So I think I'll stay where I am
Civilization! I'll stay right here!"
A character who is, due to their race or ethnicity, a member of a barbaric or savage tribe (or alternately, a group perceived as such by outsiders), and because of it portrayed as nobler or of higher moral fibre than the norm. (Often regarded as living the Good Old Ways). In American works, the savages in question are quite often American Indians. In European works, native African people tend to be more common. Rare nowadays, except as a Sci-Fi alien—though it has made something of a comeback with the idea of Magical Native American people being more in tune with nature than the greedy white people.
Examples of this trope that are Older Than Feudalism exist outside the Americas: Tacitus wrote of the noble Germanic and Caledonian tribes to contrast with his view of Roman society as decadent and corrupt, and even wrote eloquent Roman-style speeches about liberty and honor for "his versions" of Calgacus and Arminius. The trope has gone in and out of fashion over time, usually contrasting a decadent distrustful "city life" that a thinker feels has tarnished the essentially good nature of humanity. At different times, and in different hands, it has appeared in two main forms. One is that the life is strenuous and therefore the savage is nobly brave, hard-working, and honorable. The other is that the savage is not greedy and does not have a taste for luxury and is content when he has what he actually needs, and so the life is ultimately easy and pleasant, without all the striving after more. (Still, do not get on their bad side.) As such, expect the Noble Savage to treat materials traditionally considered valuable by greedy outsiders, usually gold, as worthless.
In the USA, the Noble Savage came into style in the mid-1800s, about the time a lot of Western states/territories got their names. This left many geographical features with names of Indian (or at least Indian-sounding) extraction.
Frequently overlaps with the Proud Warrior Race Guy, in which case the questions of who these "noble warriors" actually went to war with before the white people came along and why they fought will usually be left conveniently unanswered. Easily leads to Unfortunate Implications, a major one being that any problems a Noble Savage faces is a problem of not living up to an idealized character rather than the simple social implications of the world they live in. Another is that taking this view also tends to distort the actual reality of the Noble Savage in favor of the idealized image.
Arcadia brings in the same contrast, with a pastoral (or agricultural) society. The Noble Savage is usually of a different race than the city folks, where the Arcadians are of the same — by whatever definition of "race" is current for them.
Compare with Magic Negro and Ludd Was Right. Contrast with the Hollywood Natives, Corrupt Hick, Mighty Whitey (although the modern form of Mighty Whitey often co-exists with this trope) and Low Culture, High Tech. Occasionally refers to being "Of the People".
See also: Closer to Earth, Barbarian Hero, Nature Hero, and Going Native. Overlaps with Nubile Savage (the character's natural ways of living by wits and strength have developed his/her body in a way that a softened city dweller never can).
- The Quentians of Armored Trooper VOTOMS, especially Ru Shako.
- An indigenous Japanese example with Prince Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke. He is the prince of the Emishi, a people conquered and genocided by the Yayoi Japanese, and is portrayed with the trappings of this trope. His people are portrayed as insular and relictual (accurate for the time period, if they were present by that point) and he is the sole voice of reason "unclouded by hatred" in the Iron Town vs forest conflict. Ultimately he has depth as a character, but his background is given importance in a somewhat fetishistic way.
- Rak, the giant bipedal alligator from Tower of God. He may be a hammy Blood Knight, but nobody is as fair, honest, straight to the point and in tune with himself as he is.
- Double subverted in the French comics De Cape et de Crocs: the members of the savage tribe are primitive white-skinned people, led by the only black-skinned member of their village, who is actually very educated.
- Eagle Free, the Native American Nature Hero sidekick of Prez. Even though Prez makes him head of the FBI he still lives in a tepee on the Potomac to better commune with his animal friends.
- In Tales of the Jedi, the Beast-Riders of Onderon are much more decent and honorable than the citizens of Iziz, whose rulers are part of a dark side cult. (They are also drawn as noticeably darker-skinned than Iziz's citizens, despite the fact that the Beast-Riders are direct descendants of people from Iziz who were exiled to the jungle. Presumably, their skin darkened from more sun exposure.)
- In the Fan Fic of Avatar: The Last Airbender called Kataang Island Adventure, Aang and Katara come across an island tribe who live in the nude and developed a traditional way of life on their own. Their leader named Aratak is a hermaphrodite who accepts them as members of the tribe... and acts rather friendlier to them than the others do.
- Disney's Pocahontas. Historically, Chief Powhatan was very much like the Native American version of Napoleon before the English arrived.
- He is introduced as returning from a triumphant conquest, which ends up seeming out of character.
- Heck, you can still hear about "the spirit of Pocahontas" as you pass through the remains of the Indian village at Disneyland.
- The members of the first tribe to appear in Apocalypto, later subverted with the appearance of the fierce Mayans, slavers and practitioners of human sacrifice.
- Avatar. The Na'vi are pure exemplars of the Noble Savage. Their way of life is depicted in the film as far nobler than anything on Earth.
- Richard and Emmeline of The Blue Lagoon, and Richard (son of the couple from the first movie) and Lilli in the sequel.
- Although the original inhabitants of the island practice human sacrifice.
- In the books, a savage state is portrayed as better in many ways, and the author shows the locals from neighboring islands as human, not better or worse.
- Mani from Brotherhood of the Wolf.
- Sent up in Carry On Cowboy where Chief Big Heap is not only cleverer than most of the settlers (he clears out a saloon by yelling about a gold strike, and everyone charges out despite not knowing where they're going), but speaks using a posh British accent.
- Just about every Lakota in Dances with Wolves.
- Averted with the Pawnee tribes, which are depicted as truly savage killers.
- In Dead Lands Lawrence Makaore's character is a combination of this trope and the Magical Native American.
- Xi from The Gods Must Be Crazy (along with his whole tribe).
- The Marx Brothers film Go West, being a send-up of Westerns, features an inevitable Native American village complete with a medicine man, but more or less avoids this trope. When Groucho tries to impress a comely girl with a necklace, she tells him she wants a Cadillac sedan instead. Meanwhile, the Chief and Harpo end up performing a musical number.
- Referenced in Heart of Darkness (1958). The reason Kurtz wanted to go to the Congo was that it was "the one place left on Earth that still had innocence."
- Pretty much every main character in Jeremiah Johnson.
- Totally subverted in Last of the Mohicans (1992) with Magua. Played horribly straight in every other adaptation.
- A variant appears in Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai; the general theme is in place in regards to the Japanese, but the film presents them as sophisticated and civilized, rather than "savage". Colonel Bagley explicitly refers to the samurai as "savages with bows and arrows". In a bit of an inversion, the Japanese characters also consider the Americans savage brutes.
- Averted in Maverick by Joseph, who, although he's one of the more decent characters in the film, is still a talented con artist who's just playing up the Noble Savage idea to bilk money out of a wealthy Russian hunter.
- Pioneering documentary Nanook of the North portrays Nanook and the Inuk of northern Quebec as this, brave and noble, and expert hunters. This also comes with not a little condescension, like when they're described as "simple" and "happy-go-lucky". The film also deliberately played up the Inuits' traditional ways, since by then they mostly wore Western clothing, used rifles to hunt, etc. In the same vein, Nanook is portrayed as comically unfamiliar with modern technology such as a phonograph, while the Inuit actor playing him knew very well what they were.
- The French film Ridicule, which takes place shortly before the French Revolution, at one point involves a royal medal ceremony for an Indian chieftain who arrives in full tribal dress and is named "Stinking Bear", yet French observers say with some chagrin that despite his dress and less-than-flattering name he appears more noble than any of the foppish peerage at Versailles.
- Skewered in The Rough Riders by the Apache drill instructor who assists in training the recruits. He turns out to be a Gentleman and a Scholar, who bids the recruits farewell with a speech that is both touching, badass, and heartbreaking.
- The Togrutas from Star Wars. Some of them even become Jedi. Ewoks are a cutesier, but no less badass, example (at least after Leia convinces them not to eat her friends).
- First straight but then subverted in The Thin Red Line. The first Melanesian village welcomes the AWOL private Witt with open arms, and there he realizes that the villagers know the true meaning of "love thy neighbor". However, when he's forced back into the army, he visits another village, which unlike the first village had been traumatized by the war and the villagers avoid him with disdain while arguing with each other for petty reasons, not caring about the sick and older villagers. Realizing that the closest thing to a paradise on Earth has been corrupted by the hell of wars, Witt leaves.
- The Aboriginal boy in Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout.
- John the savage in Brave New World. He gets shunned by the others in his village for being the son of an outsider and takes refuge from his loneliness by reading an aging collection of the works of Shakespeare, which he quotes throughout the book. In the end, instead of indulging in a life of stimulation and ecstasy he opts for the life of a hermit, living out his days in an old abandoned lighthouse. And then he (apparently) kills himself.
- The Osu in David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series.
- Conan the Barbarian, who might be a thief and occasionally a murderer, but who was at least honest about it. However, compared to what some of the civilized people around him did, he could come off as a saint.
Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.
- In Dinotopia, large carnivorous dinosaurs in the Rainy Basin are depicted as sentient but uncivilized barbarians, though they have some form of culture and don't leave the Basin to hunt. There is, however, one Giganatosaurus named Stinktooth who clearly has a concept of honor and helps the protagonist after the he rescues his son.
- Parodied with Cohen (yes, inspired by Conan, but rather more elderly) and most of the barbarians we meet in Discworld. The approved method of 'assassination' used by barbarians is to gather all their enemies together for a feast, and then slaughter them while they're drunk (something really done by some "barbarian" tribes), and if anyone survives there's no hard feelings (Cohen actually went bounty hunting for one of his fellow horde members once). They consider "civilized" behaviors such as poisoning, mutilation, and politics to be highly dishonorable.
- Referenced in The Last Continent, in which the Dean thinks a book written in Ye Olde Butcherede Moreporkiane calls the Ecksian Aborigines "knobbly savages". There's then a discussion as to what "noble" actually means, concluding that behaving like nobility means "not paying your tailor", at which Ridcully takes another look at the illustration and comments "I shouldn't think that chap owes his tailor much."
- The Dragonlance novels (and corresponding Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting) are in love with this trope. They give us, to name a few, plains barbarians (represented by Riverwind and Goldmoon in the original trilogy), mountain barbarians, ice barbarians, and Kagonesti (Noble Savage elves), all of whom are extremely noble and Closer to Earth than the "civilized" races. Even the sea barbarians, who have mostly degenerated into a culture of piracy, are portrayed as noble Lovable Rogues.
- While this is largely true, the very first barbarians we meet in the series (Riverwind and Goldmoon themselves) are exiles of their tribe because they questioned their tribe's taboos, and Riverwind was only not stoned to death because Goldmoon intervened. Not entirely a rose-tinted view then, though arguably the barbarians were eventually Flanderized into this trope.
- Riverwind and Goldmoon's Que-Shu tribe also had its own internal conflicts. These stemmed from Loreman, the tribal historian who wanted to be The Starscream to Goldmoon's chieftain father, and Loreman's jealous son Hollow-sky, who tried to forcibly marry Goldmoon and become chieftain.
- The poem Die drei Indianer ("The Three Indians", 1832) by Austrian poet Nikolaus Lenau: An old Indian and his two sons curse the white invaders before committing suicide by riding a canoe down a cataract.
- Dune subverts this. The Fremen Had to Be Sharp to survive their arid Death World of a home, and have an honor code and, despite constant internecine conflict, a uniting vision of making the Arrakis desert a green paradise, and have calculated exactly how much water they need to save up to accomplish that. And by the time of the second book, they've become the shock troops of Paul's new empire and have carried out the worst slaughter in the history of The Empire's existence, and therefore in the history of humanity.
- "Lo, the poor Indian, whose untutor'd mind/Sees God in clouds..." wrote Alexander Pope in his Essay on Man (1733). This poem became so iconic and so lampooned for its vision of the Noble Savage that in the 19th century American West, "Lo" was a slang name for any Indian.
- Harry from Eye of a Fly loves talking about the Immaculate Savage, whose perceptions haven't been clouded by contact with civilization and its fascist thought control. He thinks that even knowing how to read pollutes the soul, which makes Ernest wonder if he's afraid of polluting other people's souls by working as a writer.
- During Galaxy of Fear: Clones, Tash Arranda is on good terms with most of the Dantari tribesfolk but doesn't get along with their garoo, sort of their shaman or loremaster. Still...
For the second time, Tash saw past the anger that had built up between them. This time she saw why he had been chosen as garoo. She could see his mind at work, judging her words, judging her expression, reaching an intelligent decision. He wasn't using the Force or any other power, but he was probing her just the same, using only his wits. She realized that she had to stop thinking of him as less intelligent just because his people wore skins and hunted with primitive weapons.
- Mercedes Lackey plays this trope very straight with the Hawkbrothers in her Heralds of Valdemar setting. Closer to nature than all the other countries depicted? Check. Superior knowledge of magic to everyone else? Check. Lack of taboos against things like homosexuality and premarital sex? Check. Utopian society that lacks poverty or other social ills? Check.
- In the Hoka series, the eponymous LARPing teddy bear people used to share a planet with a group of sapient carnivorous Lizard Folk, who the Hokas managed to overcome by setting up their civilization to resemble the Wild West, right down to referring to the Lizard Folk as "injuns". Once they realized they were beaten martially, the "injuns" began intentionally invoking this trope with gusto, writing bestsellers about the decline of their civilization and noble culture, and snagged the planet's best oil lands as reservations. They promptly used all the funding to bribe their way offworld, at which point they dropped the noble pretenses and were last seen on a casino planet, partying.
- Magawisca in Hope Leslie, being one of the most morally exemplary characters in the novel as well as a Native American.
- The Illuminatus!! Trilogy is highly cynical about almost every human organization in existence... except American Indian tribes.
- In The Incredible Journey, a Native tribe takes a half-starved bull terrier and Siamese to be spirits giving them a test, and are nice to them in order to bring good fortune.
- S.M. Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time plays this fairly straight with the Firnan Boholugi, subverts it with their enemies the Sun People and subverts it with the Olmec (much to the shock of some of the more naive characters).
- Also by S. M. Stirling, the Emberverse features plenty of Native American Characters, but most Native Americans appear just to be trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.
- Notably averted in the Leaphorn & Chee Police Procedural series by Tony Hillerman, which centers on the Navajo and other Southwestern tribes. Native Americans are portrayed as regular people who deal with stuff like politics and bureaucracy.
- The Leatherstocking Tales and The Wept of Wish-ton-Wish by James Fenimore Cooper.
- The Drúedain in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth works are depicted as a primitive but crafty human race with mysterious magic who are nonetheless staunchly opposed to evil. However, their "unlovely" appearance led many outsiders to mistake them for mere beasts, and their relationship with the other peoples tends to be difficult at best, with only the Haladin-affiliated Drúedain being accorded the respect they deserved. Even the relatively heroic Rohirrim used to hunt them like animals, and they responded by shooting anyone entering their woods with poisoned arrows. It's not until after the remaining Drúedain help the good guys defeat Sauron in The Lord of the Rings that they finally win some peace.
- Queequeg in Moby-Dick, although he's also somewhat sinister in his exoticness. A scary-looking man from a cannibal tribe whos introduced trying to find buyers for a string of shrunken heads, the narrator Ishmael befriends him almost by accident, and finds he has an honor and dignity that matches the civilized members of the whaling crew, if not exceeds them.
- Nation: To an extent, Mau, as contrasted to the "trousermen". But the book makes it clear that being a noble savage is a dirty job.
- Tik, indigenous queen of the indeterminate tropical island where Filipino leading man Carlos is shipwrecked, in Nínay.
- Oroonoko: Oroonoko and Imoinda's (African nobles) physical and mental attributes are romanticized, and their society is shown in a golden age yet portrayed as more innocent, honorable, and noble compared to the Europeans.
- Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus: Toyed with, then averted in the Orson Scott Card novel. One of the characters monitoring the past watches in despair as European explorers rape, murder, and plunder their way through a tribe of "gentle" natives in the Caribbean, and resolves to intervene. It is then discovered that Columbus' voyage to America was the result of an earlier intervention from a different future people, because, without European influence, the Americas (and then the rest of the world) would have been subjected to an even greater atrocity, the complete subjugation by a local culture fanatically dedicated to human sacrifice. There is even an in-universe aversion: a man of pure Native American blood has to work very hard to convince the more European characters that his ancestors, left to themselves, really would have been that bad.
- There's also the issue of slavery. The watcher mentioned above who despairs is of African descent and wishes above all else to find a way to eliminate slavery from history. Then along comes a Turkish meteorologist claiming that slavery was a good thing, considering that it replaced human sacrifice. According to him, it was Noah himself who advocated slavery, along with a nomadic lifestyle, after his homeland of Atlantis (It Makes Sense in Context) was destroyed by a flood at the end of the last Ice Age. He points to the Americas as an example of societies where human sacrifice was common due to the lack of this transition from human sacrifice to slavery. This is a case of Critical Research Failure, though, as Pre-Columbian civilizations did practice slavery, although the slaves were more like indentured servants rather than property and earned their freedom after paying off their debts. Prisoners of war (those who weren't sacrificed) were also treated as slaves.
- The whole point of the novel is for the protagonists to somehow figure out a way of keeping the greedy Europeans from imposing their rule and worldviews on the Americas, while also removing the "savage" part from this trope among the American civilizations. To this end, they start unifying the various tribes under two banners with the goal of eventually joining the two resulting empires, while also teaching them a version of Christianity, modified to be a lot more tolerant and inclusive. The end result is Columbus personally leading an armada of 1000 heavily-armed ships to European shores as a show of force to get the Europeans to understand that Native Americans are not to be fucked with, while also offering them a chance at equal trade relations.
- Naoh from Quest for Fire is a pretty textbook example. To contemporary readers, paleolithic man was about as savage as it got. He is a ruthless warlord who has no qualms with Rape, Pillage, and Burn enacted on his enemies but he is compassionate enough to help a wounded man from another tribe and treats his love interest with kindness. It is noted that his relative lack of savagery is seen as a fault in his character by the other members of his horde.
- Used in Zane Grey's ''The Rainbow Trail'' where the Navajo play a large role throughout the story. After spending time with them, the white protagonist, Shefford, comes to view them with awe and reverence, finding in their ways the spiritual fulfillment he's been seeking. He eventually comes to the conclusion that the White Man's influence does more harm than good and that said White Man should just leave the Indians alone. Averted in some places with mentions of more hostile tribes and with antagonist Shadd, described as a "half-breed" (We later find out he's not.).
- Alessandro in the novel Ramona. He is a young California Indian who is more noble, more faithful, and more honest than pretty much any white person around him. Not surprisingly, he winds up being Too Good for This Sinful Earth.
- Friday in Robinson Crusoe.
- Avoided in The Saga of the Bordenlands, by the Argentine writer Liliana Bodoc. The inhabitants of The Fertile Lands are a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of the various pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of America, and the Husihuilkes, for example, are portrayed as a noble race, but they are fierce warriors who take no prisoners and mercilessly execute traitors and liars, while the Lords of the Sun practice slavery and human sacrifice. The noblest people would be the Zitzahay, who do not participate in wars or have slaves, but they are also an advanced civilization ruled by wise astronomers.
- The Bazhir in Song of the Lioness, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for Bedouin tribes. They're considered to be uncivilized and savage by most Tortallans and not all of them recognize the King, but they're also big into honor and ritual. Alanna winds up becoming shaman of one tribe and finds it a refreshing experience after the intrigues and complications of life in the palace, and the third and fourth books have them as flawed but definitely good guys, far more reliable than Tortallan nobles. (Pierce, who wrote this one in The '80s, has said she regrets playing so heavily into this trope.)
- In Lee Lightner's Warhammer 40,000 Space Wolf novel Sons of Fenris, after Ragnor expresses a blunt opinion, Torin says one day he will teach him not to act like a barbarian. Ragnor retorts that you can trust a barbarian.
- Shockingly, mockingly subverted in State of Fear. Flying to a third world country, a vapid actor talks of how these people are so in touch with nature and how it's horrible modern men are intruding when it's obvious these natives are truly smart and cultured. His companions warn him how dangerous it is but he ignores them...and ends up being beaten to death, skinned, and eaten by these "noble natives."
- A Swiftly Tilting Planet: The People of the Wind in L'Engle's novel; they are close to nature and pacifistic. They are contrasted with greedy and corrupt whites.
- The poem Totenklage by Friedrich Schiller, an attempt at creating a eulogy for an Indian warrior.
- A huge part of the appeal for Warrior Cats. You'd think people wouldn't want to live in the forest, only eating when they manage to catch small animals, having no medical care beyond the use of herbs, and constantly being at war with other groups virtually indistinguishable from their own. But ask the average Warriors fan if they'd trade their life for the life of a Clan cat and you'd probably get an unqualified yes. Being a warrior is often portrayed as a more noble and free lifestyle than the 'soft' life of a kittypet (house cat owned by humans).
- German writer Johann Gottfried Seume (1763-1810) was press-ganged into the army of Hesse-Kassel and shipped to Nova Scotia for the final year of the War of American Independence. Meeting the natives there inspired him to write a well-known poem, Der Wilde ("The Savage") in which a Huron is refused shelter during a storm by a white settler but when the situation is reversed does not hesitate to grant shelter to the white guy. Though not without telling him "We 'savages' are the better humans".
- Winnetou by Karl May is the most widely known example in many European countries (that is, all those where the films with Pierre Brice are regularly seen on TV). In the DEFA Westerns, Gojko Mitic played that role for Eastern European viewers. Both even gave rise to a Native American Reenactment Movement (so called "Indianervereine") on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
- Both played straight and averted in Joseph Altsheler's Young Trailers series of books, set in and around Kentucky in the late 1700s. Some Indians want nothing more than to kill the white trespassers and take their scalps, while others are honorable and respectful, even of enemies.
- Subverted by the Ythrians in The People of the Wind. They have the Closer to Earth and Honor Before Reason parts down-pat, but they are not primitive. They have a sophisticated Warrior Poet culture, a philosophical sensibility and a good understanding of Terran technology - they became a star-faring race not long after first contact. They are only "uncivilized" in the sense they never urbanized to the degree humans did; they are Bird People and require vast territories to hunt in, and their psyche enforces a fluid culture with a decentralised government anyway.
- Davy Crockett: This is how Indians were portrayed in Disney's mini-series.
- Leela from Doctor Who.
- Two Rivers in The Forest Rangers.
- Game of Thrones: While initially a wildling, Osha later tidies up a bit and settles down, though she's just as badass as ever.
- The Lone Ranger: Classic example: Tonto, faithful sidekick of the Lone Ranger.
- HBO's Rome series portrayed Gallic (and therefore, savage to the Romans) leader Vercingetorix as some sort of noble victim.
- Shaka Zulu: Subverted. King Shaka Zulu is a driven, cunning, and at times even sympathetic character, but he's not portrayed to be "closer to nature" or somehow innately wiser than the Europeans. He's unambiguously a tribal warlord who carved out an empire through massive bloodshed.
- The Stargate franchise is absolutely huge on the Noble Space Savage, almost too many examples to count. The Stargate galaxy is chocked full of neo-primitive human tribes, many of which—though not all—live in some way harmoniously with nature, and some of whom have experience with or even utilize technology without losing their "natural" wisdom.
- Stargate SG-1: Subverted with the Nox: they are actually a technologically advanced culture pretending to be Noble Savages.
- Discussed on Star Trek: Voyager when the crew is stranded on a planet populated by alien Neanderthals.
Tuvok: (to Chakotay) You may find nobility in the savage, Commander, but he is only interested in killing you.
- Star Trek has a long history of using the Space Savage, although typically in a cautionary role that makes a statement about people with power abusing those who are less fortunate or advanced than themselves.
- Vikings had this tendency towards the Norsemen, especially in season 1 and 2. While the show makes little attempts to whitewash that vikings lived on Rape, Pillage, and Burn, their society is shown to be more free and enjoying life more than the Christians'. As the more "civilized" people they encountered are being shown as engaged in incest and SM (the Franks), cannibalism (the Muslims) and genocide (the English and the Rus) while the Norse have free love and equal rights for women, it's not hard to realize which culture we are supposed to identify with. In season 6 when the Norse encounter an even less "civilized" people, Native Americans, the latter are shown as the most friendly and peaceful people in the show by far (with Floki Going Native happily among them).
- In the 1947 Hillard and Sigman song "Civilization", a Congolese native mocks the attempts of the missionaries and other "educated savages" to get him and his fellows to embrace Western civilization, pointing out all the flaws and troubles of modern living.
They hurry up like savages to get aboard an iron train
And though it's smoky and it's crowded, they're too civilized to complain
When they've got two weeks vacation, they hurry to vacation ground
They swim and they fish, but that's what I do all year round!
- RunningWild's song "Uaschitschun" from Port Royal.
- Adam and Eve are noble savages of a sort. They live in uncorrupted innocence and harmony with nature until they partake of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, i.e. became "civilized". Since God's punishment includes the fact that man will now have to grow his own food, the story is often read as a metaphor for the dawn of agriculture, with the Garden of Eden representing a nostalgic take on the prior hunter-gatherer age. Some Europeans later viewed hunter-gatherers in the Americas as akin to living in Eden too. Even today, idealistic descriptions of hunter-gatherer societies will often make some comparison to Eden.
- In Deadlands: Hell on Earth, one of the few groups to weather Judgement Day were the Sioux Nations assembled in the Dakotas. They had sensed mankind's technology would be its undoing, and so had sworn it off. No one thought saturation-bombing the Indian lands was a worthwhile use of nukes. It doesn't change the fact that "Old Wayers" have a bad rep in the setting, though: general sentiment is they sit around gloating about how they were right.
- Hollow Earth Expedition, supplement Mysteries of the Hollow Earth. There are entire tribes of this character type in the Hollow Earth. They are regal and wise, respecting nature and trying to maintain the ecological balance of the area where they live.
- Venusians from Rocket Age fit this trope, being a tribal society run around socialism, democracy, honour, and the hunt. Ganymedians are another example, seeing themselves as the protectors of the natural order. The hunt is also a central part of their culture and they write poetry about the nature around them by sitting down and 'wind watching'.
- Initially played straight in the Shadowrun products, then subverted with the addition of Native nations that abuse the land as terribly as any Mega-Corp, and the revelation that their "noble" use of blood magic to re-take their land helped draw the Horrors to Earth centuries ahead of schedule. Also appears in-universe, both in NAN propaganda and in how some metahuman neo-tribal groups emulate pop-culture Native American motifs.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Tau propaganda depicts Kroot auxiliaries as this, and there's more than a little truth to the propaganda, too (though more savage than noble).
- Some Feral World tribes are this, as are the Fenrisians (Space Vikings), the best of which are allowed to join the Space Wolves (Viking-ier Space Vikings), and the White Scars (Space Mongols).
- Eldar Exodites are the Eldar version of this, being Eldar who decided to avoid the hedonistic debauchery of their race by giving up all advanced technology and living as primitive hunter-gatherers on wild planets, forcing themselves to live in harsh conditions to challenge themselves just to live, and thereby avoid decadence. They're still pretty powerful due to potent Psyker abilities, but generally aren't considered a major galactic power.
- While the Gruul Tribes from Magic: The Gathering as a whole are violent and are set on destroying the city of Ravnica out of revenge for treating them as slaves, there are members, usually shamans, who go for this.
- Eberron: Being based heavily on pulp tropes, this shows up a lot.
- The Ghaash'kala orcs of the Demon Wastes worship Kalok Shash, the Flame That Binds, which they believe seals the worst demons of the Wastes. They guard the passes out of the Wastes, keeping the more civilized lands from being overrun by terrors. Kalok Shash is in fact the same force that the Church of the Silver Flame worships, and while the majority of people are largely unaware of the Ghaash'kala, their existence is not a secret. Legend says that Tira Miron, the paladin who bound Bel Shalor in Flamekeep and founded the current Church, received her holy sword from the Ghaash'kala tribes.
- The Cold Sun lizardfolk of Q'Barra are an Ancient Order of Protectors dedicated to keeping their own Overlord, Masvirik the Cold Sun, bound. They even have their own connection to the Silver Flame. Unfortunately, their connection takes the form of a Shared Dream that teaches the lizardfolk everything they need to know—meaning that they have a great deal of difficulty dealing with outsiders, as the idea of not knowing things from the dream is completely alien to them.
- Most of the orcs on the continent are descended from the Gatekeeper druids who sealed the Daelkyr thousands of years ago. While the Gatekeepers are still around and maintaining their seals, they have lost much of their knowledge and seem primitive to outsiders. They might be a strong force in the Shadow Marches, but so are the Cults of the Dragon Below, and outsiders largely don't care to tell the difference between them. The fact that two of the current heads of House Tharashk are a Gatekeeper and a Khyber cultist has made the Gatekeepers more public, but might not have actually helped their reputation.
- On Sarlona, the ancient home of humanity, the ogre nation of Borunan was known as a Proud Warrior Race who only refused to go to war with their neighbors because they considered them Not Worth Killing. The truth is that they are actually participating in the Forever War on the plane of Shavarath, fighting beside angels to keep demons from spilling out into the Material Plane. Since they never told anyone that, when the Inspired took over the continent they managed to convince everyone that the ogres were just savages, but through service to the Inspired they can rise above their station. Now, the ogres are proud shock troops of the Inspired.
- The witch-doctor and the barbarian in Diablo III both fit this. The templar almost quotes the trope name in a bit of dialogue towards the end of the game.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- In the series in general, more often than not Averted with the Bosmer (Wood Elves), or at least the majority of ones who live outside Valenwood. Most Bosmer in Tamriel live in cities and work everyday jobs. The ones who do live in Valenwood, on the other hand, live according to the Green Pact, a deal their ancestors struck with the forest's patron deity which prevents them from harming any of the forest's plant life, leading to some... unconventional dietary choices, or forming any kind of industry as we know it — they can't cut down trees to build houses, so they use magic to reshape the trees into homes, and they can't mine iron or steel so they fashion their bows and blades out of bone and horn, and their armor out of leather or fur (when they bother to wear it at all). Despite this, most Valenwood Bosmer are rather light-hearted and approachable, and more likely to invite you to dinner than make you dinner.
- The series' backstory mentions the Lilmothiit, a race of "Fox Folk" native to Black Marsh as being primitive, tribal, and nomadic. Unfortunately, they were rendered extinct in the 2nd Era in a combination of conflicts with the Argonians and the Knahaten Flu. Exactly where they fall on the scale between "noble" and "savage" is thus unknown.
- Likewise, the Kothringi, a race of silver-skinned menfolk also native to the Black Marsh, were known to have a tribal and primitive society. If they were more "noble" or more "savage" remains unknown, however. It is known that they served in the legions of the 2nd Empire, which would make them seem more "noble" to human historians at least. Like the Lilmothiit, they were presumed to be rendered extinct by the Knahaten Flu.
- The series' Giants are a moderately intelligent and nomadic race, viewed as primitive by the other races of Tamriel. However, they tend to mammoth herds, generally do not attack others unless provoked, are capable of learning some basic Tamriellic speech, and will carry deceased Giants to sacred burial grounds.
- Played with significantly between the various Ashlander tribes. The Ashlanders chose to live nomadic, traditional lives in the barren Ashlands thousands of years ago when the "more civilized" Dunmer chose to adopt the Tribunal as their gods. The Ashlanders proudly keep the oldest Dunmer traditions alive, including their belief in the return of The Nerevarine. And it turns out they are totally right about that. To note:
- Played straight for the most part by the more peaceful tribes like the Urshilaku, Ahemmusa, and Zainab. During the time of the game, the Ahemmusa don't even have an Ashkhan, instead, giving war powers to their Wise Woman. (They are also, however, considered the weakest of the tribes as a result.) The Urshilaku are generally peaceful and are the tribe most responsible for keeping the prophesies of the Nerevarine alive. The Zainab are the least 'savage', having developed a Settled Dunmer-like understanding of trade (and the fact that it can have political implications)note and even going so far as to run an ebony mine of their own, for sale of the mined ebony to others. Each of these tribes, however, can still be prone to xenophobia against non-Ashlander Dunmer and especially toward any outlanders.
- The Erabenimsun avert it with their current leadership, which consists of mostly war-like and highly aggressive elders. They're known to raid nearby settlements and kidnap or kill most outlanders on sight. To complete the main quest, you'll need to get them to name you Nerevarine, but the current leadership won't do it. The Wise Woman concocts a plan to have you kill the warlike leaders and convince the peace-loving son of the former Ashkhan to take up the title.
- Rogue Ashlanders absolutely avert it. They attack travelers on sight and generally behave no better than standard bandits.
- From Bloodmoon and Skyrim: Played straight again with the Skaal of Solstheim, who are a nature-worshipping Nord tribe. They generally prefer to be left alone, but if a respectful outsider comes along, they are willing to communicate and barter. Nords in general might also qualify; a spiritual and honourable Proud Warrior Race living in one of the harshest climates in all Tamriel with not much in the way of technological or magical sophistication.
- The Sacae in Fire Emblem Elibe comes across to be this at times. They are tribal nomadic people who are more honest and honorable than everyone else.
- The Serenwilde Commune of Lusternia. It was Seren druids who helped heal the ruined earth after the Vernal Wars, Seren wiccans who travelled to the Ethereal Realm to heal the fae... and years later, when Celest was on the brink of releasing The Taint, it was Serenwilde (and the other communes, who did not survive the resultant cataclysm) who advised against it. In the modern era, they're more flawed, nuanced, and interesting, but in the histories, they were practically a Mary Suetopia.
- In the Metroid saga, the Chozo as a species are more Precursors than anything else, but one sect holes up on Tallon IV and eschews most of the trappings of the civilization, living as one with the local flora and fauna and gaining great insights along the way.
- Warcraft :
- The Tauren fit the Noble Savage trope well. Despite their fearsome appearance, they are no lovers of bloodshed; in fact, they are immensely spiritual, and taking another life, be it man or beast, is an act of great significance and responsibility in their shamanistic hunter-gatherer culture. They're also a good candidate for the noblest race in the entire setting, as they have the honour of being one of the few factions who to date have not committed a war-crime against an opposing faction (something even the new Pandaren factions aren't free of), and Tauren villains are very rare, Magatha Grimtotem aside, and she's just a traitor amongst the Tauren, not the Horde itself.
- Furbolgs would qualify, especially the Timbermaw (one of the few tribes which isn't being driven mad by demonic influence).
- The Tuskarr, humanoid walruses based on Inuit and Pacific Islander cultures; and to a lesser extent, the Oracle tribe of Gorlocs (who are more a group of innocent Wide Eyed Idealists, except for one Deadpan Snarker). Although one of their quests has you steal wolven babies away from the tribe, and most likely incidentally killing their mothers. Ostensibly they're going to raised by the Tuskarr so that the Wolvar tribe doesn't get totally wiped out in the fighting, but there is no Wolvar orphanage to be seen only fat walrus men.
- For that matter, the Orcs qualify too, as long as they are not under demonic sway. This is exactly why the Orcs and Tauren got along so well from the beginning of the Orc campaign in Warcraft III.
- The Trolls are straight-up savages, though. The tribe that joined the Horde being the one exception. They're still savages, just not as evil as the other ones. While the Tauren are based on native Americans and the Tuskarr are based on the Inuit, the Trolls are based on native African tribes. (Don't let the Jamaican accent fool you.) The tribal music, the masks, the shamanism, and the predilection for cannibalism all come from "deepest darkest Africa" savage stereotypes.
- Fallout: New Vegas Zig Zags between deconstruction and reconstruction of this trope on numerous fronts in the Honest Hearts dlc, to the point of being one of its main thematic focuses.
- The Sorrows do live a fairly idyllic and peaceful life in the isolated and relatively lush canyons of Zion, but Daniel's idealized vision of them in the vein of this trope is undercut at numerous points, and by Waking Cloud in particular. She would have died in childbirth if not for the modern medicines and medical knowledge that Daniel brought from the outside world and, afterward, she eagerly embraced the opportunity to study his techniques, recognizing that her tribe had suffered greatly from the loss of the type of knowledge and technology Daniel would "protect" them from. She is also a skilled hunter who wields her tribe's signature weapon, each of which is constructed from the claw of a Yao Guai the user killed to protect the tribe, belying Daniel's view of the sorrows as innocent of bloodshed in the name of self-defense.
- The Dead Horse scout Follows Chalk, meanwhile, shows that even his more worldly tribe has it's own strengths and failings- while a proud member of a strong people, he is also an intelligent young man finding himself discouraged from pursuing his curiosity about the world by his people's superstitions and xenophobia
- The White Legs and Salt-Upon-Wounds may be the most brutal deconstruction, however- zealously embracing an identity as a Proud Warrior Race and shunning civilization in favor of their nomadic freedom, Ulysses calls them out as landless scavengers incapable of surviving except as a warmongering Cargo Cult using and discarding technology and tradition alike with no real understanding of any of it.
- FreedomToons: Elizabeth Warren's spurious claims to Native ancestry are mocked by sarcastically depicting her as a Pocahontas-type figure who fears the White Man's DNA test influx into their lands.
- A Discussed Trope in Schlock Mercenary. According to Petey, "The noble savage dies young, and all he has to teach you is that when the food runs out it's okay to eat the babies."
- The Clan of the Hawk from Wandering Ones fits this one to a T. They attempted to invoke this with William Ghostraven, but before the plague, he was a casino worker.
- The Dorkly article, These Eight Characters are Definitely Going to Die, includes in the list, "Honorable Warrior Guy".
How Theyre Going to Die: Saying something about ancestors.Why: Definitely not because these characters are a mish-mosh of racist caricatures from the colonial era.
- In his review of Avatar, Mr. Plinkett calls the movie out on its rosy portrayal of the Na'vi (an Anvilicious stand-in for Native Americans) as utterly perfect, peace-loving space hippies in harmony with nature:
Plinkett: Let me let you in on a little secret: savage races without technology or money can be just as fucking brutal to each other as we can. Plus, they don't got things like antibiotics, indoor plumbing, or Taco Bell.
- Many of the less advanced tribes from Avatar: The Last Airbender fall under this trope. The Water Tribes (the home of the hero's best friends) and the Sun Warriors come to mind.
- The Foggy Swamp Water Tribe are a bit of an aversion, as they're played for humor as the embarrassing redneck cousins, but the 'live in harmony with nature' thing comes up here, albeit from a shaman who specializes in controlling plants by bending the contents of their vascular systems. In addition to some wise zen-like advice about the interconnected nature of all life, he also mentions that "Pants are an illusion"
- Also Averted with the Northern Water Tribe who are a massive city-state on par with most Earth Kingdom cities.
- There was actually a character named Noble/Savage in the Beast Machines Transformers series.
- Futurama: Subverted with the native Martians—they talk a good game about loving nature and respecting their native lands and all, but, once they discover that the "bead" their ancestors traded away their land for is actually a giant diamond, they have no problem at all leaving their "sacred lands" behind.
Martian chief: We'll buy new planet, and pretend it's sacred. With cash like this, who's going to argue? No one, that's who.
- Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated gives us Rick Spartan who spends his time exploring jungles alongside his wife and "Kachinga". In reality, Kachinga is an Oxford Student named Charles Wheatlesby but Rick pays him handsomely to feed his ridiculous fantasy and speaks to him in altered English as well as makes him carry a spear at all times. Despite this, Charles stopped short of wearing stereotypical "Savage" attire and the two argue about it.
- In "The Burns and the Bees", an episode of The Simpsons, Lisa assumes Muck Mu is a Noble Savage, but he actually enjoys killing whales for fun.
- Ultimate Spiderman has an example in the form of Ka-Zar. He is a resident of the Savage Land who speaks in broken English considers himself brothers with a sabertooth tiger and is pretty much the only thing in the setting that won't outright try to kill you. Bonus points for fitting the Mighty Whitey trope as well...