Friday, February 03, 2012

Ethnicity in Dark•Heritage, part 4

Continuing the series describing race and cultures in the DARK•HERITAGE setting; this is the second to last update, and the last one that details human cultures.  The next update will discuss the non-human ethnicities.

The four ethnicities described here are all native to the Hamazi region; both within the old borders of the shattered Baal Hamazi empire itself, and much of the wilderness that surrounded it.  While originally there were many separate ethnicities with very distinct differences between them, that began to change during the years of the Baal Hamazi empire.  The various tribes and clans are now divided into three major branches, but they are not nations, merely vague cultural units.  Interaction and intermarrying is common between the various tribes, as is the taking of slaves.  The tribesmen show a high degree of social permeability, which means disaffected settled former Hamazi citizens often leave their homes and join them too.

Despite that, it is still possible to see four vague divisions amongst the inhabitants of the Hamazi region; the Untash tribes, the Haltash tribes, the Tazitta tribes, and the settled drylanders who eschew tribal life and try to regain or retain their civilized imperial lifestyle to some extent.

Haltash warriors
• The Haltash tribes are on the extreme southwestern fringe of the Hamazi area.  As such, they are in many ways the least "diluted" from their original state by having mixed with the other ethnic groups.  Many of them, especially on the far southern and western fringe, still maintain a very distinct physical appearance.  Of course, many of them have spread throughout Hamazi as independent mercenaries, or as slaves.  Women slaves of Haltash descent have also contributed to many mixed birth children who, in many cases, are now full fledged tribal members of other tribes, greatly enriching the ethnic diversity of the more central regions.  There are also rumors, and many Haltash tribesmen believe this, that a large number of their brethren crossed to the south through the Vajol downs and contributed to the ethnic mix of Calça as well.

The Haltash are the least nomadic of the tribes, and tend to set up shop on fortified hillsides.  Many of their younger warriors still range widely, herding lean longhorn cattle (who roam feral through much of their area), hunting deer, pronghorn and bison, and otherwise providing for the tribes, but the elderly, young, and the caregivers of such live settled lives, gardening and gathering and trapping.  In some ways, this makes them more vulnerable to raiding, but their fortified hillforts also tend to be well maintained and difficult to sack, especially by mounted raiders without any siege equipment.

The Haltash are frequently blond or brown-haired, with fairer skin than their neighbors, and frequently with blue or green eyes.  They are tall and robust.  Their manners of dress and appearance are often quite esoteric and individualized.

Bison from present-day America (left) next to long-horned bison of Hamazi
• The Untash tribesmen occupy a vast central heartland of Hamazi, and surround the settlements and cities of the drylanders like a hostile sea.  They are not seamen, though, so they are effectively split by the gigantic Indash Salt Sea.  They also avoid the marshes, and therefore are only able to maintain some degree of connection by utilizing the broad valley between the Kindattu Mountains and the Salt Sea.  The strong patrols of Simashki and Tahrah as well as the two difficult river crossings ensure that this connection is but a trickle.  Some Untash tribesmen actually live within the mountains and valleys, but mostly there are northern Untash of the canyonland plateau and southern Untash of the Shutruk savanas.  More recently, these southern Untash have spread even further east in the wake of the fall of Baal Hamazi, and now roam the badlands to the east of the savanas as well.  Highly nomadic, the Untash have few permanent settlements, but move with vast herds of horses, and survive by hunting, especially the gigantic long-horned bison.  They set up temporary shelters made from long sticks and bison hides called tipis for which they are famous.  The Untash are notorious amongst the other inhabitants of the area as superlative warriors, due to their perfection of hit and run tactics.  The best horsemen the world has yet seen, Untash warriors have been observed dropping to one side of their horses and releasing up to six arrows under its neck before the first arrow even lands.  After releasing this deadly volley, the warriors will retreat, then come in again until the enemy is destroyed.  While many decry these tactics as cowardly (especially amongst the Haltash, who value strength in hand to hand combat) they are incredibly effective, and the Untash do not suffer significant defeats militarily.  All of their neighbors live in fear of their raiding parties, which can range for hundreds of miles easily, and which leave no survivors.  Men are tortured and killed, women gang-raped and then either killed or enslaved, and young children dragged behind horses until dead.  Only the slightly older children are kept alive as slaves, or more rarely, adopted into the clans.

Tall and rangy in build, the Untash have coppery skin, long, straight dark hair, and glittering black eyes.  Their beards--when they have them--are sparse and thin, although braided or adorned moustaches are not uncommon.  They tend to dress in natural, undyed bison buckskins.

Although some trade and other relations exist between northern and southern Untash (with the new eastern Untash forming a recently separated group from the southerners), Untash tribesmen are often as likely to fall upon each other with violence as they are anyone else they encounter.  While their raiders are rightly feared, when encountered on their own lands by small groups, they can be friendly and hospitable.  Many Untash clans have also actively encouraged trade across their lands, offering protection and guides to caravans for a price, of course.  In most cases this is little more than a protection shakedown racket, but they do provide a valuable service, and a caravan with a few Untash guides and warriors is very unlikely to be attacked by another clan, and the guides provide valuable knowledge of the lands through which the caravan must pass.

Untash and Tazitta clash
• The Tazitta tribes live in a vertical "chimney" between the Dagan mountains to the east and the Salt Sea to the west.  They are separated from the northern Untash by the Indattu River, which is difficult to cross, but they are not separated from the southern Untash at all, and the two cultures clash with regularity.  Tazitta braves often volunteer to serve as scouts or warriors to settled drylanders if there is a chance that they will get to encounter and kill any Untash.  The Tazitta have a similar physical appearance to the Untash and the drylanders, although in the core of their heartland, many of them are actually darker skinned than the other tribes, and their hair is less likely to be straight, with wavey or even occasionally kinky-curly hair.

The most notable feature of Tazitta culture are their death-cults, which I won't reiterate again here.  Because their land is very rocky and hilly, it is more difficult for fast-moving horse warfare, and the Tazitta do not have a similar culture of horsemanship as the Untash.  This is not to say that the Tazitta do not domesticate horses of course, merely that their tradition of horse warfare is considerably less advanced than the Untash.  This puts them at a significant disadvantage when clashing in open territory, and the Tazitta's best defense has often been to retreat to terrain more favorable to them, where they can ambush unwanted Untash raiding parties.

Drylander girl
• Drylanders are the settled inhabitants of Hamazi.  For the most part, they are descendents of the many humans who made up the vast underclass of the Baal Hamazi empire.  While their own ancestors lived in tribes and clans, not unlike the Untash, Haltash and Tazitta groups today, most drylanders have lived a settled lifestyle for so many generations that even their tribal names and affiliations are long-forgotten..  There is little to differentiate the drylanders from the tribesmen physically or genetically--in fact, some estimates have the current population of tribesmen at nearly 50% descended from drylanders "gone native."  Mostly, although not exclusively, the drylanders have bronze skin and darkish brown (but not black) hair.  Many of them also have dark eyes, but striking blues and greens are not at all uncommon either.

Most of the drylanders live in cities, not unlike the Terrasans in terms of the "highness" of their culture and civilization.  This was the direct result of Hutran Kutir, the First Hamazin, who according to the scholars of Simashki brought back building techniques and urban planning from ancient Tarush Noptii, possibly with a vampiric advisor in tow.  Hutran Kutir's empire gradually favored the hamazin over the drylanders, so drylanders today have both an uncomfortable legacy of servitude and lower-class status, as well as a rebellious streak as in various ways in various successor city-states, they have attempted to put that legacy behind them and move foward.  In some cases that meant abandoning the settled life and joining one of the three remaining tribal groups to "live as their ancestors did" before the Empire, but in most cases, it means charting their own destinies as new states.  Many drylanders have also fled the chaos of Hamazi, and expatriates are not uncommon in the lands of the Terrasans

The streets of Simashki
 But Drylanders are also proud of their own accomplishments.  Simashki, they say, is the equal to any southern city, and it is a specifically drylander accomplishment, since it was a rather sleepy fishing village during the Imperial times.

However, other cities are also grand of architecture and culture, and their citizens are rightly proud of them as well--Tahrah, Baal Ngirsu, Nishur, Baal Hishutash, Ishkur, Shushun, Pnakot, Isin and others.

In some of these city-states, hamazin still retain most positions of authority and power, and in all of them, hamazin are an important (although not majority) part of the population.  The relationship between the drylanders and the hamazin varies greatly from region to region within Hamazi, and from individual to individual.  Many drylanders hate them for centuries of oppression of their ancestors, many hate them for percieved oppression now, and in some cases the hamazin themselves are now oppressed minorities, in a reversal from the historic past.

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