‘Avatar: The Way Of Water’ World Of Pandora: Metkayina, Tulkuns, And Marine Life, Explained

Director James Cameron managed to amaze an entire generation of moviegoers with his vision of a phantasmagoric landscape of the alien world Pandora in his sci-fi masterpiece “Avatar” (2009). Using his imagination and with the help of some of the best character designers in the industry, he created a living, breathing world filled with flora and fauna not too dissimilar from ours but distinctive enough to bewitch us with all its bioluminescent beauty rooted in magic-realism. In “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the setting has been shifted from lush rainforests to coastal areas, tropical coral reefs, and oceanic depths as Jake and his family find a new home to settle in. As a deep-sea explorer James Cameron utilized his experience in creating an ethereal, serene marinescape which adds to the fictional lore of the alien moon. The awe-inspiring world-building of the movie reflects the spiritually symbiotic nature of life in Pandora even more intimately than in the first installment. 


Spoilers Ahead

The Tribe Of Metkayina, Explained

After defeating the humans in the great war and driving them out of Pandora, the Omaticaya clan, led by Jake Sully, has found peace at long last. The main protagonists of the film, Jake and Neytiri, started their own family and found a bliss in raising their kids. As the events of “Avatar: The Way of Water” take place, we find the peaceful slumber of Omaticaya, and the Sully Family is given a rude awakening as, after fifteen years, RDA has returned to recolonize Pandora. This time they’re here to make Pandora a habitable place for humans, as they want to terraform the moon. Late General Quaritch has returned in a Recombinant body and seeks revenge for his ‘death’ and will stop at nothing before hunting down the Sully family. In order to save their family and their clan, Jake and Neytiri decide to seek refuge among the oceanic reef clan, known as Metkayina. In accordance with evolutionary biology, this clan of Na’vi had evolved differently from the mainland Na’vi clans, adapting themselves to their aquatic life. Metkayina have blue-colored, larger sets of eyes as compared to the yellow eyes of mainland Na’vi. Their forearms have been enlarged, and their tail has been broadened to create a paddle-like shape, both of which help them traverse faster in water. The stronger upper body has also evolved to help them in swimming, and their complexion is more ocean green as compared to the basic blue coloration of mainland Na’vi. Olo’eyktan Tonowari and his partner Tsahik Ronal are the leaders of Metkayina and live in the central village of their clan, Awa’atlu.


Maori, the indigenous Polynesian inhabitants, and the Bajau people of Indonesia were the inspiration for the creation of the Metkayina Clan; therefore, the culture and mythology of the Metkayina also take elements from the former. Metkayina is the only clan in Pandora world who know the art of making tattoos. The motifs of the tattoos are life oriented and very distinctive to the individual, describing their chronicle of life. Metkayina consider the tattoos as gifts from Eywa, and clan members receive their first tattoo after stepping into adulthood by performing initiation rites. Metkayina have adapted themselves to live in the intertidal mangrove areas of the Pandoran coast and live in Marui pods built around extensions of mangrove trees. Metkayina built seawall terraces to barricade the villages during extreme weather conditions, and the terrace creates slope-like structures across the boundary. Their spirit tree, which is their direct connection to Eywa, is known as Ranteng Utralti and is located underwater. Much like the ring-arched structures around the Omaticaya tree of souls, the Metkayina tree of souls is identified by the site known as Cove of Ancestors, which is similarly made up of ring arches and floating islands—the result of Pandora’s natural flux vortex.

Metkayina Na’vi are deeply connected with the ocean and has its own unique dictum, which elaborates on the spiritual connection they share with the vast water bodies. The dictate stresses the near-omnipresent nature of the water, which brings life and takes it back at the end and connects life to death.


Marine Life Of Pandora, Explained

The ocean of Pandora is brimming with vivid shades of life, and director James Cameron has structured the marine world with utmost sincerity to every minute detail. The beautiful aquatic ecosystem of Pandora draws inspiration from both the past and present marinescape of Earth and organically integrates the wildlife into the narrative. The first creature we see in the new environment is Ilu, a plesiosaur-like reptilian creature that the Metkayina use as a medium for personal transport, similar to how mainland Na’vi use Ikran. These docile, friendly creatures are valued highly as companions, as seen when Quaritch kills one of the Ilus of Ta’nui village, and the leader breaks down in sorrow.

Skimwing, or Tsurak is a large creature resembling partly vicious alligator gar and partly flying fish. These strong, ferocious beasts are difficult to tame, and only the most skilled members of Metkayina ride them during combat or the hunt. Tsurak can swim extremely fast and their wing-like pectoral fins coupled with the low gravity of Pandora allow them the ability of prolonged flight. We also meet the biggest marine predator, Akula, as Lo’ak encounters one after being abandoned by Metkayina peers. Akula resembles the prehistoric Dunkleosteus or Megalodon but is even larger in size. The serrated teeth of this apex predator are used in the necklace of Olo’eyktan.


Tulkun The Gentle Giants, Explained

The biggest creature in Pandora, Tulkun, is also considered the wisest. These creatures resemble whale-like giant cetaceans in their appearance and share a deep spiritual connection with the Metkayina people. In the movie, according to Dr. Ian Garvin, Tulkuns are intellectually superior to human beings and even more emotional and spiritual in nature, and every member of a Tulkun pod has their own name and an assertive individual identity. These sentient gentle giants have developed their own advanced society and culture; they have their own mathematics, forms of poetry, languages, dances, and music. According to director James Cameron, the only reason Tulkun has not been able to develop technology is that they lack the ability to perform intricate physical movements. The idea was borrowed by Cameron after observing Humpback whales on Earth, which are quite intelligent and have their own social structure and musical notes that they can pass down through generations.

The Tulkuns have developed a philosophy called the “Tulkun Way.” During the earliest of times, Tulkuns used to be highly territorial and vengeful, and as a result, they were engaged in constant warfare among themselves. After a certain point of time, they decided to give up their violent ways and adopt a hyper-pacifist way of living, which dictated a strict prohibition of any form of killing, even if the reason was justified. Tulkuns who don’t obey this way of life and kill due to any given reason, are considered outcasts in their society and are subsequently banished. In the movie, Payakan was a Tulkun who was treated as an outcast. Even though he did not kill anyone, his involvement resulted in the deaths of numerous Tulkuns and Na’vi.


Tulkuns share a spiritual connection with Metkayina clan members, who consider these giants as their spiritual siblings. Each Metkayina clan member engages in a lifelong bond with an individual Tulkun and calls them spiritual siblings, with whom they share their respective life stories. Tulkuns can read Na’vi sign language and can reciprocate likewise; they can also access Eywa’s memories using the Tree of Souls and pass that down to Na’vi. In the movie, the outcast Payakan forms a bond with Lo’ak, the younger son of Jake Sully, who identifies with the Tulkun through a shared experience of alienation and guilt. They consider each other spiritual brothers. Metkayina Tsahik Ronal considers the Tulkun leader named Roa as her spirit sister. Adult Tulkuns can be seen with tattoos painted on their belly and snout, in similar motifs to the ones Metkayina clan draws. The connection between Tulkun and Na’vi is an allusion to the indigenous Native American traditions, where animals are referenced as mediums to communicate beliefs and spiritual values. Also, Maori traditions were considered inspirations as well, as they consider whales to be a revered presence in their mythology in the form of the god Tangaroa. The legend of the Maori Whale Rider also influenced Pandoran mythology.

RDA participates in Tulkun-hunting to extract a new McGuffin known as Amrita, which is said to stop human aging and has replaced Unobtainium as the most coveted resource that funds their colonizing efforts. Amrita is a direct allusion to the substance of the same name from Hindu mythologies, which granted immortality to its consumers. Another brief nod is that Amrita in mythology was extracted by churning the ocean, in the movie also, albeit in a vicious manner, it is extracted from the ocean. However, humanity’s involvement with Pandora has always been posited in stark contrast to the connection the Na’vi have with nature, and “The Way of the Water” explores that further. The brutal, traumatic hunt of Tulkun by whalers is an act of eco-terrorism, which has been extended by the director to force viewers to acknowledge the negligence and folly on their part; after all, it always has been an allegory of how we treat nature. As a “treehugger,” nature conservationist, and animal rights activist, James Cameron has never shied away from depicting environmental issues and the parasitic nature of humanity in a bold manner, and it feels good to have a renowned director conveying a strong message using the medium.


See more: Family Dynamics In ‘Avatar: The Way Of Water,’ Explained

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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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