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(Fic) Rites of Passage

25th October 2009 (14:46)

After I wrote my recent story about the First Slayer, Blood, Some Of It Mine, lavastarasked me about what Hiywan's people do to mark births, marriages and deaths. So here, drawn from a mixture of historical ethnography and shameless making-things-up, is an account of the rites of passage of the Five Trees Clan.

Rating: PG.
Warnings: Childbirth, breastfeeding, infanticide, menstruation, sex, polygamy, incest, divorce, homosexuality, heterosexuality, scarification rituals, death, etc etc.
Disclaimer: The beliefs and social strictures of the Five Trees Clan are not necessarily endorsed by the author.


Rites of Passage


Birth

Giving birth is an extremely dangerous occasion; it is not at all uncommon for women to die in childbirth. Stillbirths or perinatal deaths of the child are also quite common. Therefore, the rituals surrounding birth are designed to call on the gods - particularly Serkalem - for their protection, and at the same time ward off dangerous spirits. In particular, a sacred circle is drawn around the shelter or tent where the expectant mother is waiting, and circles and other sacred signs may also be drawn directly onto her body with white paint. The clan's women look after her during her labour, but all the men are kept well away - because they are ritually linked to death and killing, their presence at childbirth would be very bad luck.

However, the woman's husband does have an important role to play too, in the couvade ritual. He is dressed up as a woman, with bundles of grass wrapped in skins tied to his belly and chest to represent pregnancy, and the other men address him by his wife's name and generally act as if he were a woman. This is normally approached in a light-hearted manner, at least at first, but it has a very serious side to it: the man's job is to distract any passing evil spirits and trick them into attacking him instead of the real mother and baby. Once birth begins, he will be expected to lie down - far away, on the other side of the camp from his wife - and shout and scream louder than she does.

Once the mother does give birth, the clan's headwoman and Guardian are called over to examine the child and ensure it is human. The danger is that if a demon or evil spirit did enter into the woman during her pregnancy, the child may be tainted and demonic - in modern terms, they're checking for birth defects or disabilities. If the baby appears abnormal, it will be killed - taken by the Guardian out of the camp and left exposed somewhere. Very rarely, this may also be done if the clan has insufficient resources to feed an additional mouth.

If all is well, though, the headwoman will formally acknowledge the baby as a new member of the clan, and ask the mother what he or she will be called. (If the mother is unable to answer, this responsibility passes to her closest female relative - who will normally have discussed names with the mother earlier anyway). The child is then cleaned up and presented to the mother, who will feed it for the first time. Meanwhile, the afterbirth is removed and preserved - once dried out, a piece of the birth cord is normally placed into an amulet that will later be given to the child.

Finally, the rest of the clan is invited to come over and say hello to their new clanmate.

You'll note that the woman's husband is not considered to be the father of her child; his role is to protect and provide for his wife, but the baby is hers alone.


Weaning

The clans practice extended breast-feeding, for two or three years after birth as a minimum - and normally tailing off only when the mother gives birth to another child. (It's also not uncommon for the women of the clan to nurse each other's children from time to time, especially if one of them is unable to give enough milk). However, the first time a child eats solid food is noted as a special occasion, and marked with a ceremony. As part of this, the child will be presented with an amulet - a small leather bag on a cord which contains important artefacts of their life such as a piece of their birth cord, their first lost milk tooth, and anything of powerful significance or importance to them. This encapsulated their identity and acts as a protective magic. (In practice, the mother of a young child normally wears the amulet herself, along with her own; but once the child is old enough to be trusted not to lose or damage it, he or she will be allowed to wear their own amulet. This is a source of great pride for them.)


Coming of Age

The coming of age ceremony is described in great detail in Hiywan's Story itself. It ideally takes place at the next full moon after a girl first menstruates or a boy first ejaculates, but it's quite common for the ceremony to be delayed or brought forward so that several new-adults can be initiated together. Two or more clans may also meet to hold a joint ceremony for all their young people. The participants are "kidnapped" during the night, taken somewhere dark and drugged with hallucinogenic smoke, then confronted by the "Gods" (the clan elders in masks and costumes) who tell them they are dead, and challenge them to become reborn as men and women of the People. Assuming they accept, the new adults then go through a rebirth ceremony with fire and water, and are welcomed back by their clanmates.

They then go through about two weeks of training and education, still separated from the rest of the clan, learning about the new restrictions and privileges and responsibilities they will enjoy as adults. At the end of this, each of them is sent off alone for a night to pray and meditate, asking the spirits to show them a protective totem or guide to watch over them for the rest of their lives. This is usually an animal of a particular kind, but can also be a type of plant or even a rock or some more abstract natural force such as the wind, clouds or a stream. When they return at daybreak, they tell the elders what they experienced, and will be given a symbolic representation of that spirit totem to keep in their amulets. In future, they must treat their totem creature or object with respect: in particular, they may not eat their totem's flesh or fruit unless they personally killed it or picked it. In return, they expect to receive magical protection from the guardian spirit of their totem creature.


Marriage

Marriage is considered a social obligation and ritual duty; everybody gets married. Once a person comes of age, their clan elders will arrange meetings with neighbouring clans over the course of a year or so, to allow them to choose a mate. However, due to the small size of the clans and the necessity to avoid incest, this choice is fairly limited. If a person is still unmarried two years after they come of age, they will simply be told who their new husband or wife is to be. Similarly, a person whose spouse dies will be expected to re-marry within a year of their bereavement, unless they're past child-bearing age. Some marriages are close, committed and loving lifelong partnerships; others are mere arrangements of obligation - but since the clans live communally and everyone shares a close bond, a loveless marriage is much less of a hardship than it would be in a society based around the nuclear family.

The People are strictly exogamous - that is, marriage is only allowed between two people from different clans; and even then, the headwomen of each clan will compare notes to make sure that two people don't share a grandparent before permitting the marriage. They are also matrilineal: a husband leaves his own clan and becomes adopted into his wife's as part of the marriage ceremony - and as described under 'birth', her future children are considered hers alone and therefore automatically part of her clan.

The actual marriage ceremony is as follows (I wrote this all out earlier, which is why it's so much more detailed than the rest of this essay):



A marriage ceremony combines two different events. A man and woman are joined together in the sight of the Gods so that he can ensure she is fertile and can bear children. Equally importantly, the new husband is adopted into his wife's clan and accepted by them as one of their family. Marriages are normally conducted at one of the infrequent meetings between two clans, the bride's and groom's, and it is likely that more than one marriage will be celebrated at the same time. A marriage is normally conducted early in the morning, immediately after everyone has eaten but before people set off for the day's hunting and food gathering.

Representatives of the two clans line up, and the bride and groom are escorted forward by a relative - usually their mother or father, or an older sibling. The bride's sponsor then announces the name of the bride, and goes on to list the names of her parents and all four grandparents, and finishes with a declaration that she is a member in good standing of the clan and free to marry. The headwoman of the groom's clan, or her representative, then turns to the members of her own clan present and asks them if they are willing to allow their clanmember to marry this woman. The reply "yes" can be assumed, or the marriage arrangements would never have got this far, but it's a legal formality. (The most common legal reason for saying "no" would be if the bride and groom turned out to share a grandparent, which would make them too closely related to marry). The groom's sponsor then announces his name and ancestry in the same way, and in turn the bride's clanmembers are asked if they will accept the marriage. Assuming they also say yes, the same question is now put to the bride and groom themselves - note the priority order here! - and they give their own consent to the marriage. If several people are getting married at the same time, this ritual is repeated for each couple in turn.

After this, drummers from each clan start up a rhythm, and the priest of Tiruneh makes his appearance. This will usually be the chieftain of the clan whose territory the ceremony is taking place on, but he wears a mask and ritual clothing, and is treated by everybody as if he actually is the God. He performs a holy dance and invocation, and calls on all the spirits to witness the marriage of his children. At this point, the bride and groom are undressed by their friends and relatives, who then paint sacred symbols on their bodies, using red earth on the man and white earth on the woman. Decorated headdresses are placed on their heads, with bird feathers, green leaves and flowers. These symbolise the Sky God and Earth Goddess, who performed the First Marriage, which will now be reenacted by the mortal participants.

After more ritual invocations and chanting, the bride and groom are ushered forward. The bride holds her hands forward, fingers interlaced and thumbs touching to form a circle; the groom then places his own hands over hers, index fingers forming a cross within the circle of her hands. This represents the two sacred symbols of Tsehay and Serkalem, the cross and circle, but the sexual symbolism is usually quite obvious to the participants. With their hands joined, the couple exchange vows. The man offers his strength and the life within his body to protect her, make her fertile and care for her children as his own. She says she will accept his gifts, and offer him the life within her body and a place at her hearth and fire to be his own. The priest of Tiruneh then places his hand over the interlinked hands of the couple and says "So be it". The couple may now kiss and embrace, or smile shyly at each other and shuffle their feet, or whatever reaction seems most appropriate to them, but they're now married. The marriage isn't considered complete, finalised and official until the entire ceremony is over, though - in particular, if there are several marriages taking place the priest of Tiruneh moves on to the next couple, who in turn recite their vows.

After this, the couple are separated, their ritual headdresses removed and their ordinary clothing returned to them (although the body paint will generally still be in place). The bride's female friends and relatives take her away to another part of the campsite. The groom now faces a rather more difficult ritual. First, all the members of his own clan present formally wish him goodbye, because he will now be leaving them to join his bride's clan - this is no token gesture, because it might be months or even years before he sees his birth clan again. After this, he is lead away by the men of his new clan. They generally go some way outside the campsite, and will be armed both in case of lurking dangers, and because carrying spears is a traditionally masculine activity. The groom, however, is unarmed - one of his new kinsfolk will be carrying an extra spear on his behalf.

Once they reach a suitable place, the men gather round and challenge the groom to prove that he is competent, capable of providing for his new wife, and able to stand alongside them as equals. The groom is then expected to demonstrate his skills in some way; throwing stones and sticks at a target, or wrestling one of the other men, or demonstrating his strength by picking up a heavy rock. He may even choose to show that he is a good singer, or can knap a flint, or whatever. Given that most newly-wed grooms are only in their early teens, the men don't actually expect a stunning display of skill and competence; they're more interested in making a judgement of his personality. Does he respond to their challenges and teasing in a good humoured way, or does he get hostile and angry? Is he a show-off, quietly practical, or insecure? Assuming he doesn't disgrace himself, the groom will be congratulated and offered a place with the other men in the clan.
However, there's a catch. Being adopted requires a ritual test of endurance, to cut the man off from his birth clan and mark him as a member of the new one. Several of the younger men will grab hold of the groom and hold him immobile, while the oldest present stands in front of him holding a sharp flint knife. He is offered one final opportunity to back out, abandon his marriage, slink back home to his own clan and cling to his mother's skirts like a baby instead of moving forward into full manhood. Expressed like that, of course, no self-respecting young male teenager will refuse consent to what is about to happen, however painful it might be...

What follows is a scarification ritual. The knife is used to cut a pattern of marks into the man's flesh, and then sand is rubbed into the wound to ensure that it heals with a raised visible scar. Each clan has its own mark - that of the Five Trees clan is five short parallel lines cut into the right shoulderblade. The cutting tends not to be too painful - a new knife is always used, and flint is very sharp - but the treatment of the wound is agonising. A man who grits his teeth and shows no pain will win admiration from the others, but loud screaming and even fainting is not uncommon. Afterwards, the wound is washed clean and the man is formally welcomed into the clan and given a man's spear to hold. He is then allowed to sit or lie down and recover. As he does, the older men start telling him some of the clan's secret traditions and histories - which also helps to focus his mind and distract him from the pain.

Meanwhile, the bride is back in the camp completing her own part of the ritual. In order to welcome her new husband "to her hearth and fire", she constructs a small makeshift shelter out of wooden poles with leaves or animal skins as the walls, and lays a small fireplace in front of it. Some of her closest friends and relatives will be excused other duties for the day to help her build it. If several marriages are being conducted, each bride will build her own shelter, usually next to the others - or sometimes, a single large shelter with animal skins hanging down to divide it into separate chambers.

These two activities normally take up the rest of the morning and into early afternoon. The groom is then escorted back into camp, and as soon as he's spotted returning the bride goes to the clan headwoman and asks her for a burning ember from the fire. She then welcomes her husband formally, and uses the brand to light her fire. Meanwhile, the other clan members present, both male and female, go and bring food and water for the couple. This is an important symbolic ritual in itself, because this is food that the bride and groom have not found themselves; it is a gift from the clan, and shows that they will share and support the new family.

After eating comes the final part of the marriage ceremony; the consummation. The assembled friends and relatives proceed to strip the couple naked - they are expected to protest and maybe struggle a little, but not too hard, and the whole thing is generally done with lots of ribald joking and suggestions. The two of them then crawl inside the shelter the woman has built - at this point the joking of the crowd generally switches over into highly detailed advice on what they should do to each other. Depending on the couple, they may respond to this with rude gestures and orders to go away and leave them alone, or play along with the jokes - or even, for that matter, listen to the suggestions in all seriousness and even ask for more advice.

The bride and groom are now expected to have penetrative sex with each other. Being inside the shelter offers some privacy, although it's usually perfectly possible for the people around to see what's going on inside, and in fact that's part of the point. They're there to make sure that the marriage is properly consummated and therefore legal - because it doesn't come fully into effect and become permanent until the man ejaculates inside the body of the woman for the first time. Once that event takes place, the assembled clan members will usually cheer and congratulate the couple, then go away and leave them to their own devices.

The people of the clans have a very matter-of-fact attitude to sex, and don't regard it as a subject for much embarrassment or shame; they live communally and it's just an everyday activity they've seen people engaging in for as long as they can remember. However, it's not unheard of for a combination of first-time nerves and shyness at being the centre of attention to inhibit a young couple from consummating their marriage straight away - especially if their partner had to be chosen for them rather than being their own selection. If this happens, then the initial bawdy teasing may shift to more earnest advice and encouragement. As an extreme measure the crowd may even move away - although it's still the rule that the couple should not leave their shelter until they do finally have intercourse, and there will always be a few people keeping an eye on them from afar.

Once they've become legally married, the couple are allowed a brief honeymoon... that is, as long as they stay inside their shelter they're excused from all chores and work around the camp. Their friends will bring them food and water and leave it outside the door of the shelter. (If they need to go to the toilet - or just stretch their legs - everybody will turn a blind eye: literally, they'll look away and pretend not to notice the other person, because they're still "supposed" to be in the shelter. In turn the bride or groom are not allowed to speak to or acknowledge anyone else as they walk through the camp, in order to maintain the pretence that they're not really there. The same applies at night; they can leave their flimsy tent for the safety of the main shelter, but they have to pretend that they're not there, and go back as soon as it's light.) This is a time for the couple to get to know each other, talk to each other freely, and of course have lots of sex if they so desire. In theory, they can stay in the shelter for as long as it stays up - an incentive for the bride to construct it well - or until they decide that they want to rejoin the rest of society. In practice, if they stay there for more than a day or two the people bringing their food may start to complain. Ultimately, if the headwoman decides that the couple are shirking their duties and have been away too long, she will come along and personally kick over the shelter, thus ending the honeymoon. (More often, this will be jokingly threatened rather than actually done, but it does happen.)



Some other notes on marriage:

Obligations - the husband is expected to play a full role in his wife's clan, and specifically to help provide for her and her children by hunting or working around the camp. The couple are also expected to have sex at least once a year - this is seen as being for the woman's health as much as anything else, since semen has powerful magical life-giving properties and without it the woman will dry out inside and become infertile. For most couples, this requirement is fulfilled by participation in the First Rains ritual, carried out on the first day of the rainy season each year, when the married members of the clan re-enact the sacred marriage between the Sky God and Earth Goddess.
 
Contraception - what's that? As far as the clans are concerned, a healthy woman becomes pregnant and gives birth as a regular natural function, with no male intervention necessary other than the ritual blessing of her womb to stop it from drying out and becoming barren. For that matter, the idea of trying to stop pregnancy would seem bizarre, unnatural and even immoral to most members of the clans; children are their future. (And more pragmatically, a high birthrate is essential to offset the high deathrate from childhood mishaps, hunting accidents, death in childbirth and other causes. The clans' environment offers plentiful resources in the form of big game herds, enough to support a high population by Mesolithic standards; but acquiring these requires a lot of manpower and is very dangerous.) 

Adultery - this is considered a serious crime. Not only can it cause discord and jealousy in the clan, but more seriously, it is believed that unlawful intercourse can cause a woman's womb to become cursed, so her next child will be deformed or demonic. The woman will normally be scolded and shamed, then subjected to a long, tedious cleansing ritual to try and protect her. The man will come in for more intense shaming and ostracism, since his actions have endangered the woman and the entire clan by potentially unleashing a demon on them. He may be ordered to beg personal forgiveness from every other member of the clan in turn, or tied to a tree outside the camp to be mocked, spat at and generally abused. Another punishment may be for the offending man to have his hands tied with a short grass rope behind his back for several days, so the only way he can feed himself or do anything else is by humbly asking one of his clanmates to help out. This is a favoured punishment because it emphasises the dependence of each clanmember on all the others.

Note, though, that it is only penetrative intercourse that counts as adultery in the eyes of clan law. All other forms of sexual activity don't count, because they're "not sex" if no transfer of bodily fluid takes place. In fact, the clans have a very relaxed and casual attitude to such actions, much more so than our own society's, and non-penetrative fooling around with someone other than your husband or wife generally doesn't raise an eyebrow. It might cause some jealousy if you do it with other people to the exclusion of your own legal spouse, of course, or if people are worried that you'll get carried away and go on to more taboo activities as well, but in itself it's not seen as wrong or unnatural.

There are also certain magical rituals in which people take on the mantle of one of the spirits and engage in ritual intercourse. This is not considered adultery because the people having sex are the spirits, not the humans. In particular, there is a ritual where a woman who has been unable to conceive for several years may ask the gods to bless her with fertility. Since the climax of this ritual - which may be repeated several times - involves her having sex with the chieftain or one of the other men of the clan who is taking the role of the god Tsehay, it works surprisingly often.

The withdrawal method is known among the clans, and if the man manages to not ejaculate inside his partner by using it, they haven't broken any taboos. However this is considered a dangerous and high-risk activity, and is generally frowned on by society. (Which, of course, means that some younger people might try it anyway, for the thrill and danger of rebellion). Bear in mind that this is not considered as a form of contraception since the clans aren't even aware that sex causes conception; rather, it's a method of flirting with an enjoyable but taboo activity then tricking the spirits and averting them from cursing the woman into bearing demonic offspring.

Incest and Statutory Rape - the clans have a strong incest taboo because they believe that this, more than any other form of illicit sexual intercourse, leads to the birth of demons. This is why marriage can only be exogamous. However, because non-penetrative sexual activity "doesn't count" as sex by clan law, the incest taboo theoretically doesn't apply to such activities. In practice, the Westermarck effect tends to inhibit active sexual attraction between people who, even if not blood siblings, were brought up together as part of the same extended family structure since infancy.

Any form of sexual activity involving children is strictly taboo - although the clans don't feel the need to protect their children from the sight or knowledge that sex even exists, unlike certain modern societies. Since children have a tendency to imitate the things they see adults doing, this does lead to a degree of sexualised play between them. The clans regard this as fairly harmless when kept to a low level, but will often intervene if things seem to be getting out of hand, or earlier if possible.

Divorce - this is very rare, since couples who dislike each other are expected to carry on, fulfil their ritual obligations as necessary, and are then free to ignore each other and seek solace elsewhere the rest of the year (as long as they don't take the 'solace' too far and commit actual adultery as defined above). It is, however, theoretically possible to dissolve a marriage to allow the couple to re-marry others. Also, a man who is permanently unable to achieve erection or orgasm is incapable of fulfilling his primary marital duty and therefore by law the marriage is considered dissolved, as of the second First Rains ceremony he cannot participate in. A blind eye may be turned to this if the couple don't want to get divorced; they will 'pretend' to have sex during the First Rains ritual, and the rest of the clan will play along with the deception.

Polygamy - this is rare, but not unknown. It's normally a practical solution to an imbalance of the sexes when the time comes to find someone a marriage partner; if there are no single people available, a couple may be asked to take in the 'surplus' person as a second wife or husband. Alternatively, two brothers or two sisters will occasionally marry the same person jointly; or if an older person is widowed they may choose to join an established couple within their own clan rather than look for a new partner among the youngsters of the neighbouring clans. Sometimes these relationships become a committed three-way partnership; at other times the 'extra' person remains something of an outsider, and may eventually form another relationship outside their marriage. While divorce is almost unheard of among the clans, most of the times when it does occur are when a member of a three-way chooses to marry a new partner of their own.

Homosexuality - like most ancient peoples, the clans consider this an activity rather than an identity. As described above, non-penetrative sexual activity is treated fairly casually, and engaging in it with a member of your own gender rather than the opposite sex is seen as nothing peculiar or unnatural. It would be considered strange to actually prefer same-sex activities, especially to the complete exclusion of opposite-sex ones, but it's regarded as just a quirk on the level of a faddish food preference. However, all members of the clan, even the ones we would describe by our own modern standards as gay, are expected to marry a member of the opposite sex, and have intercourse and babies with them. At most, if a person was highly resistant to the idea of a relationship with a member of the opposite sex, the clans might arrange to marry them to someone who held similar feelings about their gender (a gay man and a lesbian, in modern terms), or put them as a third partner in a polygamous marriage, all with the clear understanding that they'd fulfil their minimal marital duties as quickly as possible, then spend the rest of the time in the company of their preferred same-sex "close friend".

Note that the easy acceptance of non-penetrative sexual activity combined with the harsh condemnation of penetrative intercourse between unmarried people does pose a problem for gay men, restricting what they can legally do with each other. I'd imagine both heterosexual and homosexual anal sex is pretty rare anyway among the clans, due to the lack of anything resembling a decent artificial lubricant (maybe rendered-down animal fat?), but I'm pretty sure that wouldn't completely stop people. However, fellatio would also be considered as "penetrative intercourse" under the principles the clans use (transfer of semen into the other's body) and thus be illegal. Using the withdrawal method (and/or simple "not swallowing") is a risky and socially frowned-upon but still sometimes used way around this problem.

Transsexuality - The clans are willing to consider the possibility that a person might be born with a male spirit in a female body, or vice-versa. This might include people we'd refer to as transsexual today, but also more widely those who are unable to accept a more traditional gender or sexual role. If they were able to convince the clan elders that their feelings were genuine and deeply-held, then they would be initiated into adulthood as a member of their claimed gender. From then on they would be treated by the clan in all ways, at least in theory, as a member of that sex - including marrying a member of the opposite (but physically the same) sex.
 

 


Death

When a member of the clan dies, a funeral is held as soon as possible. This is the responsibility of the men - just as it is bad luck for men to come near a woman giving birth, it is bad luck for women to approach too close to a dead person. (If this is unavoidable, there are cleansing rituals she must go through to avert the ill fortune). Normally, the body will be carried out of the camp a little way, and the men will dig a firepit and pile up firewood to make a pyre, then lay the body on top of it. The dead person's personal possessions are then ritually broken, torn or smashed and placed around the corpse. The dead person's closest male relatives or friends - normally two or three people - stand beside the pyre with spears, to guard it from evil spirits which may try to possess the corpse. (Occasionally, the corpse does indeed rise as a vampire, so this is no idle precaution).

When the preparations have been made, the rest of the clan is assembled - the women and children standing back a little. Some may throw flowers onto the pyre, or bid the dead person goodbye, but there is no formal ceremony for this. But then the clan headwoman hands a torch to the chieftain, and he makes a ritual invocation of the Sun God Tsehay, asking Him to lead the dead person's spirit safely back to Tiruneh's heaven. The clans do not believe in a personalised life after death, but they do believe that each individual has a spirit that rejoins the circle of existence, and may return to the world at some later date in a new form. However, if the funeral is not properly carried out the spirit may cling to the earth, haunting the living as an angry ghost.

The chieftain finishes his prayer then sets light to the pyre. As soon as the flames and smoke are rising higher than the body, he puts the torch down onto the pyre. At this signal, everybody except the armed guards turns their back on the burning pyre and walks away - it is bad luck to watch the spirit ascending to the heavens in case you tempt it to decide to remain behind. It is normal then for a large meal to be served, symbolising the way that life goes on. Meanwhile, the guards stand watch until the fire dies and the body has been consumed (on a practical level, it's also up to them to make sure the fire doesn't go out too soon!) They may then take some of the dead person's charred bones to make into an amulet which will preserve their strength and wisdom for the clan - this is a secret men's ritual, powerful death magic.

When the fire dies down, the ashes and remains will be lying in the bottom of the firepit that was dug earlier. This is then filled in, and stones may be placed over the grave to mark it.

It sometimes happens that a body is not available - for example, if a person was eaten by a lion. In this case the funeral is still conducted, but using an effigy of the dead person instead of the actual corpse. It is simply made and quite small, sticks tied together with grass cords and a leather bag for a head; but it will be dressed with whatever of the deceased's personal possessions are available. The ceremony is conducted in exactly the same way.

Conducting a cremation requires a large amount of firewood, and this is not always available. In these cases a pragmatic solution is employed; the body will be buried instead, and stones piled on the grave to deter scavengers. However, a pyre is then built up over the grave using whatever wood is available, even if it's only enough for a tiny fire. An effigy is then burned on the fire exactly as described above, as if there were no corpse to cremate. The significance of this is that the flames are still carrying the person's spirit up to Tiruneh, even if their spirit has first been transferred into the effigy from their actual body.

While the People do mark graves, they do not regard them with any particular symbolism or importance. The idea of visiting a grave to mourn a dead person would appear strange to them. The person isn't there any more; their spirit has returned to Tiruneh. However, because each person had their own totem in life - an animal, a plant, a natural phenomenon - relatives who encounter an example of that totem may take a moment to remember their deceased loved one. It might even be that the dead person's spirit has returned in the form of their totem creature, so showing them honour is a mark of respect to the dead. 

 

Comments

Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 25th October 2009 21:31 (UTC)

Fascinating.


(So, the way to get more of this story out of you is to ask lots of questions in the comments? Right. *starts compiling list*)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 25th October 2009 21:40 (UTC)

The thing is, I've got lots of background detail worked out, but not all of it actually makes up a story. For example, the account of a wedding ceremony that I included here; I wrote it a while ago, but wasn't sure what to do with it because there's no plot or characterisation or anything to make it dynamic...

Posted by: Lily (lavastar)
Posted at: 25th October 2009 23:19 (UTC)

Eeeeee! Man, this was like seriously SO interesting. Like, you have no idea.

Definitely going to have to ask more questions if I can think of them...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 26th October 2009 13:50 (UTC)

I'm not sure how much there is left to explain, but feel free to ask if you think of anything. :-)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 26th October 2009 13:50 (UTC)

:-)

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