Yai Wanonabälewä: The Enemy God
Shake and his Yanomamö tribesmen know that he is destined for spiritual greatness. The jungle spirits have predicted that the young man will become a feared "child-eater" in his Venezuelan village, summoning the souls of children from rival villages to kill them.
This is the highest honor any shaman can reach, with each murder pleasing the spirits.
Shake has access to the power of many of these spirits. Yet the one most feared by all Yanomamö is unattainable. Called Yai Wanonabälewä, it is known as The Enemy God. This name appears to refer to a satanic being, though it's actually quite the opposite. Yai Wanonabälewä is Jesus Christ, the God of all creation. Shake doesn't know that yet. But he soon will.
Shake's shaman influence and powerful demon possession is thwarted when a young missionary couple comes to his village and shares the gospel with him. Believing in God's gift of salvation, he turns from witchcraft and brutality, and embraces love and truth.
This true story started some 50 years ago.
Fast-forward to the 1990s, when Shake and the same missionary couple, Joe and Millie Dawson, have shared the gospel with their now peaceful tribal community, Thriving Village. But peace can be fleeting. When Yellow-Petal, a woman from an opposing village, seeks refuge in Thriving Village while she is ill, her decision to leave an abusive husband and accept another causes old tensions to erupt.
The believing Yanomamö of Thriving Village (in Amazonas) are tempted to backslide into their vengeful ways, and an entire people group is at risk of living in darkness once again.
When Shake receives God's gift of salvation, his whole life is turned upside down. Serenity replaces fear and turmoil. Love replaces hate. Gentleness replaces violence. Soberness replaces addiction. Joe and Millie are fearless when spreading the truth of Christ, never counting the cost of the sacrifices necessary to live indigenously even while raising their own children. Their lasting impact on Thriving Village is a heartening example of perseverance and faith in the face of very real mission field difficulties.
Yellow-Petal flees to Thriving Village and escapes the brutal life she's known in her own community. She finds protection and joy under the wing of Bark, a husband who protects and provides, unlike her first abusive spouse, Firelick. (She says Firelick never really was her true husband since she was forced into his hammock by her parents.) When Bark is mortally wounded by Firelick, he has peace in death as a Christian. Bark's brother also lives out the village's new ways and does not wish to avenge his death. Thus, because of Shake's example and believers' prayers, the Yanomamö break the ancient pattern of revenge.
Many very negative things are shown onscreen to reveal just how much the Yanomamö need God's intervention. "I have listened to the more experienced warriors, and knew the sound of the bowstring and how to avoid the arrows at the last moment," narrates Shake. "I have listened to the elders, and knew the ways of revenge, the ways of war, the ways of my people. Now was the time to use all that I'd learned. We would attack our enemy at dawn."
And so we journey with him to witness the massive damage a culture of retribution can do. And we are made to appreciate the cruelty of individual acts of selfishness, rage and violence. (One such sequence involves Yellow-Petal's first husband rejecting her when she is ill, then demanding her return as if she is a piece of property when she regains her health.)
We are to be repulsed when Shake and others talk about drinking the ground bones of their dead relatives—a ceremonial act we see them carry out in one scene.
As its creators say, The Enemy God is a film in which the natural world and the spirit world merge. And virtually every scene has a spiritual theme.
Dim images of spirits, in both human and animal forms, randomly appear and disappear in the shamans' presence. At times these spirits attack humans or whisper messages to those who seek them. They plead, "Don't throw us away, Father" as shamans consider accepting Christianity. One female spirit approaches Shake and offers advice on how to become a child-eater. It is said that if a shaman knows your name, he can call on his spirits to destroy you, and that child-eaters can taste the souls of the children they summon.
Conversations revolve around the different kinds of spirits that Shake and his brother-in-law have access to, or as they think of it, live in a village in their chests. They talk of spirits that are fearful and deer-like, spirits that are fierce and jaguar-like and spirits that just want to have non-stop sex with all the women in the jungle. We see demonic ceremonies and "healings" performed, involving chanting, dancing and hallucinogenic drugs.
When Joe and Millie arrive, they preach Christ's gospel message, convincing Shake to accept Jesus into his heart. Afterwards, we witness Shake's mental struggle to keep from returning to his shamanism. He prays fervently for God to protect him and keep him free from the spirits' power, and he claims to see Yai Wanonabälewä push those spirits away from him.
The Enemy God contains a great deal of graphic nudity, showing these Venezuelan tribes fully as they would have lived decades ago. Women's breasts are exposed as a matter of course. And most wear little below the waist. (The film avoids explicit groin nudity, but beyond the repeated breast nudity, there is rear and side nudity shown from the waist down.) One naked girl shown has begun to develop.
Men wear loincloths that just cover their genitals and part of their backsides.
Shake is said to be "sharing" his uncle's wife sexually. In one of his encounters with the spirit world, he (and we) see a topless woman provocatively moving towards him.
Men joke about the nymphomaniac monkey spirit. Yellow-Petal is puzzled because a man who is interested in her does not force her to have sex with him. This is such a pleasant surprise for her that she later creeps to his hammock and, it's implied, offers herself to him. She does so again in the jungle. (This act seems to be the tribe's basis for marriage.)
When two tribes raid a rival village, they kidnap women as sexual spoils. We watch one of these naked women cower on the ground as a group of men argue over who gets to keep her. (The inevitable offscreen conclusion of the scene is rape.)
It's not uncommon for Westerners to think that tribal peoples live quiet lives in jungle paradises untouched by industrialized man's woes. But one Yanomamö leader featured on The Enemy God website says this misconception breaks his heart. He wants the truth of his people's thirst for revenge and death to be told.
He gets his wish.
The movie viscerally portrays their tribal warfare. Perhaps it's because The Enemy God is a true story and it lacks polished special effects that the violence comes across as so primal and vivid. Whatever the reason, anyone who watches it will be able to practically feel the arrows and spears piercing flesh.
As villages are attacked, the camera closes in on scenes of children and adults being speared through the chest or sliced by knives, blood spurting. A baby's head is dashed against a pole. It's suggested that a toddler is impaled on a post, his torso out of frame but his bloodied feet dangling in camera range. A warrior slowly dies with multiple shafts protruding from his chest—as his young child begs him to answer. A girl's leg is deeply cut by a machete, and a boy's elbow is slashed and bleeding as he cries.
Pregnant, Yellow-Petal is said to have been tied to a pole as a captive. Then she is beaten by a group of men. We later see her holding her still-bloody newborn, who dies as a result of the blows.
A young girl dies of a fever as her soul is apparently "eaten" by an enemy shaman. Her body is gently carried to a fire for an off-camera cremation. While Thriving Village tribesmen cross a log bridge over a waterfall, a young boy is almost thrown off as a joke.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Shamans inhale ebene (a hallucinogenic snuff made from resin) as part of their spiritual rituals. Men also blow ebene powder at one another, presumably to summon the spirits. One man smokes a cigarette.
Yes, Shake was destined for spiritual prominence. But no one could foresee it was to live life as an influential Christian leader among the Yanomamö, and not as a masterful shaman. His salvation experience and its enduring effects on his fellow tribesmen are a remarkable picture of God's power among remote peoples—as are the Dawsons' faithfulness and courage.
That said, The Enemy God sets in front of churches and Christian families—its primary audiences—several sizable obstacles. It's a difficult movie to watch on several levels. I often needed to rewind segments to figure out what happened. It's tricky to differentiate the characters since many wear quite a lot of face paint and few are called by their given names. (Later we learn that they refuse to share their names out of fear for what the spirits might do to them.) And, initially, it's hard to distinguish how the two plotlines (1950s past and 1990s future) weave in and out of each other to form a single narrative.
But those are merely aesthetic observations. In offering a tangled journey through deep spiritual warfare—showing the type of battles American Christians rarely see or even think about—and presenting the profound value of missionary work among primitive people groups, the film incorporates substantial levels of bloody violence and blunt nudity.