Avatar: How the Air Acolytes Helped Aang Revive Airbender Traditions

Avatar: The Last Airbender has a richly developed world, where the four great nations are each a reflection of the classical Greek elements. The Fire Nation is a volcanic series of islands whose inhabitants work tirelessly toward the future, the Earth Kingdom is stable and tradition-bound and the Water Tribe is secluded and mystical. But what about the Air Nomads?

Tragically, the Air Nomad culture was destroyed when the Hundred-Year War began and Fire Lord Sozin wiped them all out. Only Avatar Aang survived, and in this new era, he feels utterly alone. Fortunately for him, not everyone forgot the ways of the Air Nomads, and even non-benders can help him bring this ancient culture back to life. They are the Air Acolytes.

The Origins Of The Air Acolytes

The Air Acolytes organization was not founded until the Hundred-Year War ended, and thus they were not seen in the original Avatar cartoon series. About one year after the war's end, Aang and his friends are confronted with new challenges across the world in the official Dark Horse Avatar comics, and that includes rapid modernization.

Aang was dismayed when factories were built on sacred Air Nomad lands, and he wasn't alone. A group of girls, the Avatar Aang Fan Club, were his allies, despite not being airbenders. Aang was grateful for the support, but also shocked to learn that a few of the girls had shaved their heads and given each other authentic Air Nomad tattoos just like Aang's own. Aang objected, seeing this as a benign but serious mockery of Air Nomad culture, but he soon found a creative solution.

The girls couldn't remove their tattoos and Aang didn't have the heart to dissolve the Fan Club, so he gave his fans a new name and a new purpose. He rebranded them as the Air Acolytes, the first of their kind, and the original club's members gladly accepted this new role. These girls had already worked hard to study and preserve Air Nomad culture and history, and they would continue this work as Air Acolytes. They also started wearing yellow and red robes to match, and they helped Aang restore the existing Air Nomad temples around the world. For decades, this work continued, and the stage was set for the return of the airbenders in Avatar Korra's time.

The Current State Of The Air Acolytes

Avatar Korra was used to seeing members of the White Lotus serving as her bodyguards, coaches and tutors, and she later met the Air Acolytes, who served a roughly similar purpose for airbenders such as Tenzin, son of Aang. In Korra's time, many of these Air Acolytes were hard at work on the newest air temple on Air Temple Island near the sprawling Republic City, and they helped Tenzin keep the island compound clean, safe and generally running smoothly. Later, when Avatar Korra opened the spirit portals and allowed hundreds of spirits to re-enter the world, the Air Acolytes had their hands full supporting dozens of new airbenders.

In Korra's time, two particular Air Acolytes stood out from the rest. One of them was a young man named Otaku, who is noted for being the only Air Acolyte to become an actual airbender when Korra opened the spirit portals. The other notable Air Acolyte is Pema, Tenzin's wife. Before the main events of Korra, the bold and decisive Pema stole Tenzin away from Lin Beifong who, according to Pema, was simply the wrong woman for him. Pema and Tenzin married, and they had four airbender children together -- Jinora, Ikki, Meelo and Rohan.

In addition to her regular duties as an Air Acolyte and responsible mother, Pema also became Korra's friend, offering emotional support more than once. She even advised Korra on matters of the heart and shared the story of her, Tenzin and Lin Beifong. Air Acolytes are sworn to uphold the mystical and ancient ways of the Air Nomads, but as Pema shows, they're also free to pursue non-airbender-related interests.

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