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(Fic) A Day in the Life of the Five Trees Clan

2nd October 2009 (17:26)
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It's been a while since I wrote it, but Hiywan's Story is still one of my favourite pieces of work. During the course of writing the fic (which is about the First Slayer's childhood before she was a Slayer, for those of you who've not read it), I put a lot of thought into developing the background. Trying to work out how a tribe of stone age hunter-gatherers 8,000 years ago might have lived their lives. Then, of course, half of what I thought up never found its way into the story, because I didn't want it to turn into an exposition dump.

And so what I've done instead is write this. It's not so much fic, as a documentary; a description of a day in the life of Hiywan's clan, with all sorts of sidebars and digressions. Like the fic itself, it's written in first person and narrated by Hiywan herself, so you can imagine her sitting opposite you and telling you all this. (To get the visual, Hiywan is - well, she's the First Slayer, but at this stage in her life she's a little younger (mid-teens, as of this story), less with the scary white facepaint, and actually sane and articulate.)

6961 words, rating 12 (there are references to violent death, sexual matters of all kinds, and other adult concepts, discussed in a documentary kind of style.) I welcome discussion, questions, political ranting or even educated disagreement with any of the ideas I've put forward.

Disclaimer 1: I did a fair amount of research for this (as well as making some things up), but I'm not a trained anthropologist and there may well be errors. Also, real-world hunter-gatherer societies vary widely in their customs, traditions and beliefs, just as agricultural or industrial societies do. I've tried to make Hiywan's society a plausible and realistic example of such a culture, but there's no single "right" description.

Disclaimer 2: This is world-building, not a political manifesto. Hiywan's society is just as messed up as our own, just messed up in entirely different ways. It should in no way be taken as a model for what I think an "ideal" or "natural" society would look like. There's no such thing. :-)

Disclaimer 3: About halfway through the fic Hiywan mentions where her people think that babies come from. These ideas are not in accordance with modern medical science, and no responsibility can be accepted for anyone who follows Hiywan's advice and ends up pregnant (or not pregnant) as a result. Read at your own risk. :-)

Hiywan's Story - pretty picture of Tanzania courtesy of frenchani


A Day in the Life of the Five Trees Clan

So you want to hear about our lives, do you? Right then.

We generally wake up at dawn, which you can tell by the chinks of light filtering in through the roof. Except in the rainy season, of course, or when we're living in the caves by Five Trees rather than in shelters. Perhaps I should start by telling you about those shelters.

Obviously, the clan moves around, because after a while we tend to pick up all the food in a particular area, and have to move on. When we arrive at a new campsite, it might be as much as several years since we were there last, and so the first job is always to repair the shelters. Well, the men's job anyway; the women usually have to start straight in on gathering food for the next meal. To make a shelter, you start by digging a big hole in the ground, maybe fifteen paces long and six wide. We use stone mattocks to break up the earth and shoulder blades or shells to scoop it out, and it's a very long process; it can take weeks. The earth removed from the hole is piled up in walls around the edges and packed hard. Repairing an old shelter is easier; often the walls have collapsed inwards and you have to scoop out the earth and pound it smooth, but that's still a lot easier than breaking new soil. It's really surprising, but lying on the floor of a shelter is much cooler than lying on the ground outside; I'm not sure why. Anyway, the walls are built up high enough that most people can stand upright inside, except for some of the men.

We then put a framework of branches over the top, and pile stuff on there to make a roof. Animal skins, grass, even earth or mud, whatever's handy. As I said, there are often little gaps in the roof. That doesn't matter most of the time, but obviously when it rains people complain about leaks, and so we try to make a much thicker covering at that time of year. Sometimes it's too heavy and the roof collapses, which can be pretty scary if you're asleep at the time, but funny otherwise. At least, it's funny unless you're one of the ones given the job of fixing it again.

Normally about twenty people fit into one shelter, so the whole clan needs four or five of them. There are usually more than that in a campsite, of course; when we move in we fix up the ones in best condition to sleep in, and the others are just left there or maybe used as storerooms. One is always the Fire Room as well; that's a sacred space and always guarded. Sometimes the men will decide to use the time at a campsite to dig out a new shelter, to replace an older one or just give us more space.

The Five Trees' shelters don't have quite so slanty roofs, but this is the closest picture I could find.

Anyway, everyone usually wakes up at about the same time, but some of us find it easier to get out of bed than others. My aunt and two or three of the other women have the job of preparing the first meal, so they have to get up straight away too; and Belaye organises a rota system for some of the men to help them with fetching and carrying. There's usually a lot of grumbling there. The luckier ones can stay in bed for a while and doze, or whatever. ("Whatever" is a favourite choice of the younger unmarried adults, of course.) Me, though, I'm always wide awake straight away - I used to drive my parents crazy when I was younger. I re-arrange my wrap - some of us sleep in our clothes, others take them off and use them as a kind of blanket overnight - and head out into the early morning sunshine.

Of course, one of the advantages of being an early riser is I get to use the latrines before the big rush. Not that I'm particularly shy - some of my clansmates are, and I've never really understood that because it's not like it's something we don't all do, surely? But I do hate queuing, which tends to happen once everyone else gets up at once. The latrine itself is a long trench, usually dug downwind of the camp on account of it can get smelly after a few weeks. You stand or squat over it, and afterwards you're supposed to kick some of the loose earth that was dug out of the trench back into it, then clean your hands. People who don't get shouted at, if anyone sees them. When the trench gets full the men have to dig another one, which is an even less popular duty. Of course, some people avoid the latrine and just head off into the bush surrounding the campsite; but we're always having to be warned about how that can be dangerous if there are wild animals - or worse, demons - lurking around. "Take a spear - or better, a friend with a spear" is the usual advice.

After that, I might go for a walk, or even a wash in the nearby stream or lake if we're lucky enough to be near one. I mean, the campsite is always near some sort of watersource, obviously, but if it's not very big it's reserved for drinking and we're not allowed to bathe. I much prefer it when there's enough water to splash around in and pour over myself and get clean. After that, it's time for breakfast. This is usually crushed seeds or maybe nuts, because they're easy to store for a long time and don't have to be gathered fresh every day. They're mixed with water, which is put in clay bowls and laid next to the fire until it's all bubbly. The resulting mush is pretty tasteless and not really my favourite, but it is filling. Sometimes we have white rock crystals or even fruit and berries to mix up with it, which is much tastier.

After breakfast, Belaye and Ariam stand up in front of everyone and it's time to discuss the day's jobs. Belaye always carries a thick spear-shaft, which he bangs on the ground when he needs people to be quiet - and sometimes I've even seen him threaten people with it, though I can't remember him ever actually hitting anyone. Any of the adults can speak to suggest things to do, such as if someone spotted a particularly lush patch of edible plants somewhere, or a herd of antelope has wandered near the campsite, or even things like a leaky roof that needs fixing.  The chieftain and headwoman listen, then decide what everybody is going to do. This whole process can take a long time, especially if there's an argument about the best plan, or if one person feels they've been given too many of the bad jobs lately, or whatever. It can get quite boring for the children, since they're not allowed to interrupt the adults, so often they'll be told to go off and play on the other side of the camp, with some of the older children sent to keep an eye on them. I always used to resent being given that job, since I actually preferred listening to the grown-ups - though it was frustrating not being allowed to speak myself. Ironically, once I *was* an adult and able to speak up in the meeting for the first time, I got all embarrassed and couldn't bring myself to say anything. You can bet I was cursing myself for being a coward afterwards!

After the meeting breaks up, everyone sets about their daily business. The jobs you get obviously depend on how old you are and your sex, although there can always be exceptions made for people who are really good - or really bad - at a particular thing. Me being allowed to hunt as a child, and a girl child at that, was one of those exceptions.

The younger children are free to play, always with a few adults or older children supervising them or organising games for them. Something I never realised until I was grown up myself is how much planning went into those games. I thought it was all just fun, but actually the adults were watching to see which of the kids were good at sneaking or hiding, which were good at spotting little objects, which had talent at making or drawing things, and organising activities to help them develop those skills. As the children get older, the element of teaching becomes more obvious; they gather round an adult who shows them how to skin and gut a deer, how to knap a flint knife, how to spot edible roots, and many other tasks they'll need to know as adults. Older children are also brought along with the gathering parties to help them, although only men are allowed on the hunts because they're so dangerous. Well, only men plus Guardians like me or Haymanot, of course, but that's another story.

Gathering parties are, for most women of the clan, an everyday routine. Everyone goes, except for those who happen to be too heavily pregnant to walk far, or the really old, or the few who have important other duties. Women nursing babies normally take them with them - until they get too big to carry, when they're left with the other children in camp. When we first arrive at a new campsite, it's easy to gather food from right next to it - "By reaching your hand out the shelter door" is the common expression. However, as time goes by the closer sources of food are used up, and we have to walk further and further until we find a place to spend the day gathering. Eventually, it takes more time each day walking out and back than it does collecting food, at which point we know it's time to move on to the next campsite.

The cut grass they're carrying can be used as bedding or fuel.

Everyone in a gathering party takes a leather bag with them, drawn closed with a cord of braided grass, and they're not supposed to come back until it's full of food. Some people also carry tools, like flint knives for cutting stems or digging sticks to get at roots. While the gathering party is almost entirely female, if we're going far from the campsite two or three men are usually told to come along with us for protection. I always thought it was unfair that they'd just sit around "watching for wild animals" while we worked hard picking and plucking and digging for food - though we got our revenge on the way home when a few theatrical complaints and fluttered eyelashes often resulted in the men agreeing to carry everybody else's heavy bags full of food back for them, all piled up around their shoulders.

After I became an adult and a Guardian and went out with the men a few times - and after they'd stopped being all embarrassed and reserved around me and started talking freely again - I discovered that they often made jokes about those men who were given this duty. It was kind of confusing, because the jokes implied both that they were effeminate and not real men for spending all that time with the girls every day, but also that they must obviously spend the entire time having rampant sex with the women they were supposed to be guarding. That seemed like a contradiction in terms to me, but when I asked the guys to explain they all gave me a funny look and changed the subject, and so I got angry and stalked off. I also felt confused at the idea of them having sex with us - I mean, wasn't that a big crime against clan law? Okay, sure, if one of the men on guard was married to one of the women gathering they might decide to have sex when she took a break, but that was perfectly normal and the whole point of them being married, and nothing to make a fuss about. But sex with someone you weren't married to was all kinds of unlucky, and made the Gods angry, and might mean the woman would next give birth to a demon instead of a proper human baby.

I was still worried about this a month later when I next met Haymanot again, and when I told her she annoyed me a great deal by laughing for something like three hundred heartbeats straight. When she calmed down, and when I'd finished hitting her (not really - well, almost not really), she explained I'd misunderstood. When they said 'sex' they didn't mean... well actually, it's hard to explain in your language. There's the divine act of creation, when a man's seed passes into a woman's body and makes her fertile, okay? Go too long without it, and your insides dry up and shrivel, and your body stops creating new babies, and you even start bleeding from the inside and so on. It's all very distressing, and the one thing that I really hated about being a Guardian and not being allowed to have sex at all. But then there's the other stuff, the fun stuff with hands and fingers and mouths and so on, which has no magical power or special divine significance, and isn't taboo for anyone to engage in because it's just a way of finding closeness and enjoyment with your clanmates. (Which is not to say that it doesn't cause arguments and jealousy sometimes anyway, but that's just people being people.) That's what they meant, Haymanot said. And that just got me angry again, because if that's all they wanted they didn't need to go off alone with twenty women for the day, since I'm sure at least half of us would be perfectly happy to have that kind of fun with them right there in the campsite, if they'd only bother to ask. Including me, because one of the first things I checked after I became a Guardian was that our taboo against sex only applied to the first kind, not the second.

I'll never understand men.

Anyway, that's a distraction. Sorry. We were talking about the gathering parties. On a good day, by the time the sun reaches its highest point and our shadows disappear we've already found enough food for the day. In that case, everybody gets together to talk and relax and eat some of the food we've collected. And, yes, sometimes things of a sexual nature may take place, either with the sentries - though as I've said, not actual *sex* sex unless they're married - or by ourselves, or occasionally even between two of the women. I never really saw the point of that myself. I mean okay, sometimes after a long day's work it's nice to lie down on the grass with your friends and relax, and sooner or later it seems that someone would always start rubbing themselves, and then we'd all be doing it, and if I was lying next to Esyete or Haymanot we might swap hands just for the variety. If some of the boys were with us we might swap hands with them too, and that was a lot more exciting, for me at any rate. But evidently some of my clanmates felt differently, and if that seems strange - well, some of my clanmates liked singing, and I always hated it because I thought my voice sounded far too flat and deep compared to the other girls'. Some people just like different things to others, I suppose.

Once the shadows return, it's time to get back to work. If we have enough food already, that just means loading up and setting off to walk back to camp. If not, we have to start gathering again. That tends to be less fun, because the sun is high in the sky, and everybody gets hot and sweaty and irritable, and there's always the worry that we won't find enough food before it's time to return, and we'll have to go hungry that night. That's an anxious time. But on a good day, we arrive back home in mid-afternoon, and there's plenty of time to relax before we need to get the evening meal ready.

This woman has somehow persuaded the male sentries to do some berry-picking for her.

What are the men doing in the meantime? Several different jobs, actually, depending on the situation. There's usually heavy work needed around the camp - clearing new shelters, digging new latrine trenches, collecting firewood or felling trees. The latter task is particularly important, because full-size trees are fairly rare and valuable to us, and their wood has so many different uses. Selecting a tree to cut involves a lot of consultation, not to mention magical rituals to appease the tree spirit and ask Serkalem to accept it back into her womb and then send a new tree back to us in good time. It usually takes several of the strongest men working in series to hack through the tree trunk, and the flint blades of their axes may need replacing more than once. Once the tree falls - which is a terrifying and awe-inspiring sight to watch when you're a child, let me tell you - the longer and straighter branches are trimmed off, the trunk is split with wedges and the smaller twigs and leaves gathered to feed the fires. The wood makes spear-shafts, carrying poles, roof supports, and may also be carved into smaller useful items like bowls or pegs.

At this point perhaps I should talk about how we move from camp to camp, because it's relevant here. Obviously, a lot of the things we've gathered have to be thrown away, because we can't carry them with us as we leave. Everybody has at least one leather bag for their own things - their tools and weapons, spare furs, water bladders, anything else they can't bear to leave behind. Women with babies naturally carry them, while everyone else is also laden down with the clan's common goods: the cooking bowls, the mattocks and axes, the spades, the ceremonial masks and drums, and so on. The heaviest things we have to carry are the poles, the roof-beams, the fire spits and so forth. Sometimes, two of the men will carry one over their shoulders, with bags slung from the pole between them. Other times, we use grass ropes to tie three poles into an V-shape, wrap skins around the base to protect the wood, then pile goods onto the frame and drag it along behind us. You can carry a surprising amount of weight that way, much more than a man can carry himself, although it's still exhausting to pull the frame too long and the lashings keep coming loosened when it bounces over rocks.

As well as the heavy work, some men spend their time making things. There's a part of our territory where the ground is soft but you can find little nodules of harder stone scattered around; when hit in just the right way, these split into very sharp shards. Our route takes us through there as regularly as possible, and we gather as many stones as we can carry and take them with us when we go on. We trade them to some of the other clans as well. When we need more tools - knives or scrapers or whatever - we use these stones and chip away at them until they're made. Other tools are made out of animal bones, often using a stone knife to carve them into just the right shape (and maybe add some pretty patterns too), or carved wood, or moulded clay left in the sun to dry and set hard but brittle. Leather and fur are always needed, and when animals are killed and brought in it's a messy, smelly but essential task to skin them, then cure and stretch the hides and make sure they stay soft and supple instead of going hard. Then they're cut and sewn with sinew or braided fibres into clothes or bags or straps or other goods. All these jobs need skill, since nobody is pleased if the raw materials are spoiled and wasted, so those people with a talent for them will usually spend all their day at work.

I did ask Grandmother Heran why it always seemed to be men doing these jobs; couldn't women do them too? She gave me one of her long silent looks, which I used to interpret as disapproval but which I've since learned to recognise as her taking time to think of the best way to answer. Then she told me that for the most part the clan's women lacked the time to sit and learn how to knap flint or pierce bone, because there was always a child crying for attention; and anyway, how many women would want to sit in camp all day every day with the men when they could be out in the meadows gathering food with their friends? But no, she said, there was no actual law to stop women learning those skills if they really wanted to, and had the cheek and impudence to defy their elders and generations of tradition to overturn custom that way. She fixed me with a harsh scowl that didn't quite hide the glint in her eyes. And I grinned in turn, and assured her that while I enjoyed hunting I had no great desire to learn how to make my own axes too, I was only curious. And that was the end of it.

Finally, there's the hunting. We tend to think of this, more than anything else, as being "the job a man does". In fact, though, the number of regular hunters in the clan is quite small. It takes a lot of skill to stalk close to a grazing deer without letting it hear or scent you, then throw your flint-tipped spear hard enough and accurately enough to kill it. People able to do that - and of course, I'm proud to include myself among their number - spend a lot of time away from camp, and bring in a small but regular supply of meat (and horn, and bone, and hide, and every other part of the animal that can be put to use). But larger hunts will take place on a fairly regular basis, which might include half a dozen or more men going out together - and occasionally, the clan will go after an entire herd, and every able-bodied man takes part.

More food than the clan could ever hope to eat - if they can catch it.

These large-scale hunts often involve a lot of travelling, since obviously we don't place our camps on the routes where the larger herds come through. It's not uncommon for the hunters to be gone several days; they take fire-sticks and dried foods and waterbags, and use their furs as blankets as they sleep under the stars at night. This is quite dangerous, because the protective wards that shield our homes against intrusion by nightwalkers and other demons don't work on such temporary overnight campsites. The men have to sleep in shifts, with at least one and preferably two awake and on guard at all times.

Large scale hunts tend to rely on the ambush rather than stalking, since most of the men aren't as good at being sneaky as I am. Some of the hunters will hide in the grass or bushes downwind of the prey, while the others move around upwind. Then they make loud noises, and wave their fire-sticks or even set light to the grass if it's dry enough. This spooks the animals, and sends them running blindly away - directly towards the other hunters lying in wait with their spears. It usually takes several spear hits to bring down the larger prey animals, and the hunters may have to run after them as they flee, gradually slowing down due to bloodloss and injuries until the men can catch up with them and deliver the coup de grace. Of course it doesn't always go the hunters' way: an enraged and terrified buffalo can tear a human in half with its horns, or crush him beneath its hooves. A stampeding herd is particularly dangerous, since it's often impossible to dodge or get out of their way in time. There is a tactic that can be used here, though: the deadfall. Simply put, the men dig a trench, cover it with branches and grass, then stampede the herd towards it. With luck, at least some of the animals will put their foot in the pit, stumble, and maybe break their leg. That allows the hunters running up behind to kill them at their leisure. If it doesn't work - if the prey spots the pit and jumps over it -  they've wasted a morning digging. In fact, hunts are a failure as often as they succeed, if not more. Spears can miss, or only glance off the animal's hide without injuring it. Or sometimes, the hunters never even get close enough to be able to throw the spear. Once the hunters' stored food in their bags runs out, they have to return to camp whether they've caught anything or not.

But if the hunters do succeed in killing their prey, there's a big celebration. This is a sacred rite of thanksgiving to Tiruneh for allowing them to survive another hunt, Tsehay for teaching them to kill, and Serkalem for allowing them to kill her children, and it's intended to ensure that more prey animals will be reborn to replace those we kill. The rite is remarkably bloodthirsty and shot through with blatant male sexuality. The first time I went on a proper hunt with the men, there was almost a riot when some of them refused to let me participate or even watch the ceremony, while others insisted that since I'd helped kill the prey it was not only my right but my sacred duty and obligation to take part. Since I had no clue what was supposed to happen - but was dying to find out - I just kept quiet until it was eventually agreed that I should join in and do my best to copy their actions despite my lack of certain physical equipment. I bet you're all dying to hear what went on, but I'm afraid that since many of you listening are women  - and not Guardians like me, or Slayers or whatever you call yourselves these days -  I'm not allowed to tell you. Let's just say it was hugely embarrassing, hilariously funny, slightly icky and massively arousing, all at the same time.

Depending on the size of the prey and the distance from home, it may be carried back whole to camp, or butchered and gutted where it was killed and the meat and bone wrapped up in the skin. Either way, the spoils of the hunt are usually slung from a spear and carried back by a couple of men. A very successful hunt will result in everyone returning laden with meat. A disastrous hunt may end in one of the huntsmen having to be supported back to camp - or worse, carried back dead like the prey himself. One of the things we hardly ever talk about, but all the men know, is that sometimes a hunter isn't killed outright by his erstwhile prey: but merely gored, or gutted, and left to bleed on the ground. And then he faces a long, slow and agonising death... or living on crippled, unable to feed himself or his family, a deadweight on the clan. Or there's the other solution. One of his friends can take his sharp-edged flint knife, and kneel beside him and ask his permission, and then cut his throat and give him a swift and merciful passing. It happens; but it's hard to say how often, because nobody ever talks about it afterwards.

When the huntsmen return, it's always an emotional time. The men are glad to be home, glad to be alive, and feeling triumphant at their victory and having provided for the clan. The women are filled with relief at their return - again, nobody ever says it aloud, but everybody watches for the homecoming hunt group and anxiously counts heads as they draw closer, to make sure everybody has come back safely. There's a formal little greeting ritual to welcome back a successful hunter, but many couples dispense with that for their own rather more personal and intense ceremony. Then the prey is prepared, and butchered if necessary, and the work of putting it to use begins: the bones are cleaned, the hide is tanned, and so forth. The meat will go to cook for the clan's evening meal, but if there's surplus it will be hung up in the Fire Hut. This is always full of smoke from the sacred fire that's kept burning day and night, and for some reason meat kept here doesn't go rotten as quickly as normal. Instead it becomes all dry and hard and chewy, and has a really strong taste that a few people love and others hate. This meat is carried by people going on long journeys, like hunters, or we Guardians when we travel from one clan to another, and also by the whole clan when we move between campsites, because it's easy to carry and means we don't have to stop to gather fresh food all the time. It's also there in case of emergencies if the hunt or the local plantlife fails us. Because the Fire Hut is sacred space, only Ariam herself or those she gives permission to are allowed inside, and so she is also responsible for handing out the dried meat as needed. There are sometimes arguments when the gathering party comes back short-handed, the hunt isn't successful, and everyone is hungry. Someone will usually call for the Fire Hut to be opened then, but Ariam is always very strict, and says that a half-empty bowl is not a real emergency, and if you ate at breakfast it's not an emergency if you don't eat at dinner.

I remember once - I was about nine or ten at the time - there was even a fight. I didn't get more than a brief sensation of lots of shouting and scuffling, because we children were hurriedly pulled away and told to go into the shelters and stay there. Everybody was tired and irritable because we were all hungry, and lots of us were crying, and the grown-ups left us for a long time. And the next day there was blood splashed on the ground outside the hut, and a few people cradling bruises and cuts, and lots of sullen expressions - and one of the men was gone. Just gone. His wife looked like she didn't know whether to break down in helpless sobbing or attack the people around her with her fingernails and teeth, and three or four of the women were constantly around her watching her. And, of course - it goes without saying - nobody would tell me what had happened. We were told to not even mention the missing man's name again. He was just gone.

Five years later I did find out the truth, though, because I was involved in something similar in the Lion's Tooth clan, and I asked Grandmother if it had been the same then. She told me that the hunter and two of his friends had tried to force their way into the Fire Hut, to steal the clan's meat and eat it for themselves; and when Ariam tried to stop them he punched her and shouldered his way in. Some of the other men heard the noise and rushed over to help, and then there was a big scuffle - it was at this point that we children were pulled away, but apparently Belaye got together a few of the hunters and they took their spears, and broke up the fight by force. The three thieves were dragged to the campfire and all the clan's adults were called around, and Belaye - his spear still in his hands - passed judgement on them. For the two accomplices, the sentence was the usual one for breaking clan law - ostracism for one moon, and the least popular chores in the clan. Nobody was to speak to them, look at them or acknowledge their presence except for cases of utter necessity, or to tell them to do some job for them. For the ringleader, though, that was insufficient. He had goaded his two friends into breaking clan law, he had tried to endanger everyone by stealing food from us, he had struck one of his clanmates - and the headwoman, at that - in anger, and worst of all, he had angered the Gods by treading on sacred soil without lawful excuse. For that there could only be one penalty.

No, not death. We don't murder our own clanmates; we're not barbarians. But by rejecting our laws so comprehensively, the man had shown that he rejected us; and so the clan in turn rejected him. Two of the hunters held him down while Belaye carved his knife through the clan tattoo on his shoulder, defacing it. He was stripped of all his clothes and belongings, except that he was given the stone knife still stained with his blood. He was escorted to the edge of the camp, and thrust out into the darkness, and told that if he tried to come back, he would be treated as a wild animal, not a human. The hunters kept watch through the night, to make sure he didn't try to sneak back, or maybe take revenge. He didn't.

We never saw him again, not even a body. There's a minuscule chance he met with another clan and somehow convinced them to let him join them - though it's more likely they would drive him off or kill him, since everybody knows people wandering alone can only be criminals, madmen or possessed. There's an even smaller chance that he managed to survive by himself, find his own food, live on. But most likely he starved, or was eaten by hyenas, or threw himself over a cliff. Or maybe the nightwalkers found him, and he's one of them now. But once he was cast out, he was no longer one of the Five Trees and therefore no longer our concern. His wife made a scene when her mourning period was over, refusing to re-marry because she said her first husband might still be alive out there; but eventually she bowed to the inevitable.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this discussion to turn so gloomy. It's really very, very rare that anything so serious happens. Most of the time everybody in the clan gets along perfectly well together - we're family, and of course we have our squabbles and disagreements, but in the end there are only 46 of us adults, plus the children, and it's a big hostile world out there. We need each other to survive. And most of the time, we enjoy each others' company.

So, back to the daily routine. The afternoon after the gathering party gets back - and usually the hunters return around the same time - is the period when people can just relax and unwind, talk to their friends, play games, try their hand at carving or painting, or whatever they enjoy. As the sun starts to set, the evening meal is prepared. As at breakfast, the whole clan normally eats together, with those who are good at cooking in charge of that and some of the others given their turns at helping.

Dinner is usually a larger and more elaborate meal than any other, with what we eat varying depending on whatever the gatherers and hunters have brought back that day. As a rule, all food belongs to the clan and is shared out equally, with Ariam overseeing things to make sure nobody gets more than their fair share. There is one exception; each person is allowed to take a handful of any food they personally brought to the clan for themselves, before the rest of it is divided up. (Or they can use a clay bowl the same size as their hand, if the food is messy). Most women don't bother about this most of the time; a handful of grains or edible leaves is no different to the same food the other women brought in. However, if anyone was lucky enough to find sweet berries or other fruit, or even a honeycomb, they certainly do take full advantage of the rule! The hunters, on the other hand, generally do always claim their share of meat, even if there wasn't enough to go round for everybody. They need the strength, after all... although it's not unknown for some of them to give the meat as a gift to someone they like instead of eating it themselves. The first time I killed a deer I shared the meat with Mother and Father, and (rather more begrudgingly) my sister.

When the meal is over everyone helps clear away, and the children are taken off to bed. They normally sleep at the back of the shelter, because it's the safest place - and also, I suspect, because that way the adults won't accidentally tread on them when they go to bed themselves! By this time it's usually dark; if there's no moon people take burning branches from the fire to light the way to the shelters for the kids. However, no flame is allowed in the shelter itself in case it sets fire to the roof or the bedding. (The Fire Hut is the obvious exception, but there's no bedding in there, of course.).

Afterwards, if there are any important announcements Belaye and Ariam make them, or other people can ask permission to speak. Then for the rest of the evening we're at leisure. Most people sit around the campfire, and there's talking, and sometimes singing (unfortunately), or someone will tell a story or recite one of our legends (much more interesting). Some nights, if we've had a good day, people will even bring out the drums and there'll be dancing. And sex, obviously. The darkness usually makes people bolder.

The rule in our clan, which we're taught from infancy, is "Don't stare". If someone takes their clothes off, it's polite to look away - unless, of course, you're taking your own clothes off right there with them! Oh, and children run around naked all the time, of course, because it would be way too hard to keep on sewing new clothes for them. They don't count. Just adults. The other side of that, of course, is that if it's rude to stare, it's also rude to make an exhibition of yourself. If you want to have sex, or masturbate, or have a pee, or even frolic around naked in the rain, go right ahead - but please don't do it in the middle of the camp where everyone will have to walk around you and pretend not to notice what you're doing. That's during the day - but at night, shadows hide everything away from the yellow flickering firelight and, well, darkness can cover up a lot of things.

Though if a couple is making so much noise they drown out the storytelling, they're still likely to get teased, shouted at, or even prodded with elbows and feet and told to keep more quiet or else go away into one of the spare shelters...

Incidentally, one thing about your language which always struck me as odd is the way you say "sleep with" or "go to bed with" as euphemisms for sex. It took me a while to understand, since of course I sleep with about 20 of my clansmates every night, and I've never had sex with any of them. (Well, not sex as we define it.)  The thing is, most times the shelters are so full, so crowded with people, that a couple making love would stop everyone else getting to sleep and probably end up kicking half of their neighbours. It would be very anti-social and really annoying, so we don't do it. Well, almost never - but if you're sneaky and quiet enough to actually get away with it, all power to you. So when we do have sex - which we tend to fairly often, since it's one of the Gods' best gifts to mankind as well as being, you know, our duty to the clan and essential to our survival as a people - it's always during the day. Or in the evening, as I've just described.

So eventually people get tired, and go off to bed. The fire is carefully banked down, with turf covering the embers so they can be blown into life again the next morning. Once everyone 's inside the shelter, an animal skin is drawn across the door to keep out draughts, and we feel our way to our beds. The floor is usually deep in rushes and grass to make soft bedding, plus whatever spare animal skins we've been able to put together, and there's usually a bit of rummaging needed to get everything arranged properly before lying down. Like I said at the start, some people just lie straight down, others take off their wraps and use them as a cover, or roll them up and put them behind their heads as a pillow. And then, one by one, we all drift off to sleep.

And that's the end of another day. Any questions?


(Deleted comment)
Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd October 2009 21:10 (UTC)

Well, I've got to cover myself. I'd hate to be responsible for any unforeseen incidents...


(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 2nd October 2009 20:24 (UTC)

Right here:

There's the divine act of creation, when a man's seed passes into a woman's body and makes her fertile, okay? Go too long without it, and your insides dry up and shrivel, and your body stops creating new babies, and you even start bleeding from the inside and so on.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd October 2009 21:19 (UTC)

Hiywan's language contains two words for sex, one of which can be translated into English as "The divine act of creation" and the other as "sexy funtimes". One of them has all sort of taboos and laws and customs hedging it around, saying who's allowed to do it and when and with whom. The other is considered an excellent way of passing the time in a society that hadn't yet invented TV, the internet, books, alcoholic drinks, organised sports or any musical instruments except for drums.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd October 2009 21:30 (UTC)

The thought occurred to me that in a society where malnutrition is commonplace, and stress and overwork, and even when it isn't women spend all their time walking for miles and carrying heavy objects everywhere and therefore have a very high muscle to body fat ratio... and where they breastfeed babies for two or three years after birth, and marry young, and have never heard of contraception...

...then a period isn't going to be a regular monthly event, it's going to be something rare and painful and scary and a sign that something is wrong with you. That your insides are starting to shrivel up because you haven't had enough sex lately, or you're under a curse, or something.

(I was reading earlier that among the Ju'hoansi people of south-west Africa - one of the few remaining pure hunter-gatherer tribes left today - women only become pregnant once every four years or so, even though they have regular sex and don't use any form of contraception. They simply don't menstruate all that often, due to the factors I listed above. But before you get jealous, consider that out of the five babies each Ju'hoansi woman will, on average, give birth to during her life only two will live long enough to reach adulthood themselves.)

Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 2nd October 2009 21:44 (UTC)


*is still slightly jealous*

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 3rd October 2009 11:44 (UTC)

Psst -- hunter-gatherers are less malnourished than agriculturists :) Heh, would love to pick your brain about paleopathology!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd October 2009 15:20 (UTC)

I knew that. :-) It's actually why I decided that Hiywan would still be in her early teens when she hit puberty, rather than 16 or 17 which is not uncommon in many premodern societies.

My argument is more that they have periodic or seasonal bouts of malnutrition. During the rainy season or soon after, edible vegetation is there for the taking - later in the year, it's harder to find. They're surrounded by vast herds of edible wildlife - but the herds migrate, and often the hunters come back empty-handed, and sometimes the rains fail and the herds get too small and everybody starves, or gets deficiency diseases.

But for the most part, I picture the Five Trees clan as being pretty well-fed and healthy. (Few contacts with other people and no domesticated wildlife = few diseases). But the women walk several miles every day under the African sun carrying babies and bags of food, and every couple of months they trek for days carrying all their possessions on their backs, and so by modern standards they're all as muscular and low in body fat as your average professional athlete.

What else do you want to talk about? :-)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd October 2009 21:15 (UTC)

Cause someone was too lazy to think it up, hmmm?

Actually no, I know exactly what happens. I just thought it was funnier not to tell you, and let your imagination run wild.

Well, not your imagination, obviously, because I gather it turns itself off as soon as penises are raised. As a subject.

But Hiywan wouldn't understand what a "gay girl" is. As far as she's concerned homosexuality is something people do, not something people are. An activity not an identity. (I was, I gather, the usual way of thinking about such things before the last hundred years or so.)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd October 2009 15:47 (UTC)

Tell meeeee!

Well... first, understand that they're all fired up with bloodlust (and possibly arousal) after killing their prey. They're intensely happy to be alive, because hunting is really dangerous. And they're also close to their fellow hunters, because only by working together and trusting each other completely can they succeed in the hunt.

So they gather around the fallen animal and dance and chant waving their spears energetically, and the one in charge of the hunt draws sacred symbols on their chests and face using the animal's blood. This gives thanks to the Men's God for giving them the strength to hunt their prey. But then they also have to thank the Women's Goddess for allowing them to kill one of her children, and to make sure that a new animal will be reborn to take the place of the dead one. They do this by sacrificing some of their sacred masculine essence (uh, that would be "semen" in modern English) to the Earth, thus giving it back some of the life and fertility they have taken.

In practical terms, they gather round the dead animal in a circle, and each man takes hold of the penis of the man on his right - this is important because it confirms and emphasises the equality and absolute trust that has to exist between all members of the hunting band. Then they bring each other off. As their sperm hits the ground they're supposed to say a prayer to the Earth Goddess, but it often comes out as more of an unintelligible grunt. :-)

When Hiywan went hunting, some of the men objected to her being in the circle with them, but eventually she was allowed to take part. The man to her left had to finger her instead of giving her a hand job - which took rather longer than all the other men took, which made Hiywan feel rather conspicuous and embarrassed. After she eventually came, the man to her left wiped his wet fingers on the ground, which was considered magically equivalent to the men sacrificing their semen to the Earth.

And now I've told you that, unless you're either a man, a Guardian, or a Slayer, I'm afraid I'll have to kill you. :-)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 5th October 2009 17:36 (UTC)

I was getting ready for some sort of sexual interaction with the dead animal carcass

*Takes your reply completely out of context.* Ewww. :-)

Actually, I was thinking about including something like that to start with, with the hunter who dealt the killing blow as the lucky protagonist, before the circle-jerk. But then I thought it wouldn't make sense theologically; they want to fertilise the Earth and make it bring forth new life, not fertilise the dead corpse and bring it back as some sort of zombie monster...

(I've decided that they believe that's where demons come from: men having penetrative sex with people they shouldn't, such as animals, children, relatives, other men's wives* or other men*. Such a perversion of nature causes the birth of unnatural demonic offspring.)

*Non-penetrative sexual activity is perfectly acceptable. However, they do think it's possible to get pregnant from fellatio, since the sperm still gets into your body that way, so giving oral sex to a man counts as penetrative sex too. At least it does if you swallow.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th October 2009 02:24 (UTC)

logically that's kinda not sense-making

Well, if you think about it... These are tiny little communities, and most people will be related to everybody else. That's why it's a strict law to marry someone from a different clan, to prevent inbreeding - and the clan elders probably pick out each person's wife/husband for them well in advance to make sure they're not related to each other.

So adultery and incest will mean almost certain inbreeding. Which means the offspring may well be deformed... which is to say, not looking like a normal human baby. So, a demon, clearly. Demons are born when you have sex with someone you're not supposed to have sex with. QED. (Granted, there haven't been any known cases of someone having sex with a buffalo, which then gives birth to hideous half-human, half bovine minotaur-like demons. Or a man having sex with another man, getting him pregnant, and the baby ripping its way out of his abdomen in an Alien-like shower of gore. But it could happen! In fact, that odd clan two valleys over probably does that sort of thing all the time, everybody knows they're really shifty and weird, and that's why there are demons out there!.)


(Deleted comment)
Posted by: The Mezzanine (deird1)
Posted at: 2nd October 2009 20:23 (UTC)


(I squeed so loudly when I saw the story banner!)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd October 2009 21:19 (UTC)


Posted by: petzipellepingo (petzipellepingo)
Posted at: 2nd October 2009 22:59 (UTC)
i love fan fiction by eyesthatslay

It's been a while since I wrote it, but Hiywan's Story is still one of my favourite pieces of work.

Me too, I love that story. And this is just... neat.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd October 2009 00:02 (UTC)

Glad you enjoyed it. :-)

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 3rd October 2009 08:42 (UTC)

Yay, more of Hiywan's story!

Fantastically detailed and pretty plausible, and as always, I love the little bits of mythological and cultural roots you sneak in. Oh, and I really liked the bit about the guy who got permanently ostracized - man creating his own monsters, nothing that disappears into the shadows ever truly disappears, etc.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 3rd October 2009 15:27 (UTC)


We know that there were vampires around in those times, because after all that's why they created a Vampire Slayer. But with such small groups of people, where everybody knows everybody else, how did vampires work? How did they find food?

So I picture them lurking in the wilderness outside the human encampments, living in caves or burying themselves in the ground during the day, mostly living off the blood of animals - but also waiting to pick off any stragglers or exiles who go too far from the camp. Such individuals would almost inevitably be turned (eventually) which is how the vampires replenish their numbers. So yes, by exiling people who break their laws the clans are actually feeding the numbers of their worst enemies...

But what else can they do? Killing a clan member is fratricide, a horrible crime, even if the clan member is himself a criminal. So they kick him out of the clan instead, and have nothing more to do with him, and behave as if he has died.

Edited at 2009-10-03 15:29 (UTC)

Posted by: jess (soapygirl)
Posted at: 5th October 2009 16:21 (UTC)

Exile makes sense for really serious crimes. (and it was de rigeur in clan of the cave bear ) But what about some kind of public shaming? or would that be considered a reward for some if shaming meant not having to work that day?

It makes sense that vampires mostly hunted animals. Even with their superior strength/speed it would still be a challenge. I wonder what sort of interaction they have with other vampires, if they are a family like Angelus/Darla/Spike/Dru or more of the master and his underlings. Or not a lot of association with one another becuase there is less safe space to coexist.

Thanks for this story. I look forward to more stories about Hiywan. Her life is fascinating

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 5th October 2009 17:53 (UTC)

I do admit to having read all of Jean Auel's books when I was younger. :-)

Hiywan talks a lot about "clan law", but remember that we're only talking about a group of 40 or so adults, most of whom have grown up together since early childhood. "Justice" is going to be very informal most of the time, I expect: being shouted at by the chieftain or getting disapproving looks and comments from your clanmates is probably going to be the penalty for most infractions.

I've also mentioned being given the unpopular chores to do: gutting animals, digging latrine trenches, getting up early to fetch water, that sort of thing. Complete ostracisation for a period seems like a pretty severe punishment too: remember, those 40 people are the only human beings you have contact with for most of the year.

I think public shaming might work as a punishment too: perhaps some kind of "stand there while everybody walks up to you and insults you/spits at you/whatever" ritual. Anything that involved not working for the day (being tied to a tree from dawn till dusk, perhaps?) would definitely be a punishment, not only because of the humiliation, but also the exposure... and you'd only be able to eat if someone was kind enough to give you some of the food other people had collected that day.

I wonder what sort of interaction they have with other vampires, if they are a family like Angelus/Darla/Spike/Dru or more of the master and his underlings.

Well, the way I've conceived it for my stories, the True Demon who originally created vampires is still around at this time. Giles says that "the last demon to leave our reality" was the one who made the first vampires - and in Season 7 we're told that the last True Demon to be slain was killed by the Scythe in the place that would later become Sunnydale. Put the two together...

So I'm assuming that some of the original vampires are leading quasi-religious cults in worship of their creator - and the Master's Order of Aurelius is the last surviving one of these cults. There are also feral vampires wandering about in smaller groups, who were either cast out of the larger cults or chose to leave. I suspect they'll have to cooperate to survive; Africa in 6000 BC is a lot more hostile an environment for the undead than California in 1997.

Posted by: Martzin (martzin)
Posted at: 10th October 2009 22:00 (UTC)


Some elements (the living arrangements, the wood work, the story time) remind me a bit of scouting. Obviously living this close to autarchy is much more labour intensive.

It's funny having Hiywan considering herself a man and protecting the sacredness of the hunter rituals. Plus I don't think she could explain it without laughing herself to tears, which would not be very respectful.

There's this Ursula le Guin book of ethnographic fiction, Always coming home (review, excerpts), which consists solely of backstory like that, including imagined songs, poems, traditions, rituals, social conventions and everyday events. Most of which very mundane, except for the backdrop being a few centuries into a presumably post-apocalyptic future.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 12th October 2009 01:34 (UTC)


The description of the latrine trench was actually taken directly from memories of reading the Scout Handbook when I was a kid. (I suppose they have chemical toilets nowadays, but back in the day... *shakes walking stick at kids on lawn*)

Hiywan doesn't consider herself a man, not exactly... but as a Guardian she's kind of in a liminal state. She has to be able to use weapons and to kill things, which means using men's magic, but she's also a woman both physically, and because men can't use the Guardians' unique magic without going mad and trying to kill everybody. So she's kind of in a halfway state, able to take part in both men's and women's rituals but at the cost of taking certain taboos (such as, no pregnancy and no penetrative sex).

There's actually precedent for this kind of thing with shamans and similar religious/magical figures in several animist cultures, who were regarded as intersex or bi-gendered.

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