X. The Shakat
Tehir tradition holds that a great gathering of tribes occurs every nine years. In 4674 the heat was beyond tolerable, even for the Sea of Fire. It affected some tribes so greatly that they were unable to support their festival duties, including hosting of the Hujuura. Sister tribes Ha'lah and Ayin were devastated and put to shame by the sprawling drought. Other tribes came with only meager offerings, stirring additional unrest among the Tehir. The droughts continued on and off for some years, affecting the tribes to varying degrees. Two months of hosting was enough to leave the Ayin in a desperate situation: their already bleak resources were depleted. They could not last another season. The Ayin tribe was consumed by the Ha'lah tribe (though it didn't fare much better). Three more seasons for this bloated population barely supported by sickened herds was more than it could handle. In an effort to minimize human and herd losses, the Ha'lah left the Sea of Fire in 4678 toward the cooler coastlines and valleys of Vornavis.
Fat, domesticated animals in the hills outside Vornavis were spied and quickly raided upon, though each man who was caught was quickly sent to work picking fruit. After it became clear the families had no other choice, they approached the local farmers and took up the work of grape picking. Through hard work in the vineyards, the people of Ha'lah – even the nobles -- managed to survive.
Concurrent with the flight from the desert by the Ha'lah, Phannus saw considerably greater settlement in its outlying land. The villages, while small, were decent in number. Nine tribes settled outside Phannus, bringing with them a small handful of special trades. One common theme was present: the desire to dominate the growing marketplace and trade center. Each had been amazed in some form by the prowess of the Empire, and most had been put off, derided or mocked at the last Hujuura. The Far'Ghani and the Tanaszig tribes warred while in the desert in an attempt to monopolize a very tight and decorative weaving pattern. As it happens, the pattern was designed by the son of Far'Ghani's principal craftsman and, when he was given to the Tanaszig during marriage trade two Hujuura prior, the pattern followed. When the Far'Ghani left the Sea of Fire with the famed weave, animosity swelled.
The next such gathering to come after the flight from the Sea of Fire was in 4683. All of the tribes returned to the desert in that same year, though many of the tribes' unmarried stayed in the camps to trade and get rich (clearly consumed by materialistic notions). The married families went bearing only cheap trinkets; it was all they could muster, as their hopes of grandeur had not been met.
Once at the Hujuura, the existing Tehir tribes would not let these expatriate Tehir stay! The Ha'lah again failed to produce any worthwhile goods for trade save for very fresh wine (the Tehir were not used to the feel of grape tannins on the palate and found the sensation quite unappealing), while others involved brought few bridegrooms to offer for new alliances! The complete lack of respect for reciprocal trade, met with the preexisting resentment from the last Hujuura was enough to set the Tehir to all-out battle. Fighting between the Far'Ghani and Tanaszig was explosive to a literal degree, resulting in the death of many.
Nearly all of the expatriates were slaughtered on sight. Those who remained were branded, tortured, and enslaved -- few escaped. After a time, even the slaves were discarded, their disgrace bearing on their owners so heavily that they were blamed for the spoiling wells, infectious diseases, and a rash of mysteriously disappearing raiding parties. The Tehir believed the expatriates had angered the spirits of the desert to the very core of their essences. Any further aid or goodwill for them could bring an ill fate at the hands of the shifting winds of the desert.
The expatriate tribes were broken apart by this mayhem and all were left disheartened, firmly believing they had been once again, disowned and betrayed by the spirits of the Sea of Fire – not to mention their brethren. Those who survived slinked back to their settlements near Vornavis and Phannus. This marked the end of the former tribes, as few of the Shakat, or Those Who Fled, ever again returned.
Over the next several generations, a slow but continual shift away from the original Tehir culture occurred. As Solhaven gained influence within the Empire, the Shakat began utilizing its merchant trade options. Both at Solhaven and Phannus, the loose-knit band of survivors strove to continue on -- the power of will in their Tehir blood was not totally deadened. Formerly a slur meaning "Those Who Fled," Shakat became a welcomed moniker professing survivability and cunning.
The host locales had particular and somewhat confusing influences on the development of unique culture. Near Phannus, the practice of divination and prophecy cropped up (whether this is due to interaction with the Sisters of the Hidden Eye is unknown) and with it, a belief in the ability to more greatly influence life by calling upon the spirits. Their own name, formerly a crude slur, became a source of great personal strength. By the wayside went the way of fearing the dead: the Shakat realized the power of a name and strove to harness it completely.
In this realization, the way for sorcerers, shamans, and wizards was opened. For each family, it was common to take on a "host" shaman from another family. The shaman would pray for them, calling upon all nature of spirits he could identify, including names of the dead, local Imperial deities, or the elements themselves. Most notably, the rite involved quiet chanting of known names in successive order, until the shaman could no longer utter or scream one name separately from the next. The garbled syllables that resulted became a family's personal name, personal deity -- its source of power, now referred to as the Ha'an. The payment for this divination was mild, including a mere request that, should a new family arise in the wake of a powerful Ha'an, they make the new family's host shaman partake of the old shaman's name. In exacting this request, the first shaman's name is immortalized by the second, and his power survives beyond the mere scope of his physical life. As the number of families grew, it should come as no surprise that over time, the Ha'an began to sound quite similar.
In the early half of the 50th century, the Tehir relinquished much of their control over their slaves. As the former slaves moved to make sense of the newfound freedom, many realized they could no longer return to their homelands. Many stayed with the Tehir, while some chose to seek respite among the outskirt settlements of Phannus and Solhaven. They were poor, like the Shakat, having nothing to offer. This mattered little for the Shakat, as the reciprocal, materialistic sense of societal dominance had not lasted. It is worth noting that what little slavery existed among the Shakat abruptly ceased when these sedent people were met with the descendants of their own family members, who had been enslaved by the Tehir in 4683. The emigration of the Shakat slaves was the last straw in a quickly dwindling similarity to the Tehir way of life.
Trade relations between the Turamzzyrians and the loose-knit Shakat became quite tenuous in the end of the 50th century when copper was found in the Sea of Fire. As conflict increased within the desert, tension increased between imperial citizens and the Shakat. At times this tension led to local citizens taking their aggressions out on the Shakati settlements (seeing no difference between the Shakat and Tehir), burning crops and razing huts. This conflict came to a climax when, in 5015, some fifty settlers were slaughtered in the outskirts of Phannus. Fearing for their lives, the Shakat abruptly fled southward, away from the military oppression of the Empire. Some three years later, the small band settled near River's Rest, eventually merging with a tiny community of similar Sea of Fire ancestry, where they remain today.
In recent decades, with assistance from the newly arrived, the Shakat have managed to skirt around the Sea of Fire to trade with one another while mostly avoiding the Tehir. The trek is slow because the Shakat will scout far and wide to avoid the Tehir marauders, occasionally going many miles off course. Once the destination is reached, the caravan will stay for ten months, setting back out for home the following summer.
This method of trade has helped to solidify a bond between the settlements, though neither Shakat settlement has attempted to unify fully. Due to explosive population growth since the route was opened, settlements of Shakat have popped up once again near Phannus. A single family moved south to Idolone some fifteen years ago and has gained quite a nice niche market for hawking so-called exotic wares from the Sea of Fire.
On the whole, the Shakat possess no sole judicial format save for conflict resolution for minor issues between fellow Shakat. Unlike the Tehir, inheritance and marriage no longer favor matrilineal ties. Between men holding control over the tradegoods, and women’s relatively low life expectancy, any wealth accumulated ends up residing with the former. These disparities in age and sex in relation to socio-economic status have exacerbated yet another shift away from the Tehir.
The societal importance of material gifting did not last beyond the debacle at the Hujuura, to the extent a Shakat will be very uncomfortable and quite irritated should he be presented with a physical offering. Pride is a characteristic that did not die in their blood: such gestures would be taken to imply the man is in need of charity, for his survivability is lacking. Certainly, no Shakat needs a handout and he would not ask even if he did.
Like everything Shakat, their religion is also a curious conglomerate of a myriad of trends. Combining the monistic and polytheistic beliefs of those from which they are born may seem a feat, but the Shakat have managed this as another adaptation to blending in to their surrounding environment. The Ha'an, or patron spirits of a family come as a result of meditative, trance-like chanting from a host shaman. Recent migration among the Shakat mingled with outside influences has helped to meld these powerful names into a tight-knit series of spirits (and some even now consider them deities). Their names are far too sacred to mention here.
In yet another example of ignorance, some outsiders confuse the names of the Ha'an with the rumored gods of the forsaken Tehir or for local deities of mysterious realms.
A variety of customs have been adopted by the Shakat and then twisted to their own needs, including the Rite of Spring, a local time of importance for the Shakat of River's Rest. The third week of Ivaestan is usually spent devouring whatever food stores are left from the prior year. This cleansing of the closets is combined with layered prayer and dance, as each Shakat hopes the coming year's bounty is better than the last. Not surprisingly, half the week is spent eating and feasting. The other half is spent recovering. It is not uncommon for drownings in the river to occur during this time, as imbibing is almost certain. In a twist from the custom of New Myssar, babies born during this time are also gorged and overfed, under the belief it will make their mouths and tongues grow into mechanisms fitting for a powerful shaman.
All in all, the level of influence from the Empire varies depending on the overall "age" of the family and community as a whole. Newer families tend to be less welcoming of the mysterious ways of the Shakat, while older ones are typically quite accustomed to ever-changing surroundings and a constant influx of new ideas, concepts, and beings.
In modern times the Shakat family is not burdensome in the number of offspring because childbirth has become a true labor: the Shakati frame is changing and babies are being born larger. As a result, women die younger due to strain on the body. It is most common for women to marry young and usually have their first child between the ages of fourteen and nineteen.
It is of import to note that although there is a distinct difference in dress and other exterior markers, most outside the Tehir and Shakat cultures, especially those not local to the regions inhabited by the Shakat, still fail to recognize the difference between the two. The reason for this indistinction is at times willful and at times, sheer ignorance. Not only have few outside the Sea of Fire ever seen a Tehir, those who have, may simply fail to distinguish the idiosyncrasies in the face of such similar appearances.
Due to centuries out of the harsh desert (including some child rearing with pale-skinned mates), the Shakati skin tones have broadened beyond those of their former cousins. Of those described in this document, they typically possess the palest tones, ranging from an olivine to caramel, though it is not impossible to find a member of the Shakat (perhaps even an entire family) whose flesh is as dark as night, or as pale as sand. Typically speaking, the further-removed from the Sea of Fire one is, the lighter his tone will eventually become. It cannot go without mention that, also in their sedentary lives, the Shakat have consistently grown shorter and stockier (though some would claim more curvaceous).
Members born of the Shakat commonly possess brown eyes, though the blue- or green-eyed baby is becoming less of a rarity. The orientation of the eyes varies greatly. Rhinal patterns also vary, from small and hawk-nosed, right through to the flat and flared nostrils of their Tehir cousins.
Shakati women have become adept at a myriad of braiding styles. For local festivals, it is quite common to find a horde of young, unmarried women, each sporting elaborate coiffures of minuscule braids with every section segmented by ribbon or beads. The working woman will often bind her hair in a headscarf or tie it in a bun. Women beyond childbearing age may forgo hairstyling in exchange for the easily managed, shorn head. In the regions around Solhaven, some men have taken to letting their hair grow out, while adopting some of the plaiting and matting techniques of the women. Male hairstyles in River's Rest are mostly non-existent or merely shaven, due to the oppressive heat in combination with the humidity. All in all, the color scheme is still quite similar to the Tehir. Hair colors include black and dark browns; a dark red tone is extremely infrequent at best.
The practice of tattooing has survived, albeit somewhat modified: Women are often the sole bearers of tattoos. Additionally, instead of using only black ink, the Shakat have concocted a unique mixture of permanent and semi-permanent red inks. Unlike the Tehir, elaborate and writhing designs on unwrapped hands, arms, and feet of women has become a fine tradition. It is quite common for women to sport tattoos on their chests, thighs, and abdomens as well. Body modification for men is rare, and usually limited to enlarging of the lobes through stretching, in addition to beading techniques.
Linen is a beloved fabric of the Shakat, and many skilled weavers hawk their wares in local marketplaces. It is light in the heat, and easily layered in the cool evening. Linen is highly susceptible to elaborate dying and embroidery, which the Shakat have also taken a great fondness for. The typical garb for a Shakati woman may include a loose, sleeveless robe and a side-split skirt. Her feet likely remain bare, though she carries a set of leather sandals in the shoulder-strapped, wrapped linen satchel. She may choose a wrapped bodice over the robe. The man's garments are not wholly spectacular and include a definite influence from the imperial working-class. Loose-fitting linen robes are most common, though in the southern settlements near River's Rest, some men have taken to wearing mere wrapped skirts in avoidance of the humid weather. Shoe usage varies based on duty, though it remains true that a Shakat loves to wiggle his toes in moist, clean sand when given the chance. The Shakat man may don a turban for headwear, and rarely some still take the veil.
Named after the tribes of its designer, Farszig, the textiles of the same name are particularly prized. Although the fabric was once blue and white, the color scheme has shifted. In modern times, Farszig fabric consists of a base layer of crimson or teal linen, upon which single-string threads of yellow or ivory are knotted into patterns with selected tails hanging loose. The resulting textile bears a partly "furry" or layered look, while the bare and knotted sections complete the fabric's tapestry weave with floral imagery. In present day, the Farszig textiles are not produced by a single person or family. The highly variable and sometimes symbolic imagery represented within tends to vary by location. A fine weave of Farszig fabric from River's Rest would likely be teal linen with gold-hued script or imagery referencing the Ha'an spirits. The Farszig textile is worn only for the most special occasions, including weddings and funerals. After a wedding for example, it would be common for the Shakat woman to rip the garment's seams and make a wall hanging for display in her shop or home. When death is near, her children or husband will restitch the blanket into a loose shift, in which she will be buried.
Coffee is a specialty of the Shakat near River's Rest, where a small, but pointedly rich selection is produced. Akin to their brethren in the north, the southern Shakati people have taken to the fields to harvest coffee. It is quite common to find a row of merchants in the Bazaar hawking whole bags of coffee beans, each with a distinct aroma and flavor. The beans are often exported to Solhaven and used in drink and dessert.
A restaurant in Solhaven, called Pasha's Pavilion, claims to sell authentic Tehir cuisine. The food is not precisely Tehir, but gives the fascinated locals of Solhaven a good run for their money. A fascination for the exotic is common in some portions of the Turamzzyrian Empire, and as a result, the famed cook Pasha has blended a unique selection of foods commonly found on the outskirts of the Sea of Fire where much of her family resides, despite the fear of Tehir. The charred meat and seared vegetables have become quite popular with the residents of Solhaven, helping Pasha's people to explore additional means of entrepreneurship.
Another palatable delight of Vornavis, wine, saw quite a boom with the emergence of the Shakat. Through their work in the vineyards, the Shakat became known for their excellent palate and knowledge of flavors. The Shakat near Solhaven have even become famed for their selection of steeped and flavored beverages. Ranging from anise to cinnamon, the liquors produced by Solhaven's Shakat pack a powerful punch. Milk is a favored delicacy and is often served with honey in tiny cups. Imported coffee from River's Rest is typically re-roasted or brewed with additional flavors, including cinnamon, almond, and vanilla.
The Shakat of Solhaven also have unique textiles for trade. Ranging from fine to heavy, the silk garments crafted by the Shakati weavers sometimes bear a unique dye scheme: a process of dipping the fabric in one dye, then water over and over again, produces a layered appearance, sometimes including a variety of hues in a range of values. These summery garments are quite popular with their cousins in River's Rest, where warmth and humidity are common nearly year-round. Undyed silk textiles woven by the Shakat are among Solhaven's many exports to other territories of the Turamzzyrian Empire.
Lastly, this recent development of trade between north and south has opened the door to the possibility of great wealth in the future: old Tehir tales told of stores of deadly golden nuggets in the Sea of Fire, though presently no Shakat explorations have returned with the goods -- much less, returned alive. The resentment and fear of gold, like most of the superstitions of the Tehir, are much lost on the Shakat. To be sure, they have made a decent sum from crafting fine golden jewelry, buckles, brooches, and other accoutrements for their neighbors. Most uncertain however, is the question of what effect these tales, if truly deciphered by the Turamzzyrian Empire, will have on everyone involved.