The first Balkeran settlers, those who made the earliest camps in the region's northern grasslands, called themselves 'Tharpinte', which means 'First People' in the Nalari tongue. Like many of the other wandering northern peoples, the Tharpinte gradually began to adopt elements of the Irisanti pantheon of Nomad Gods. A popular divine figure from the beginning was Gashintu, the Great Bison, who was chief among the other members of the pantheon.
A result of this new religious awareness, coupled with the people's increasing reliance on the Gashundu for sustenance, was a gradual and profound change of identity. The tribes now called themselves 'Thargashu', the 'People of the Bison', and bore little resemblance to their Duathic forebears.
Height: The Thargashu are generally taller even than their Duathic predecessors. Men average 6'0" (HV 8) while women average 5'8" (HV 7). Variation is average.
Weight: Men have an average Physique of Ideal and a corresponding average weight of 188 lbs. Women also have an average Physique of Thin, with an average weight of 143 lbs.
Appearance: Like their Duathic ancestors, the Thargashu generally have Light or Very Light Complexions. Hair tends to be curly or wavy, with blond and sandy colors being the most common. Red is not uncommon, either. Green eyes are very evident among the tribes, although a wide range of eye colors appears.
Resilience: The Thargashu possess a hardy nature, probably as a result of their Duathic heritage. Many have better than average eyesight as a result of their habitat (see Recommended Physical Aspects).
Lifespan: The average Lifespan of a male tribesman is 80 years; for women it is slightly higher. This increased Lifespan is again the result of their Duathic heritage, for Duathic peoples are known to be unusually long-lived. Thargashu Age Categories are as follows: Adolescent (11-14), Young (15-18), Adult (19-50), Old (51-70), Elderly (70-90), Venerable (91+).
Gender: The ration of men to women in Thargashu society is approximately 55/45
Recommended Physical Aspects: As a result of adapting to life on the plateaus, many Thargashu have the Aspect Enhanced Sense (sight) at Rank 3 or higher. Animal Kinship (Gashundu) is also very common, especially among initiates of the Face Lodges.
Unique Abilities: Thargashu receive a -1 Difficulty bonus for any action dealing with range estimation or sighting at long range.
Recommended Expertises: Suggested expertises for members of Thargashu culture include: Wilderness (plains lore and survival), Tracking (plains/grasslands), Riding (Gashundu), and Favored Weapon (Alaki Greatbow).
Dominance: The Thargashu tribes are the Dominant cultural group in the Balkera region of Canroel. Several other cultures also make their homes among the cool grasses of Balkera, but most pay some form of tribute to the Tarakh, the Thargashu Council of Chieftains. Notable exceptions are the warlike Irisanti Tribes to the north and south, and the peaceful and nomadic Sune Nomads to the east. Thargashu influence dwindles quickly beyond the frontiers of Balkera, and the tribes rarely venture off their familiar plateaus. Plainsmen are regarded with a mixture of suspicion and derision in the more civilized lands to the east and south.
Heritage Orientation: As a people, the Thargashu have had a long and distinguished history on their beloved plateaus. Although clearly descended from a common Duathic heritage, the tribes display an unusual level of independent cultural Evolution. From a spiritual perspective, many have even come to shun their ancestry, dismissing most of the Duathic tribes who have survived as 'savages', a direct reference to the appalling burial practices of those peoples. The Thargashu are a spiritual folk, rooted in traditions of their own devising and caught in the elaborate weavings of their inherent xenophobia.
The Heritage Orientation of the tribes is Ethnocentric with a Manifestation of (distrust of outsiders). Since everyone not a Thargashu is considered an 'outsider', the tribes are often perceived as unusually paranoid by the infrequent visitors and merchants who traverse the Balkeran plains. However, since the tribes eschew nonsensical violence, there are surprisingly few unwanted 'incidents' on the plateau. Orientation Aspects include Prevention (incursion or violation), Tradition (firmly developed cultural biases), and Reaction (defense). The Personality Traits Stubborn, Superstitious, Untrusting, and Reserved are all appropriate for members of this culture, as are the Motivations Contemptuous, Brave, Loyal, and Vengeful.
Custom and Lifestyle: When the earliest Duathic settlers first saw the Balkeran plateaus, they knew they had found the object of their generations-long search. Balkera was truly a land of plenty. The people quickly began to build on the upland plateaus, establishing small farming communities ringed by simple wooden palisades. They domesticated the wild bison of the region and studied the local herb and mineral lore. After four generations, the old ways had become only memories. A new culture had grown from the remnants of the old and had sunken its roots deep into the clay earth of the plains.
New beliefs and ideals began to take shape as well. The Thargashu came to regard all of Demtok's (the Nomad God of wild things) gifts as sacred, created for the sustenance of man and animal alike. To claim such things as one's own was simple blasphemy. For centuries, the various tribes of the plateaus shared the bounty of the region equally. Although most tribes have traditional lands within the Marantu (Na. 'great home') through which they roam, the land itself belongs to no tribe. All enjoy equal right and share equal access to the land's gifts.
Most of the tribes of the Thargashu Nation are Oriented toward Equilibrium (with an Passive Posture). While they are rarely the aggressor, the presence of the Face Lodge camps along the eastern frontier attest to the fact that these people will zealously defend what is theirs. They have learned a series of harsh lessons during their long history in Balkera.
The Isolation of the tribes is purely geographical. Balkera is a windswept region of grassy plateaus and is only sparsely populated. Access to the high plateaus - where the bulk of the Thargashu tribes dwell - is achieved most easily to the east, while the southern approaches pose the greatest hazards to the unwary traveler. Interaction among the tribes of the Nation is at a premium; the very nature of their spirituality hinges on the fundamental concept of 'One land, one people.' Interaction with outsiders is kept to a minimum, except for the occasional wayfarer or welcome trader, and after the outset of the Candelic Expansion, foreign Interaction becomes almost non-existant.
The Thargashu are generally suspicious of Technology; Balkera is not known as a hotbed of innovation. Although primitive iron-working techniques are known and practiced, its use remains limited to agricultural and domestic uses. Most tribesmen consider the metal 'unnatural' and prefer to use implements of carved bone and horn instead. Indeed, the Thargashu Horn Armor known as Akhat is highly prized by outsiders, and the notched Horn Greatbows (Na. 'Inikh') borne by Face Lodge warriors are universally feared throughout the eastern lands.
The tribes also produce some of the most beautiful weaving and pottery on the island of Canroel. Their weavings employ the dried Thorngrasses and Highgrasses of Balkera, dyed in pleasing combinations of earthtones (muted colors for the animals) and suntones (bright colors for the gods). Thargashu pottery is shaped from the pliable clays of the region and dyed using the same earthtone/suntone juxtaposition. Balkeran pottery is considered a luxury item in the lands west of the Dyrn Eredeyn, no doubt a marriage of its transfixing artistry and its rarity. The tribes allow only limited quantities of such textiles and ceramics to leave the plateaus.
Balkeran soil is heavy with clay, and as a result requires sophisticated crop rotation practices. The Thargashu have imported certain cultivation and irrigation practices from their neighbors, the Irisanti. By using an involved trough and lever irrigation system, coupled with a four-field rotation strategy, Thargashu farmers manage to coax an impressive return from their fields.
Each tribe also has its own Gashundu herd, and the bison serve as the people's principal means of sustenance. Thargashu enjoy an odd symbiotic relationship with the bison, regarding them almost as equals. Gashundu are killed during an elaborate ritual, and every part of the animal is used by the tribe. Warriors also Bond their mounts (which are taken from the largest and strongest male Gashundu), and this Bond is unbreakable until one or the other dies. Although the herd moves with the tribe, the Nation as a whole must be considered Fully Agricultural.
Tribes among the Thargashu are often quite large, with populations of eight or nine hundred considered 'average'. Each tribe is governed jointly by a Chieftain (Na. 'Khe') and a Highmother (Na. 'Kha'). The Chieftain is responsible for the tribe's warriors, Face Lodges, and external affairs while the Highmother is responsible for all of the tribe's internal affairs. Both rulers are co-equal, although each traditionally defers to the other in an area of customary responsibility. Thus the Khe serves as a tribe's representative to the Tarakh while the Kha oversees the tribal governing council (Na. 'Khanem').
A Thargashu village is laid out in the form of a splayed wheel, with each arm radiating from a center clearing called the Khur, which means 'High or Revered Place' in Nalari. In most villages, the Khur contains the homes of the Khe and the Kha, as well as any Face Lodges with Dwellings there. In larger villages it will also contain the Khanem Lodge. The rest of the village's homes radiate outward from the Khur in no particular arrangement. Elder tribesfolk tend to be closer to the center because their homes have stood there longer, not as a result of any kind of tribal seniority. In some of the younger tribes, each radial arm contains members of one or more similar Vision Clans.
The homes themselves are built of wood and dried grasses, and use a sunken A frame construction style. A putty made from clay and thorngrass is used as both a bonding agent and a sealant, and is also used to fill gaps in roof and wall. Bison hides are often hung in doorways and decorated with pictograms depicting the family's history. Face Lodge Dwellings are often brightly painted with images detailing the Exploit of the Lodge. The homes of the Khe and Kha are intentionally kept plain and austere, for these individuals represent the entire tribe. Some villages are encircled by palisades of triangular wooden stakes, a throwback to an earlier time which is quickly becoming necessary once again.
Another important aspect of Thargashu culture is the concept of the Vision Clan (Na. 'Rhul-nam'). Vision Clans are bastardized descendants of the sophisticated Duathic clan system, and have become intimately associated with the Reaching, the traditional Thargashu rite of passage. While the Thargashu have dispensed with most traditional clan associations (exogamous marriage, etc.), the structure of the Vision Clans themselves remains as a symbol of a past time. Vision Clans and The Reaching are both described in the Symbols and Creative Arts section which follows.
The Thargashu economy is based entirely on Barter and Gift Exchange, with currency accepted only for its metal value. Merchants are often the only outsiders welcome on the plateaus, and inter-tribal trade is normally conducted during impromptu encounters out on the plateaus. It is for this reason that most Thargashu constantly carry a Gift (Na. 'Hosh') with them; one never knows when an opportunity for trade might arise.
Status and Family: The spiritual teachings of the people prevent any overt status groupings among them. However, a number of such divisions do exist on an informal level. Although technically an 'advisory' body, the pronouncements of a tribe's Khanem are normally regarded as sacrosanct. A tribe's Chieftain and Highmother are generally objects of tremendous respect and esteem, as are warriors who belong to Face Lodges. Most tribesmen will tread lightly when crossing such individuals.
The basic units of Thargashu culture are the tribe and the family. While the tribe is the primary political unit, the family is the primary social unit. Both sexes are accorded equal respect and opportunity, and lineage is traced through the mother. Inheritance is divided equally among all eligible children, although a child who is a member of a Face Lodge may be shown additional favor.
Symbols and Creative Arts: There are two recurring symbols in Thargashu culture - the horn and the circle. The horn of the bison represents the strength and wisdom of those great beasts, and Thargashu spiritual tradition says that the soul of a Gashundu dwells in the horn as well. Most tribal rituals involve the use of bison horns, as do many of the sacred decorations employed by the Face Lodges.
The circle is present as a primal motif in many societies, and the Balkeran tribes are no exception. The circle shows reverence for Tenlekhem, the Bright One, who is the Nomad Sun God. As the son of Gashintu, Tenlekhem receives slightly less esteem than does his father, and is often the patron of farmers and travelers. He is known as the life-giver and his symbol, a radiating circle, is used in many affirmation rituals and rites of passage. In the Thargashu culture the circle appears in the configuration of the village, in the sacred dances of the shamen, and in many of the ceremonial trappings of Face Lodge warriors.
Another important symbolic presence is the Reaching. Thargashu tribesfolk hold visions in high esteem, and all undergo a traditional initiation ceremony called the Reaching. When a Thargashu youth, either male or female, reaches the age of fourteen, they are sent north to the Valley of Stone. After fasting for three days and nights, the youth will begin the Reaching. The resulting vision quest usually affects the young person deeply.
When the youth returns from the Valley, he undergoes a joyous initiation ceremony. First, the initiate attempts to return home, where his family turns their backs on him. Acting despondent and shaken, the youth wanders toward the village Khur, where he finds several members of his new Vision Clan waiting for him. His Clan brothers take him to a specially prepared tent and decorate him with the Clan's markings. When he emerges, the entire tribe is waiting to escort him to an initiation feast.
Although the Vision Clans are primarily ceremonial, they create a truly unique bond among their members. Thargashu rarely discuss the visions experienced during a Reaching, but the nature of an individual's vision quest determines the Vision Clan to which he will belong. As a result, the Vision Clans tend to represent general personality types and demeanors (probably a result of an individual's psyche influencing his visions). Of course, the Thargashu maintain that the visions are sent from Gashintu to guide the people.
In many ways, the Vision Clans act as analogs to the guilds and confraternities found in more civilized lands. The Vision Clans of the Thargashu are:
Thargashu artistic and creative styles are natural and austere, celebrating the spiritual connection between the people and their environment. Lines and shapes tend to be amorphous and flowing, reflecting the chaotic nature of the plateaus. Musical tastes are simple, consisting primarily of atonal, rhythmic chants coupled with the beat of the Chumbi, a small drum constructed of wood and stretched bison hide. Displays of singing and dancing are common during festival time, when the various Vision Clans engage in friendly artistic competition. Although the tribesfolk have been exposed to outside artistic influences, they tend to be suspicious of what they call 'singing sticks' (a disparaging term for musical instruments), preferring instead the elemental purity of drum and chant.
Clothing and Decoration: Thargashu clothing tends to be both functional and comfortable. Most men favor calf-length breeches of form-fitting reversed leather, dyed to blend with the grasses of the plateau. Low, wide, soft boots of supple deerskin are worn to protect the feet, and loose shirts of woven linen are girded by belts of stout bison leather. During the colder months, cloaks and mantles of bison fur are worn for warmth.
Women generally favor long, wide skirts of brushed doeskin or reversed leather and loose blouses cut in a manner similar to the mens' shirts. Women who belong to Face Lodges or who hunt alongside the men wear the traditional Arakhu (the calf-length riding breeches). Decoration is kept to a minimum, although shirts and blouses are occasionally woven with brightly colored thread. Leathers are sometimes beaded, and festival clothes are much more lively than daily linens and leathers.
A notable exception to the customary decorative practices of the tribes are the Masks of the Face Lodges. Each Face Lodge has a traditional Mask which is modified slightly to suit the tastes and personality of an individual warrior. A warrior's personal Exploit, as well as elements of his Vision Lodge affiliation, also appear on his Mask.
A Face Lodge warrior's Mask is his most prized possession; it is a chronicle of his life as a warrior among the Thargashu. Most Masks are elaborately painted withrich dyes, inlaid with quartz and beads, and carved into beautiful reliefs. The basic Lodge Mask is presented to a warrior upon initiation into his Lodge. During the first year, the warrior is responsible for customizing his Mask.
On the first anniversary of his initiation, called the Accepting, the warrior presents his completed Mask to the Lodge. After the Lodge's ritual Acceptance, the warrior is a brother for life and becomes responsible for upholding the Lodge's Exploit. His Mask will continue to evolve throughout his life and career.
Religious and Magical Considerations: The Thargashu are a spiritual culture, paying homage to the traditional Nomad Gods of the Balkeran region as well as a host of minor nature spirits. Although both religion and spirituality are important aspects of Tribal life, ritual observances remain simple and elegant. The most elaborate ceremonial practices occur in the Face Lodges, whose traditions reach back into the mists of Duathic history.
The different Nomad Faiths enjoy varying degrees of support and organization on the plateaus, and priests of all the major deities are present in every village. Most villages also have a Takhash (Na. 'sacred place') located in the village's Khur. The Takhash is a large circular structure reserved for worship and meditation. The floor is thickly covered with hides, and small shrines to the individual Nomad Gods are evenly spaced around the perimeter of the enclosure. All are welcome - at any time of day or night - in the Takhash.
Small Wayshrines are also a common sight on the plateaus. Called Takhasti (Na. 'little sacred places') by the Thargashu, such Wayshrines are usually simple constructions built to resist the elements. Small stone dolmens are a familiar example. Priests are responsible for maintaining both the village Takhash and any Takhasti understood to be on tribal lands. Fulfillment of the latter duty makes priests of the Nomad Faiths a common sight on the open plateau.
Many claim that the Nomad Faiths pre-date any settlement on the island of Canroel. Other scholars trace the introduction of these beliefs to the early migrations of the Irisanti tribes. The Nomad Faiths of Balkera are:
The principal task of any Face Lodge warrior involves maintaining the honor of and adding to the Lodge's Exploit. An Exploit details the history of a Lodge, and exalts the great deeds of its warriors. There is fierce competition among the various Face Lodges as a result of their Exploits; each Lodge strives to develop the longest and most impressive Exploit.
Some of the newer Lodges allow warriors to record personal Exploits as well, although this tends to be the exception rather than the norm. In such Lodges, warriors often decorate their Masks with elements from their personal Exploit. Elements of the Lodge's Exploit serve as decoration for ceremonial garb and Lodge Dwellings. In most traditional Lodges, however, drawing attention to individual Exploits is frowned upon because it detracts from a warrior's proper focus - the Lodge as a whole. All ornamentation in the traditional Lodge is taken from the Lodge's Exploit.
Finally, all Lodges except the Stone Walkers (who serve Demtok) have Dwellings in every village. Face Lodges are not organized according to tribal divisions; rather, the membership of each Lodge extends throughout the Thargashu Nation. Face Lodge warriors, once initiated, often wander the plateaus from one Dwelling to another. Their tribal allegiances now assume a secondary position behind their Face Lodge loyalty.
A Lodge Dwelling is like a chapter house - any warrior who is a member is welcome in any Dwelling. Dwellings are often the largest structures in a Thargashu village, and are normally the site of much activity. Their exteriors are brightly painted with elements from the Lodge's Exploit, and on festival days the Lodge's traditional Masks are hung on either side of the entrance.
Most villages have a Dwelling for every Lodge; however, if a Lodge Dwelling is not present, a warrior may request Hospitality at another Lodge by presenting his Hosh. All Lodges (except occasionally the Grey Lodge of Tenlekhem) will accept a warrior's Hosh as payment and offer Hospitality. Although each Lodge is itself a tightly-knit brotherhood, Face Lodge warriors in general share a common sense of loyalty and tradition; warriors respect these qualities in their brethren from other Dwellings.
The Face Lodges of the Thargashu are:
Historical Notes: I took this out, because it is very long and none of the world's history has been published yet. Perhaps in future posts, I'll start uploading bits of it. Let me know what folks think.