The missionaries that traversed the world in the 19th century to bring the gospel to people negatively affected their cultures. In Brazil, for instance, many traditional practices were discarded in favor of the new ways of life that were brought by the missionaries. This is because most missionaries viewed any practice by the natives as sinful and undesirable. As such, every effort was made to ensure that the natives relinquished their cultural practices in favor of the new way of life. However, there were instances that some of the missionaries became interested in the traditional life of the natives of the areas in which they went to preach and thus making them to convert to the natives’ way of life. In the film, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, this instance is brought to the light. This paper is a critical analysis of the film and offers personal comments on the themes revealed in the movie.
At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a movie that is interesting in the study of how missionaries influenced the cultural erosion in the many parts of the world. This movie is set on the Brazilian Amazon and presents the crisis of missionary work that is typical of many places in the world. As such, the movie presents some of the issues that remains unresolved when it comes to the real intention of the missionaries as they traversed across different cultures. The missionary world itself has come to agree that some of their activities did bring more harm to the societies that they visited than good. This is exemplified in the numerous efforts that are being done to preserve the few cultural practices that survived the missionary onslaught of the 19th century. This paper is a critique of the missionary work in Amazonian region especially to the Indian cultural group known as Niaruna.
A Critical Analysis of the Movie, “At Play in the Fields of the Lord”
The Niaruna group of the Indian in Brazil is a people that are rich in cultural practices. Right from food to clothing, these people exemplifies a formidable commitment to their culture and traditions. Therefore, when the missionaries come, the Niaruna people intend to preserve their culture as much as possible. However, this is not an easy task as the missionaries have already determined that the cultural practices of the Niaruna people are insidious and sinful. They therefore use decide to use every means possible to annihilate the cultural people of the native Niaruna.
At the face of the movie are the good intentions of missionary Martin Quarrier who arrives with his wife Hazel and son Billy in Niaruna region to spread the Christian gospel to the primitive Niaruna natives. However, their mission is interrupted by the accidental arrival of other two missionaries who recognize the wealth of the Niaruna people including gold. At this point, the natives still live peacefully upstream with their gold deposits while practicing their way of life in a traditional manner that best suits them. It is until the arrival of the other two missionaries that the natives are brought into war as the new arrival want to bomb the village so that they can amerce gold for themselves. This brings the irony in the activities of the missionary because instead of bringing the good news to the people, they prey on the innocence of the natives’ existence with gold deposits and therefore determine that the natives should be driven out if they need to get the gold.
Another irony is revealed when one missionary, Moon, takes an Indian traditional drug and become hallucinated. He takes the plane to go and bomb the village even though the natives have indicated signs of resisting any attempt of inversion from the visitors. He is captured and becomes one of them under their ignorance that he is a god. What is baffling in this incidence is Moon’s acceptance to be considered a god by the natives even though he himself is bringing the news of a Supreme Being. Clearly, after the capture, Moon being a missionary that he was, should have taken the opportunity to introduce his message to the natives. Instead, he takes that chance to glorify himself as the natives continuously consider him a god. This continues until he is killed when they realize that he was not a god after all.
Similarly, the hypocrisy of some of the missionaries is revealed when a son of a missionary dies while in the region from blackwater fever. Missionary Martin is disillusioned with the death of his son to the point of losing the very faith he intends to pass to the natives. It is evident that the topic of death is rarely discussed in many cultural practices because of its association to bad omen. However, the missionaries have the obligation as mandated with the Bible, from which they draw their authority, to believe that death is simply a transition to a better place in heaven. Therefore, it is completely absurd that the very missionary are overcome with grief from the death of one of their son to the point of losing their own faith. One would therefore wonder how they expect the natives to believe in the message they purport to bring to the natives. Indeed, some of the natives become their converts but this is short-lived as one of their converts kills Moon. It is as though the missionaries miserably fail to inform the converts of some of their fundamental principles like that of the need not to kill.
Moreover, missionaries are people who are supposed to instill ‘good’ behaviors amongst the people that they visit. However, this is not the case when Moon finds Andy swimming in a river. He kisses her and unfortunately catches cold which he spreads to the whole village making everyone sick. What is even more alarming is the refusal by missionary Leslie to give drugs to the people who are sick with cold. It is only Martin that agrees to give drugs to the sick in the village even though he himself is killed by the helper after surviving a bomb attack. Evidently, there is conflict of interest here because the natives also have refused to observe their courteous cultural practices of welcoming strangers as they did with Moon when he first landed in their village. This is an illustration that natives were wanted to preserve their territory no matter what good thing that the missionaries brought to them. In this circumstance, Martin is bringing the much needed treatment to the village, only to be killed by one of his confidantes that he trust to have been civilized.
In my opinion, the movie At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a true representation of how missionaries invaded the cultural foundations of many communities such as the Niaruna people. This was more felt among the groups which had not known their mission. The conflict between cultural practices and Christianity is evident insofar as each group on the divide is concerned. On the one hand, the natives try so hard to preserve their culture even though some of them convert to the new practice. On the other hand, missionaries also wander away from the message they are bringing to the natives as they become absorbed in the things and practices of the natives.
However, it is evident that missionary work has brought some enlightenment to most of the communities that they visited. Nevertheless, when you compare the good and the bad brought by the missionaries, the latter outweighs the former especially with the now infamous environmental and social erosion that is witnessed across the world. Initially, the Niaruna people were able to leave with their clothing style freely, intermingling with one another while preserving their environment well, as indicated by the availability of unexploited precious minerals in their region. In the contemporary world, however, environmental conservation is an issue of great concern across the world. This is because of the exploitation of the natural resources like gold and oil that leave tremendous impact on the environment. The world is no longer as peaceful as it was before the arrival of the missionaries in some regions. At the end of the movie, a common ground is that each people should be left to carry out their cultural practices like worshipping irrespective of the gods that one worships.