It’s actually unlikely that even Na’vi outside the warrior class know all of what is involved in the rites to become a warrior, and if they do not know, why would any warrior trust an uniltìranyu enough to share such privileged information?

So, in short, uniltaron and iknimaya are separate rites of passage, neither one necessitating the other to come first or second, (although it is likely that iknimaya generally comes first) and iknimaya is a specialized rite, pertaining only to the hunter class within the Na’vi society.