|"The people of the Water Tribe are capable of adapting to many things. They have a deep sense of community and love that holds them together through anything."|
|— Iroh to Zuko on the nature of the Water Tribe.|
The Water Tribe is a collective term for the nation of people who practice the art of waterbending. It is one of the original four nations and its citizens primarily inhabit the northern and southernmost regions of the globe, near both poles. Many people of Water Tribe ethnicity also live in the United Republic and there is a small community of waterbenders that populate the Foggy Swamp in the Earth Kingdom, although they were isolated from their sister tribes for generations and others were largely unaware of their existence until they were stumbled upon by Avatar Aang, Katara, and Sokka.
The people of the Water Tribe are generally peaceful, and strive to live in harmony with nature and the other nations of the world. There are two primary divisions of the Water Tribe, the Northern Tribe and the Southern Tribe, though both were at least de jure governed by the Northern chief until 171 AG.
Despite their peaceful nature, all three groups contributed toward important battles near the end of the Hundred Year War. The Northern Water Tribe was responsible for a major defeat of the Fire Nation Navy, resulting in the death of one of that country's most notable commanders, Admiral Zhao, while the Southern Water Tribe and Foggy Swamp Tribe both participated in the invasion of the Fire Nation on the Day of Black Sun.
Although in the past there was significant exchange between the North and South, contact between the two tribes was interrupted due to the chaos of the war. Though communication resumed afterward, tensions remained between the tribes and worsened after Unalaq's attempts to reimpose Northern control over the mostly autonomous south via a military occupation, which threw the Water Tribe into a brief civil war. However, after the events of Harmonic Convergence and Unalaq's subsequent defeat, the Northern troops withdrew and the Southern Water Tribe gained complete independence from the North, with Tonraq chosen as its new chief.
The Water Tribe is less powerful than both the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation, due to its geographical location and the small size of its population and economy. The economy is dependent on the ocean, given the country's location and lack of arable land, apparent manufacturing capacity or minable resources.
The Water Tribe joined a global conflict known as the Hundred Year War against the Fire Nation during the life of Avatar Aang. The Southern Tribe was driven to the brink of extinction through a series of devastating raids, and the Northern Tribe proved unable to provide any resources for the War beyond its borders. With the War's conclusion, a reconstruction effort began for the Southern Tribe, consequently restoring contact between the two tribes.
Seventy years after the end of the Hundred Year War, the Water Tribe gained significant influence in world affairs, with two representatives on the United Republic Council, one for the Southern Tribe and another for the Northern Tribe. The latter's last representative, Tarrlok, was the council's chairman before his secret past was revealed in 170 AG. The Water Tribe lost its hand in the United Republic's government when the council was disbanded following the Anti-bending Revolution.
In the era of Raava, predecessors of the Water Tribe received the element of water from lion turtles that granted the bending art through energybending. They could request the ability whenever they ventured into the Spirit Wilds, to aid in the gathering of food and resources. These people eventually congregated to form the Water Tribe after the lion turtles renounced their roles as protectors of mankind. At this point, the ancestors of the first tribesmen left the lion turtle cities in favor of establishing settlements centered in the North Pole, despite the fact that some of the cities from which the people of the Water Tribe originated were located in tropical regions.
Nevertheless, several aspects of life and observances practiced by the predecessors of the first members of the Water Tribe became part of the nation's culture, such as their dependence on water for sustenance. Furthermore, the implementation of blue, dome-like structures still remains as an integral part of Water Tribe architecture. However, there were also several differences; as the predecessors of the Water Tribe lived in regions of more temperate climate than the modern Water Tribes, their clothing and weaponry were completely unlike that of the later polar Water Tribes. Instead, these aspects of their culture bore certain resemblance to the early Fire Nation's culture. Eventually, they relocated to the North Pole and formed several independent tribes. These tribes were later united by a group of waterbenders, who built a city as center and capital for the Water Tribe. This unity declined after a time of civil unrest, however, and a group of secessionists journeyed to the South Pole to engender a new tribe. Thus, the Water Tribe split into the Northern and Southern Water Tribe, leading to a cultural and political division that continued until modern times.
Ethnically homogeneous, members of each tribe typically have blue or gray eyes, light or deep brown hair, sometimes black, and a light brown skin tone. Water Tribe clothing is usually a set of blue anorak and trousers lined and trimmed with white fur, accompanied by mittens and mukluks. Men may wear their hair long and half-up or in short ponytails, also known as "warrior's wolf tails". Women plait and braid their hair in various styles, sometimes with accent beads, and many sport "hair loopies" in various styles. In the Southern Water Tribe, women have been shown wearing their hair back in a bun with a decorative band. In the Northern Water Tribe, males appear to wear a darker blue than those of the Southern Water Tribe, and royalty often wear purple. Their influences and sometimes appearances are drawn greatly from Inuit and Native American fashion. In the Foggy Swamp Tribe, inhabitants wear simple leaf-hats, loincloths, and wristbands, all in green, reflecting the color of the water and their surroundings, and sometimes they also use wooden armor.
The national emblem of the Water Tribe is a circle comprised of a waning crescent moon and three wavy horizontal lines representing ocean water. The emblem represents the relationship between Tui and La, the Moon and Ocean Spirits, who exist in perfect harmony with one another, like Yin and Yang. The Water Tribes' belief in peaceful cooperation between nations stems from the relationship between these two spirits, and this ideal is further exemplified on the insignia. It is displayed on the pennant of the watchtower in a small Southern Water Tribe village, and is common in the architecture of the Northern Water Tribe. However, in the Foggy Swamp Tribe, this symbol is not found due to the lack of communication with the other tribes.
The appearance of the Water Tribe is based on its corresponding element, water. Each of the nations has its own elemental color, which in the case of the Water Tribes is blue. The Foggy Swamp Tribe is an exception, as they tend to wear green due to their affinity with plants.
The Water Tribe is divided into three distinct groups, primarily based on their geography and affinity for waterbending. The Southern Tribe occupies the South Pole with Katara as its only known bending member during the War, the art having been almost completely erased from the South Pole as a direct result of the Fire Nation raids.
The Northern Tribe consists of the majority of the official remnants of their civilization, occupying the North Pole with a multitude of able benders. Though separated, the Southern and Northern Tribes continued to remain in contact prior to the Hundred Year War and at one time even retained a custom of coming together during a new moon justly called the New Moon Celebration. The Foggy Swamp Tribe occupies a swamp in the Earth Kingdom, while most, if not all, of its members are competent benders with some unique talents, such as plantbending.
In the Northern Water Tribe, women are of marrying age at the age of sixteen. Males who wish to marry females gift them with a traditional betrothal necklace. This signifies that the woman is to be married. The ceremony is completely organized by the parents, and marriage of free choice is not practiced. However, in the Southern Water Tribe, it seems that people are allowed to choose their own spouses.
When they turn fourteen, Southern Water Tribe children are taken on a rite of passage known as ice dodging, a sport where the children must control a ship in turbulent water riddled with large, haphazard chunks of ice. After completing the ritual, they are given marks of honor: the Mark of the Brave, the Mark of the Wise, and the Mark of the Trusted. Katara, Sokka, and Aang earned these marks, respectively, for completing this ritual early in 100 AG.
The names of the Southern and Northern Tribes' citizens often include one or two "K"s and have an "AH" sound (Katara, Hakoda, Sokka, Pakku, Kya, Kuruk, Kanna, Arnook, Korra, Tarrlok, Yakone, Noatak, Eska, Varrick etc.), such as happens in Fire Nation with the letter "Z". However, this does not happen in the Foggy Swamp Tribe.
Each of the four nations is influenced by their own distinct, dominant season. The Water Tribe's dominant season is winter. To an effect, more waterbenders are born during winter than any other season and their waterbending is at its peak during the winter due to the longer nights and freezing conditions. In actuality, each polar tribe experience winter-like weather consistently, with snow falling year-round.
Inhabiting frozen poles near the seas, the Water Tribes are dependent on the oceans for a majority of their natural resources as well as the bounty of the frozen tundra. Sea prunes are a favorite, while giant sea crabs are considered a delicious delicacy to those in the Northern Sea. Sea squid is a popular food that can be made into a variety of things, including sea squid soup. Seaweed can be used to make seaweed bread, seaweed soup, or seaweed sprinkles to top seaweed cookies. When traveling, blubbered seal jerky is a common snack to take along.
Skins from seals are used to create tents in the Southern Water Tribe. Pelts from polar bears and other furry animals are used as clothing and to cover barren surfaces. Naturally, hunters and fishermen of the Water Tribes are some of the best in the world in their field.
- Main article: Politics in the World of Avatar
Government system: Tribal Chiefdom.
Head of state/Head of government: Tribal chief.
The Water Tribe originally did not have an overall leader. After the Hundred Year War, both its main divisions fell under the rule of one chief, though following a civil war in 171 AG, the Southern Water Tribe became independent and is now ruled by its own chief.
Due to its division into three parts, each part of the tribe has developed its own customs and methods of law enforcement. While the Northern and Southern Water Tribes have differing judicial systems, the Foggy Swamp Tribe lacks a known system of law enforcement.
Northern Water Tribe
The Chief of the Northern Water Tribe is in charge of the entire judicial system, including crime-fighting, law interpretation, and court trial.
The only known laws in the Northern Water Tribe are those from around 100 AG that pertain to the rights of women. The law imposes major restrictions on women's rights that prohibit them from learning waterbending or choosing their own spouse.
Southern Water Tribe
The political system of the Southern Water Tribe quickly became disorganized during the Hundred Year War, with no true authority figure left in the village as all ample-bodied men had gone off to fight. After the war's conclusion, the tribe progressed significantly with aid from the Northern Tribe, establishing a more complex judicial system.
- Main article: Military of the Water Tribe
As a result of the strong customary theme expressed by the two major sects, the Water Tribes' military during the Hundred Year War was considerably underresourced in comparison with that of the Earth Kingdom or the highly industrialized Fire Nation. Nevertheless, the tribes exhibited deep pride and willpower typical of a warrior race. During the Hundred Year War, they specialized in sabotage and reconnaissance missions against the Fire Nation.
All adult male tribe members are fully-trained warriors. Their weaponry includes clubs, bladed boomerangs, spears made of bone (also used in spearfishing), scimitars, and machetes laced with whale teeth on the dull side of the blade. Water Tribe warriors typically wear black and white war paint on their entire face before going into battle. Waterbending warriors of the Northern Tribe are all masters of their element and wear face masks to cover their mouths and hoods. Warriors of the Northern Tribe paint their faces with three lines of red on their forehead. When the Fire Nation attacked the Northern Water Tribe, Chief Arnook called for warriors to volunteer for a dangerous mission and marked each volunteer's forehead with three red lines of paint.
The more organized Northern Water Tribe makes use of armories located on the warrior training grounds which serve as weapons storage and war planning rooms where orders are distributed. Their waterbenders engineer and utilize a countless amount of iceberg spikes scattered across the ocean just outside the city as a first line of defense against Fire Nation ships. The spikes are capable of ripping through solid metal and sinking even the largest ships. The currents in the iceberg fields are known to be extremely dangerous, but are easily traversed by Water Tribe vessels. The iceberg spikes themselves are also used as cover for warriors to hide behind, enabling to easily ambush any unwanted visitors.
While its sister tribe has been the victim of raids, the Northern Water Tribe has sufficiently been able to stave off the Fire Nation for over eighty-five years, thanks to a mixture of strong, man-made defenses and an imposing, icy landscape.
Two years before the Avatar returned, all the men of the Southern Water Tribe left to fight in the war, leaving their villages defenseless. The male warriors of the Southern Tribe were seen again, protecting the shores of Chameleon Bay, the single inlet leading directly to the outskirts of Ba Sing Se. The warriors had apparently achieved this so far with the use of tangle mines, which are buoyant, terrible smelling makeshift mines of Hakoda's invention, and which he affectionately nicknames, the "stink n' sink". The tangle mines are constructed with a bamboo frame and covered with dried animal skin, while the inside is filled with skunk fish and seaweed. These mines float in the water and detonate when a ship hits them. When the mines detonate, they erupt seaweed, which tangles around the propeller of the ship, incapacitating it, while the terrible smell of the skunk fish forces people to abandon ship. Though a very unusual type of mine, they had apparently been quite effective.
The ships of the Southern Water Tribe are cutter sailing ships, containing wooden hulls and utilizing the wind for propulsion. The boats are operated by at least two people, one to maintain the main sail and one to control the jib, a smaller sail at the rear. The ships appear to be designed more for use as transport vessels than for combat.
The Northern Water Tribe's most common ship is a double-hulled vessel powered by waterbending. Its small, compact size enables it to be used for a variety of applications, including transporting civilians across the canals within the city, although it is primarily used for short, open ocean trips. Even though it is not necessarily designed for long voyages, it is capable of being used to travel over a thousand miles and withstanding the harshest ocean conditions. Warriors use this ship to patrol and protect the waters just outside the Northern Water Tribe.
Prior to the Day of Black Sun, Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe commissioned the mechanist, an Earth Kingdom inventor, to build a series of waterbending-powered submarines for use in the invasion of the Fire Nation Capital. Although manufactured by the Earth Kingdom, these submarines can only be operated through the use of waterbending. These subs resemble large whales in design and are plated in gold shielding. They are perfect for ferrying numerous troops to enemy locations, as well as at least one earthbending-powered tank. These subs are very strong and are capable of shooting ice torpedoes, used to demolish enemy barricades. However, these submarines have a limited air supply and must frequently resurface.
The Foggy Swamp Tribe uses skiffs as a means of transportation; they are utilized for hunting as opposed to combat and are powered via waterbending.
By 171 AG, the Northern Water Tribe had gained access to capital-class ships.
- Foggy Swamp Tribe
- Northern Water Tribe
- Southern Water Tribe
- Main article: Notable figures of the Northern Water Tribe
- Main article: Notable figures of the Southern Water Tribe
- Main article: Notable figures of the Foggy Swamp Tribe
- The Northern and Southern Water Tribes bear a distinct resemblance to the Inuit-Yupik culture of the northern circumpolar region of Earth.
- Aspects of Chinese culture are also evident, such as the round doors, often called 'moon doors', their waterbending resembling Tai-Chi, and the wooden doll used for healing practice which is reminiscent of Chinese acupuncture statues.
- The Southern Water Tribe's lands bear a parallel to the real-world continent of Antarctica. Unlike the South, however, the Northern Water Tribe's lands have no direct parallel to Earth, as the North Pole in real-life is completely submerged in water, above which is a near-permanent layer of ice.
- No female was in the military of the Northern Water Tribe during the Hundred Year War due to its patriarchal traditions. However, the other Water Tribes did not follow these customs as female waterbenders were seen defending the Southern Water Tribe during the Fire Nation raids and females of the Foggy Swamp Tribe were seen during the invasion of the Fire Nation.