Government System: Tribal Chiefdom
Head of State & Government: Chief
The Southern Water Tribe is a much smaller and less stratified society than its northern sister tribe. It is unknown whether the chieftainship is passed down family lines as in the northern faction, or by another method; it is even possible that the chieftainship is not a formal position in the southern tribe.
The children of the cheif have normal citizenship, they have as much authority as other citizens.
The tribe has a unique rite of passage called Ice Dodging This is a coming-of-age ritual that serves as a young boy's first step towards being realized as a true warrior. The rite is described as a ceremonial test of wisdom, bravery and trust. When a boy reaches the age of fourteen, his father takes him out to sea and challenges him to guide the boat through iceberg-studded waters. The father watches but does not interfere. If and when the boy succeeds, his father places a ceremonial mark on his forehead symbolizing the virtue he demonstrated most prominently during the test. The Mark of the Wise is awarded to those who show leadership and decisiveness. The Mark of the Brave is given for inspirational displays of courage. Finally, the Mark of the Trustedis bestowed upon those who prove themselves to be exceptionally steady and dependable.
The Southern Water Tribe is willing to adapt traditions such as Ice Dodging when circumstances warrant it. When Bato realized that Sokka had never undergone the ritual due to Hakoda's departure, he took Sokka, Katara, and Aang on an Ice Dodging expedition in rocky Earth Kingdom waters. When they succeeded, he marked all three and declared even Aang an honorary member of the Water Tribe.
Children of the Tribe play a game called penguin sledding, which consists of catching a penguin and riding its back as a makeshift sled.
While the Northern Water Tribe is an exceptionally patriarchal culture, gender roles in the Southern Water Tribe are far less rigid. Katara is shocked to learn that the northern tribe forbids women from learning Waterbending apart for healing purposes, seeing as how her father, Hakoda, recognized her bending abilities early on and unsuccessfully sought a master to teach her. Female Waterbenders are shown taking an active part in battle; a possible reason may be the practicality as the Southern Water Tribe is shown to be more vulnerable to attack. Furthermore, girls are never forced into arranged marriages, but are instead free to marry whomever they see fit.
Nevertheless, the southern tribe does not seem to be entirely free of gender roles. In general, the Southern Water Tribe seems to have a simpler, less hierarchical culture and a more open-minded and flexible mindset. This is most likely because with its numbers decimated and its civilization virtually destroyed, it does not have the luxury of stratifying its people and must assign roles to anyone who is capable.
In Sokka and Katara's village, most of the residents sleep in tents made of sealskin.
In the past, the Southern Water Tribe lived in Igloo-like structures. These probably function much like housing in the Northern Water tribe.
The inside of a typical Southern Water Tribe's hut contains a number of animal pelts that are placed on bamboo floors. At one end of the hut a sealskin tent is set up. This is used as a sleeping chamber. Ceremonial animal headdresses, spears, and animal skins are usually displayed on the walls of the hut.
In the center of the hut a square fire pit, surrounded by a single line of bricks. The fire provides heat for the hut and is also used to prepare food. There are mats for sitting on all four sides of the fire pit. A stew post, used for cooking, hangs suspended from the ceiling, hovering above the fire.
Warriors of the Southern Water Tribe wield weaponry that includes clubs, scimitars, spears made of bone (also used in spear fishing), bladed boomerangs, machetes with whale teeth on the dull side of the blade, and shields. They typically wear black and white warpaint on their face before going into battle. All the warriors wear wolf-headed helmets and suits of armor.
It seems as though all adult men of the tribe are expected to be fully trained warriors. It is unclear whether women without Waterbending abilities are ever allowed to train as warriors - there are very few women left behind, so the lack of women in the war party may simply reflect the tribe's overall population decline as a result of Fire Nation attacks. It is clear, however, that women who are Waterbenders are accepted as fighters in the Southern Water Tribe.