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Headscratchers / Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Four Nations

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     Air Nomads 

Nomad resources

Where do they get food (if we're going by Aang a lot of them are vegetarians), clothes (which are produced after their fashions), materials for the gliders, scrolls, and all the other things we've seen them have? Can you live off the land (as nomad) implies and get all of those?
  • Their clothes probably come from the wool of Sky Bison. Aang mentioned that he traveled a lot in his youth (enough to have friends in both the Earth and Fire nations) so it's likely they did a lot of trading to get them.
  • 'Nomad' might also be an Artifact Title. The temples do seem to indicate at least some of them have settled. Or perhaps the air bison herders are the "nomads" but their support network remains stationary.


Where do baby Air Nomads come from? You have the temples separated by gender, and if these are like temples in most traditions, the nuns and monks are celibate.
  • Only young and elder Nomads stay at the temples and the rest travel between them - again, Aang did mention he traveled a lot. It's quite possible that air nomad romances happened on these travels.

How did a bunch of nomads all die?

So, if most of the Air Nomads are, well nomadic, then how was the Fire Nation able to kill ALL of them in a single series of attacks?
  • It's not that difficult to post a few firebenders at the temples to mop up any survivors when they returned.
  • WMG: Some did survive, but hid their airbending capabilities and blended into other societies.
The Guru Pathik is an Air Nomad except he cannot bend; maybe one of his ancestors was a true Airbender. Same goes for Ty Lee, an incredibly spiritual person who looks much more like an Air Nomad than a Fire Nation girl (her hair and eye color matches the Air Nomads)
  • The name 'Nomad' doesn't seem to actually mean much considering the fact that these people were living in four large temples.
  • A comic in The Lost Adventures says that Fire Nation soldiers took relics from the temples and plant them in towns in such a way as to give the impression to airbenders that another refugee airbender was hiding nearby. When they arrived at the supposed Air Nomad hiding spot though they would by ambushed by Fire Nation soldiers and killed.


Assuming the monks/nuns aren't celibate, wouldn't gender separated air temples encourage homosexuality?
  • First off, homosexual attraction is not the same as just randomly doing it with someone of the same sex as you. Besides, the Air Nomads wouldn't care - the comics have established they saw no difference between types of love and relationships.
  • Word of God and All There in the Manual is also that only the very young or very old are in the temples anyway, which are not ages for romance.

     Water Tribes 

Blue clothes

How did the Southern water tribe dye their clothes blue? No doubt they were made from otter-seal skin, which is shown to be brown. And the South Pole is not exactly a plant-friendly environment...
  • A couple of things to note: When the Gaang meet an Earth Kingdom merchant they recognize and readily accepts their Water Tribe currency, so clearly there is international trade. Also, there are plants in the show's South Pole (mostly short polar conifers), something again seen in the comics. That's likely where the dye comes from.
  • Plus, in Real Life squids make dark blue ink, so there might be some ATLA equivalent hybrid.


Why are the three Water Tribes so poor when they live in what should, by rights, be immensely resource-rich areas for people who can reach those resources? The Northern Water Tribe has access to extremely fertile fisheries, the Foggy Swamp ought to be thick with source plants for medicines and other pharmaceuticals.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic - You could say the same for Native Americans. They thrived in a bountiful land, but relative to the rest of the world are living in worse conditions and were crushingly poor. Realistically there are many reasons why they aren't profiting from they're land in that way, such as isolation, slower technological advancement, satisfaction with what they have and perhaps not grasping and/or rejecting the concept of using the land for profit.
  • Plus, both the Northern and Southern tribes have been attacked repeatedly by the Fire Nation, specifying that they have withstood the Fire Nation for nearly a century (and despite that, looks pretty well off). The Foggy Swamp Tribe looks to be very small, so they likely don't have the manpower to fully exploit it, and their culture seems pretty laid back anyways.
  • The Southern Water Tribe and Foggy Swamp Tribe both seem to be relatively recently founded, which is why they're both so scattered and such. As for the northern tribe, they already have a city, what else is there to have? Having a full-fledged city is nothing to scoff at, and they've managed to remain completely safe from the Fire Nation for the past 100 years, a feat even the Earth Kingdom couldn't pull off - Iroh managed to break down the outer wall of Bah Sing Se and only gave up the siege after his son died.

How does Yon Rha know?

In the flashback during The Southern Raiders, Yon Rha tells Kya that his source claims there is one waterbender left in the Southern Tribe. Now, the tribe has already shrunk in population thanks to previous raids and is hardly in the most accessible of places. Anyone knowing there's a waterbender left had to have either seen Katara or heard about her. So, in this small, isolated village with only a young novice waterbender to attract a raid, who was Yon Rha's source?
  • Outsider traders, or even prisoners taken in the Fire Nation's raids. There are probably also other tribes scattered around the South Pole as well. Any of them could have let that fact slip.

Why are women not allowed to waterbend, exactly?

The tradition of not teaching women waterbending in the Northern Water Tribe makes no sense. Who was the first Waterbender? The moon. What gender is the moon spirit? Female.
  • It's not that they don't teach women waterbending. It's that they don't teach women combat waterbending. What do you think the healers Katara was sent to work with used? Also, until Yue does her sacrifice, the moon spirit is a fish, not a humanoid female, so What Measure Is a Non-Human? presumably.

So can men learn healing waterbending?

Regarding the Northern Water Tribe's opposition to teaching women non-healing waterbending, was it that only men are allowed to learn combat waterbending and only women are allowed to learn healing, thereby imposing strict gender roles on both, or was it just women who aren't allowed to learn everything? I don't think we ever saw a single male healer anywhere, much less from the north, but was there any Word of God on this?
  • Men are probably allowed to learn healing, but since it's considered a "womanly" thing, most probably opt not to. While they likely weren't technically BANNED from it, it was in all likelihood discouraged.
    • It seems much more likely for a ban going both ways, otherwise Katara would have pointed out the hypocrisy.

Why are women not allowed to waterbend, exactly? Part II

With bending being a thing and all, why was it that the system of gender roles used by the Northern Water Tribe ever became a thing? As a comparison, in the Harry Potter world a woman was president in the 1920s because there were no roadblocks keeping a woman from doing the same things a man could do.
  • History/culture/tradition, whatever you want to call it. You'll notice that Pakku never suggests that Katara would be incompetent or unable to learn combat waterbending, just that he won't teach her because of the rules. Sokka also developed similar views of gender roles before the series started. Somewhere in their history the water tribes simply established gender roles and it's just stuck. Although in Sokka's case it seems to have been an assumption based on what he observed rather than something he was taught.

Why was the Northern Water Tribe mostly left alone during the war?

Water Benders were kidnapped from the Southern Tribe during repeated raids that lasted for days and possibly weeks.

     Earth Kingdom 

I don't like segregation, says the person from the gender-segregated temple

When the Gaang gets to Ba Sing Sei and are taken on the tour of the city, they notice that the rings are divided by class. Aang comments that this is why he never liked to travel there before, because it's so different from the way the monks taught him to live. But...didn't the monks separate everyone by gender? How is that different? And if it is different, why did Aang think his way was better?
  • The Air Nomads are separated for spiritual and religious reasons, in an attempt to reach enlightenment, instead of randomly being divided because the higher-ups didn't want to see your face. Besides, it's been pointed out that only young children and elders are in the temples. Presumably they weren't separated for life, unlike the people in Ba Sing Se.
  • Seperation of social class is also likely quite jarring for a spiritual nation, which would reject worldly posessions and whatnot. Aang is the Avatar he pretty much exists to combat unfair treatment and stagnant cultures like the one in Ba Sing Se.

Finding the Avatar

How are Avatars from the Earth Kingdom found? The Earth Kingdom is a HUGE nation. It's the biggest of them all and Word of God also most populous. When the Avatar is reincarnated into the EK he/she must be very difficult to find!
  • Seeing as it's customary for the Avatar's identity to be revealed when they reach sixteen, it may be a daunting task to find them, but whoever administers the search has plenty of time. And if it came to it, Raava or one of the previous Avatars could always bring out another type of bending or the Avatar State to speed the search along.
    • The Kyoshi novels confirmed that they use geometric rituals to pinpoint the Avatar.

     Fire Nation 

Keeping prisoners

Why does the fire Nation keep prisoners? They have to go to ridiculous lengths to keep waterbenders and earthbenders from being able to escape. They were willing to genocide the Air Nomads, so why not kill Water Tribespeople and Earth Kingdomers?
  • Remember the reason FN killed the Nomads was to stop the Avatar cycle. There's no way a Waterbender or Earthbender could be the Avatar so there's no need for such brutality -
  • The earthbenders in "Imprisoned" are useful for labor as evidenced in 1x06, and waterbenders could be useful for healing. Airbenders? Not so much.
  • Fire Nation propaganda claimed they were educating the world. Capturing enemies and spending large amounts of money and manpower on prisons shows your people that you are more 'civilized' than your enemy.
  • The Fire Nation also apparently doesn't believe in the death penalty or execution. They've always been big on "honor" and whatnot with Agni Kai duels and such so perhaps they find it dishonorable to kill helpless prisoners when it can be avoided.

Booby traps

Why does the Fire Nation ship at the South Pole have traps? Did they just think "Oh, the Avatar might end up here one day and one of our ships might be close enough to see the trap if it sets off, so we'll just add those in!"
  • The ship was stuck in the ice at which point they booby-trapped it so that no one could use it or retrieve sensitive documents and material, and any attempts to do so would set off a signal for any Fire Nation ships in the area.

Zuko incognito

Does no one in the Fire Nation know what their prince looks like? Even when Zuko is in his ninja mode, his scar isn't covered.
  • Even the Lieutenant of their ship didn't even know how Zuko got the scar in "The Storm." This shows that the general populace probably didn't know the faces of most of the royalty. So Zuko and Azula are probably only really recognized by a handful of people, mostly the elite of the Fire Nation, so they could go around the general populace unnoticed.
  • In a nation with a large population of living flamethrowers with short fuses, burn scars might be more common than you'd think.

Japan, maybe?

So is the Fire Nation based on Japan or not? The designs are actually closer to Chinese and Thai if anything.
  • It has an equal amount of design, visuals, and cultural tones that are clearly and in some cases explicitly taken from Japanese art and culture. Both mainlands are archipelagos, and both have a history of rapid industrial and military growth, after which they waged war on other Asian countries. They both also hold a very high sense of honor.


Doesn't the Fire Nation have a KGB-like organization whose job is to ensure the loyalty of citizens (in this matter, rebel hunting), much like how Star Wars had COMPNOR or the Imperial Security Beureau? If they did, shouldn't they be the ones Team Avatar has to contend with?
  • The Fire Nations citizens are all pretty much onboard with the nations goals and always have been. Between the fairly reasonable goals given for beginning the war plus a century of propaganda the Fire Nation isn't divided on the subject.

Fire lord? Lady?

Is it customary for females to still be referred to as "Fire Lord," instead of a gender-based equivalent?
  • Yes, Fire Lord is the title no matter who holds it.

Sun Warriors

Are the Sun Warriors Aang and Zuko meet in season 3 directly related to the original Sun Warriors, or are they more akin to the Air Acolytes - regular people who took interest in replicating and maintaining the Sun Warrior ways of life?
  • They are the original Sun Warriors; the same tribe, anyway. The episode doesn't imply anything otherwise.

    The four nations as a whole 

How many countries, exactly?

It's stated to be 4, yet we have seen two earth kings rule at the same time (The Earth King in Ba Sing Se, and Bumi in Omashu). There are also two Fire Nations, one as the main antagonists of the show, and the sunwarriors. The water tribe has a Northern and Southern one, as well as the Foggy Swamp Tribe. That brings us to a total of 7 nations even before the war.
  • The US is one country, but it's more a loose collection of states under one government. 'Nation' in the show is also used more tied to ethnicity. Take the Native Americans for example, who are also called First Nations - they are very different in culture, but band together under one name out of a combination of simplicity / resistance to imperialism.


Hiding eye color

People from different nations have different eye colors (gray, green, amber, blue). So how are people of one nationality able to pass themselves as another (like the Gaang throughout the third season, or Zuko and Iroh in Ba Sing Se, or Hama)?
  • Presumably the eye thing isn't universal. There's probably been just enough interbreeding between the nations that there's at least some plausibility that different eye color variants can be found in a given nation.
  • Aang, Katara, Sokka and Toph told people they were from the Fire Nation colonies. As for Iroh and Zuko, there were lots of refugees because of the war, so even if people could tell that Zuko and Iroh were from the Fire Nation, they were probably assumed to be political refugees. And Hama certainly falls under Rule of Scary.

Everyone has blue eyes

How is it that, in a nation consistently surrounded by the world's worst snow glare, the dominant brown eye trait managed to get bred out of the Water Tribe completely, leaving only the extremely vulnerable blue eye trait? Following that, how is it every Water Tribe person over the age of 40 isn't blind or very near to it? Pakku is close to 80 and seems to have perfect vision.
  • Artistic License Biology for the sake of Elemental Eye Colors. While Arctic people in real life have brown eyes, no Water people in Avatar have them. All of them have blue eyes because Water Is Blue. Likewise, the Earth kingdom is populated by East Asians with bright green eyes (not as egregious but still unusual), and the Fire nation people have yellow eyes, which in Real Life is extremely rare.


Almost everyone in the world of ATLA has black hair, but Bumi is ginger? Where did that come from?
  • Suki has auburn hair, so Bumi isn't alone, but it is shown much less than it probably should.

A hundred year war

How did the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom manage to fight each other for a hundred years? You would think attrition would wear them down to the point that one or the other has to give up.
  • If the Fire Nation was severely overpopulated at the start of the war, so they could absorb fairly nasty casualties with minimal impact on their economy. This would also give another reason why Sozin started the colonies: He needed more land to feed and house all his people.
  • Also, there's a tendency (because it's true for modern ones) to think 'war == constant combat', but the conflict between FN and EK might just involve a bunch of clashes from time to time. Hell, in Real Life Europe had two Hundred Years Wars, both fought between the same kingdoms (England and France). So it's not at all impossible for both to still be at it after 100 years and it's even possible that 50 years or so after the end they go back to war for a long time.