The cast of Avatar is depicted in the traditional clothes of the cultures their nations were based on. Aang wears the robes of Tibetan monks. Toph sports a daxiushan, a type of Chinese dress popular during the Tang dynasty. Katara wears a big fur jacket commonly worn amongst the Inuits. Zuko is dressed in a Japanese dress called a kimono and jacket known as haori. (Illustration by Kim Ly)
Fountain Valley High School

Cultures represented in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” (ATLA) recently resurfaced in popularity after it was made available on Netflix. “ATLA” has been praised for its world building, which has taken influence from many cultures, specifically Asiatic and Indigenous ones. Each nation draws from a combination of several cultures to bring its world to life. Find out which ones inspired the world of “ATLA”!

Water Tribes 

Inuit and Yupik culture inspired the Water Tribes, which can be seen in their animal skin and fur clothing, much like the Inuit’s anoraks and mukluks, to protect themselves from the cold.

The Water Tribe’s diet resembles indigenous groups as they both ate fish due to their proximity to water.

The Australian Aboriginals’ weapons, such as the boomerang, can be seen being used by Water Tribe warriors, most notably Sokka. Warriors also wore war paint, similar to Native Americans. Waterbending style, which is known for its fluidity, connectivity and adaptability, is based on tai chi, a Chinese martial art.

Water Tribe ships resemble Polynesian catamarans.

Different cultures inspired Water Tribe architecture based on their geography. The Northern Water Tribe’s architecture pulls from the ancient Aztecs’ pyramids and Venice’s canal systems while the Southern Tribe’s igloos mirror those of the Inuit.

Native American, Chinese and Japanese myths even influenced Water Tribe spiritual practices. For example, the moon and ocean spirits, Tui and La, are reminiscent of the Chinese legend of Yin and Yang.

Earth Kingdom

Much of the Earth Kingdom’s culture can be pulled from China. The capital, Ba Sing Se, draws many parallels with ancient Chinese capitals such as Beijing. The royal palace in Ba Sing Se is directly influenced by the Forbidden City in China. One parallel between the two is that both of the kings were forbidden to leave the palace. The government also draws a parallel with the authoritarian Ming Dynasty with its propaganda and police state. It takes after China and the communist revolution. For example, Lake Laogai is named after the reeducation camps constructed by Mao Zedong; and the Dai Li is named after the leader of the Chinese Secret Police.

The Earth Kingdom also shares similar cuisine with China, such as roast duck and jook. Much of the clothing is based on the clothing of pre-manchu China, with the exception of Ba Sing Se, which is based on the Qing Dynasty. In addition, Korean clothing, such as hanbok, can be seen  being worn by some characters as well. Architecture in the Earth Kingdom is very Chinese influenced in general.

Kyoshi Island and its warriors draw influence from Japan, which can be seen in their makeup, clothing, weapons and fighting style.

The sand benders in the desert also bear a resemblance to the Tuareg people in Northern Africa.

The strong stances and strikes of earthbending is based on ancient Chinese martial art of Hung Gar, although Toph’s specific style is inspired by Southern Praying Mantis style.

 

Fire Nation

The Fire Nation was dominantly influenced by imperial Japan. Resemblances can be seen between the Fire Nation’s and World War II imperial Japan’s military invasions of other countries. Both nations caused many war atrocities, including mass killings and genocides.

Both countries used propaganda to censor their past and make sure that their citizens were unaware of the horrors caused by their country.

Themes of nationalism, imperialism and racial prejudice are prominent in both the Fire Nation and imperial Japan. Citizens were proud of their country, and believed that they were superior and had to help others by dominating them. This was furthered by government propaganda, such as schoolbooks.

The Fire Nation’s topography is also similar to Japan, Hawaii, and Polynesian Islands.

The Fire Nation is influenced by other Chinese and Southeast Asian cultures as well. Ancient Egyptian and Chinese architecture inspired the Fire Nation Royal Palace and the royal garden is similar to classical Chinese ones. The Palace is visually similar to the Forbidden City but to a lesser extent. The Fire Temple is based on Chinese pagodas. However, Ember Island draws from Southeast Asian resorts, which can be seen in the numerous paintings and vases in the homes.

Chinese influences can be seen in Fire Nation attire. In particular, Zuko can be seen wearing a shenyi, a historical Chinese clothing.

The basis of firebending is inspired by the Northern Shaolin system, which features powerful and dynamic footwork. Agni Kai, a “honor duel” between fire benders is also seen in South Asian warrior societies. The concept behind Agni Kai, which literally translates to “Duel of Fire” is for potential rulers to prove themselves, another common practice seen in warrior cultures.

Upper class members of both nations use palanquins as means of transportation.

The Sun Warriors were known for worshipping the sun since they drew their power from it, similar to Mayan and Aztec cultures, who also glorified the sun. Their clothing is very similar to traditional Southeast Asian warrior dress, most notably, their headdresses. Sun Warriors’ buildings are reminiscent of Mesopotamian and Southeast Asian architecture, such as the Phanom Rung and Angkor Wat.

 

Air Nomads

The Air Nomads primarily draw inspiration from Buddhists in Tibet, Shaolin Monks and Sri Lankan Buddhism, with some Hindu influences as well. Their bald heads, clothing and meditation practices are very similar to those of real life Buddhist monks. The nomads practice vegetarianism like many real life Hindus and Buddhists. The method the monks used to find the Avatar, such as having toys for the child to choose from, is also the same method Tibetans used to find the Dalai Lama. Air temple architecture draws from real life Chinese Buddhist Pagodas.

Many airbenders wear saffron robes based off of those of Shaolin monks. The outfit Aang wears in season three is similar to that of the Dalai Lama.

The erratic and free style of air bending is based on ancient Chinese martial art of Ba Gua.

There are many other cultures that “ATLA” has taken from, but here are just some of the main ones you can spot through the series!