Anthropologists consider "kinship" a hot topic.
I didn't yet feel confident enough in my linguistic abilities to undertake the comprehensive census that I felt would be necessary before I could begin my study of the minutiae of OLtic village life. Typically, an anthropologist will go round all the households of the society being studied (or, if that's too large, then a representative sample of them) and note who lives where, what their rôles are, what their relationships are to one another, and where the rest of their relatives live. There will be other information requested, too, usually dependent upon the anthropologist's own area of expertise (economics, say, or energy use), but the main aim is simple: to get a feel for the make-up of the community, while surruptitiously numbering everyone so as not to have to remember their impossible-to-pronounce names.
Prior to preparing such a survey, then, it makes sense to figure out in advance the likely categorisations to employ. Some are fairly easy, such as biological data (age and sex), but others are more subtle; which brings us to kinship...
Many peoples on Earth have quite a web of people to whom they are somehow bonded. Parents, grandparents and siblings, for example, are usually important, but there are often quite strong ties between individuals in the same "age set" who have undergone some rite of passage together. Also, the tendrils of extended family can reach far and wide (you've seen the movie The Godfather, of course).
I thought I'd try figure out the primary kinship relationships of the HA, and any cultural institutions which support them. I was already aware that marriage was important, and that polygamy by both sexes was both widespread and respectable.
"SKUP," I asked, one morning. "Could you marry your mother?"
SKUP looked at me like I was mad. "Of course not!"
That wasn't entirely unexpected: practically every society doesn't allow people to marry their parents. Each tends to have different ways to rationalise the taboo, though, and I was therefore interested to learn how the HA explained it.
"Why not, then?" I asked, nonchalantly.
"She died five years ago," he replied. "Can people marry bones on Earth?"
Ah. Time for a different approach, perhaps!
"Maybe I'm going about this the wrong way... Of living people, who wouldn't you be allowed to marry?"
"I wouldn't be allowed to marry NESHan, ScrILL, ChetLEN, - "
"No, no, that's not what I mean, I mean in general. For example, can a male HA marry another male?"
"Can a female HA marry another female?"
"Because the HAIKAG won't marry them."
"Why won't he marry them?"
"Because they're not allowed to marry one another."
"But why aren't they allowed to marry one another?"
"Because the HAIKAG won't marry them, I just told you."
Oh, right, it all makes so much sense now... "So can a male HA marry his own mother?"
"Ah, we're getting somewhere. Can he marry his own sister?"
"Yes, but she can't marry him."
"Right. Er, look, let's go to my hut; I think I'm going to have to make notes here..."
It was nearly lunchtime (mmm, REKchit, my favourite) when I had the basics figured out. A male HA can marry any female HA younger than he is. Female HA cannot marry their brothers or their mother's brothers, and must have had their first menstrual cycle. People of the same gender1 cannot marry one another.
Interpreting this, then, it means a male HA cannot marry his mother only because she is older than he is. He can't marry a child, because she won't have menstruated, nor can he marry as a child because he has to be the elder.
I next had to ask SKUP to clarify what would happen if these rules were not in place. I had already learned sufficient about the HA to know that I couldn't really expect a normal, primitive-people answer like "the spirits will be unhappy", but unfortunately a full explanation is one of those things that we anthropologists just have to obtain...
"So, SKUP, let's say that the HAIKAG decided to let two males or two females marry. Can he do that?"
"Well, he can, but..."
"But it would be silly, because they can't have children."
Ahh. "And that's why females have to be women2 before they can marry?"
"Of course: why marry if there are to be no children?"
Mental note: marriage for the HA is primarily a means for producing new HA.
I questioned further. "And yet a woman could, in theory, have children fathered by one of her own brothers, could she not? Yet she would not be able to marry him."
"It's possible, but the children would be funny-looking."
I was rather impressed by this reply, despite the fact that I was of the opinion that all orc children were funny-looking anyway. It meant that the HA not only proscribed incest, but that the scientific basis for the restriction was known to them. This is something quite unusual among uncivilised peoples; normally, they produce some vague or outlandishly implausible explanation instead (albeit one held with great conviction).
"That's quite perceptive, SKUP," I stated, trying to sound as if he had given me genuinely new insights into genetics. "But how do you know that she'd have funny looking children? Is it something passed down in song or legend?"
"No, it's because when two people who aren't married have a child, we go round and slice a couple of slits in its nose with a sharp knife. That way, people will always want to get married first. See?"
I saw, but was too busy tearing up the last page of my notes to reply.
I was explaining all this to Margaret during my trip to MIkuMIku later that week, hamming it up as much as I could to retain her interest in matters anthropological ("and then <laugh>, and then <laugh>, he, he <laugh>, he actually said <laugh>, that they the children would be <ha ha ha> funny-looking! <collapse in hysterics>"), when she pointed out a hole in the arrangement. There was nothing to stop a HA female from marrying her father.
On the way back, I asked SKUP why this was the case. His resigned tone of voice told me that I was in for a patient explanation of common-sense knowledge that I must be stupid not to know by instinct...
"HA children have many fathers. My own mother married 23 times altogether; are you suggesting that my sisters couldn't marry any of my mother's husbands?"
"No, of course not - "
"Because if you are, that would mean mothers couldn't marry men to see if they're suitable for their daughters."
"OK, fair enough, but surely a daughter could avoid her biological father?"
"The man who made her mother pregnant."
SKUP laughed at this, rather derisively. "And how do you suppose she'd know which one was responsible?"
DNA tests haven't reached this neck of the woods yet, then. "Well, it could still be used to cut down the field. How many husbands did your mother have when she conceived you?"
"I don't know, four or five I expect. She never had more than six at once."
"So women could be prohibited from marrying anyone who was married to their mother 8 months3 earlier."
"Well, yes, they could, but why should they be?"
"Because..." Oh dear. I had built myself a trap and fallen right into it. I couldn't explain to SKUP that nasty recessive genes can cause a lot of problems when people interbreed with their parents, because then I'd be contradicting the HA's teachings on the matter. However, I had to give some reply, he was waiting.
I did what any Englishman does when faced with having to discuss something tricky: I changed the subject.
"So, you're no longer learning about suing, then? What have they given you instead?"
SKUP's pride at having advanced to a new topic put all thoughts of parental sex from his mind. "I'm onto criminal law now. It looks really exciting! I want to be a prosecutor and send people to prison for years and years because they broke the law!"
"Well in case you get any ideas of trying it out on me, remember that you've offered me HA whisky in the past. Attempted murder is a serious offence..."
There are two types of study undertaken on fieldwork. The exciting one is participant observation, where the anthropologist takes part in the goings-on of the culture as if a member of it (although this can have its drawbacks4). The more mundane one is time allocation charting, which paints a broad and thorough picture of a society but is nowhere near as much fun. It's necessary, though (sigh).
Normally, therefore, anthropologists spend the majority of their time just sitting around watching people. They have selected a topic for study appropriate to the time of day, the weather, the season and their own prejudices (or "research interests", as these are termed in the anthropological literature), and they have chosen a group of victims ("representative subjects") to spy upon ("observe"). They then write down things like: "Household 5, family member 4. 14:10 to 14:15 - was spoken to by adults three times. Nurture rating: 6.4". From such tiny details, great ethnographies are written.
Typically, an understanding of a culture only comes after several months of this tedious stuff. The rich tapestry of intertwined beliefs held by individuals of the culture only become apparent by osmosis, seeping into the anthropologist after long periods of constant exposure to them. The world model implicitly used to explain everything from a core of deeply-held but seldom-discussed beliefs can finally be deduced in a single, searing insight, and the anthropologist can go home in the knowledge that they've done a good job.
Yes, of course.
I was having things happen to me completely the wrong way round. The HA were perfectly willing to talk at length about their beliefs and customs, and only my weakness in their language was holding back the floodgates of knowledge. That same weakness meant that I hadn't even begun the survey that would enable me to begin time allocation charting, although I was sure that by now Oxford Woman would have already finished hers, and Chad Hacket would doubtless have completed a full-blown research report.
Still, I bet I had a newer hut than they did.
I confined myself, then, for the time being, to getting the basic set up of HA society clear in my mind, so that when I did finally get around to my survey I would have some idea of what to expect.
SKUP's revelations that the term "father" meant "anyone who at some instant was married to mother" had big implications for the organisation of the family. I hadn't realised earlier that not only did the HA marry with impunity, they divorced with impunity, too, and that by old age (which is 45 or more for the HA5) they may well have had dozens of spouses. Male HA could easily absolve themselves of parental responsibility, it being much easier for them to deny that a baby is theirs than is the case for females ("Oh that? I don't know, someone must have put it there when I wasn't looking, it isn't mine."). Surely this society had to be a chauvinist's dream come true?
Oddly, no. The importance of having a male around during the upbringing of children is well documented on Earth (at least where male children are concerned), and although individual mothers may make a good job of bringing up children solo in a modern welfare state, it's generally accepted that women in less well-off societies will find it in their interests if they can have a Mr Nasty around to counteract their own Ms Nice. For the HA, the "father figure" rôle is taken on by a child's uncle.
Thinking about it, this makes sense. A man who shares a mother with a woman can be pretty sure that he has at least a quarter of his genes present in that woman's children, whereas he has no guarantee there'll be any at all in his wife's offspring. Uncles will therefore take young HA under their wings, and do with them all the things that on Earth in Western societies a biological father might be expected to do (playing rough games, throwing stones at animals, pushing anthropologists' motorcycles into pits...). A woman who has no brothers is regarded as an object of pity, and unless she is exceptionally beautiful or good in bed she will not attract many husbands; her cousins may help her out if she needs someone to do something manly (which for the HA generally involves having to brave that most noxious of substances, water), but otherwise she's pretty well on her own.
This model of HAish familial arrangements, while plausible, did seem to be slightly flawed. It occurred to me one afternoon that the reason I had SKUP as an interpreter was because he could speak English. He could speak English because he had learned it in order that he could become a lawyer. He could afford to become a lawyer because his father was wealthy. "Father", though, meant "once married to mother", and for a wealthy man there would be no shortage of eager brides (Californian alimony laws having no jurisdiction on Virginia). 40 or 50 wives, each having two or three children... There might be upwards of 100 HA who could claim this particular orc as their father.
I wandered over to SKUP's hut, and was fortunate enough to find him there before he could find that afternoon's whisky.
"Today's personal question, which I realise will inexplicably cost me more on expenses but that I'm going to ask anyway, is where did you learn English?"
SKUP seemed affronted. "Are you criticising me? Your English isn't very good either, you know - you never use the second person singular, it's always `you' this and `you' that, and your vocabulary is full of huge gaps. As for you accent, well let me tell you - "
"No, SKUP, I'm not criticising you... I just wanted to know how come you, an orc in the middle of nowhere, learned to speak such excellent English."
SKUP grudgingly accepted the compliment, and relaxed a little. "I learned it from Professor Charles Bosun. He's a geologist."
Oh well, at least he wasn't an anthropologist. "A geologist, really? What was he doing here?"
"Geology. Looking at rocks."
"Yes, well thank you for that leap of intuition. How come you learned English from him, though?"
"He was surveying the land one of my fathers owns, and I sort of used to look after it, so I said he could only work there if he taught me English at the same time."
"And he believed you?"
"He didn't mind, he liked to have company when he was surveying anyway."
Rather guiltily, I wished SKUP would stop saying the word "surveying", given that it was precisely what I was supposed to be doing to the populace right now.
"So, he was here for, what, six months? A year?"
"I think it was 273 days."
"And did he speak HAish?"
"Yes, well, nearly. He spoke like the KumLUTSHENiac, he said, which isn't quite the same as HAish but we'd be able to understand it."
This didn't surprise me. Many peoples living in close proximity on Earth speak dialects of the same language which can be understood by their immediate neighbours, and maybe even their neighbours' neighbours, but not by their neighbours' neighbours' neighbours, although these people could probably still make sense of their neighbours' dialect. Er, yes. Anyway, a geologist undertaking a major study of the territory would probably only need to learn one language, and make minor adjustments every time he or she moved to an area inhabited by a different tribe.
I was much impressed: with all that orcish shouting, Professor Bosun must have had vocal chords like piano wire.
"Did the professor find anything of interest?" I asked. Judging by SKUP's handwriting, he'd obviously had to leave before he got around to teaching his pupil to spell.
"Not really, no, he was looking for metal deposits. He did get worried at one point that there might have been some danger if any dragons had lived in the area, but I told him that our ancestors had put them to flight long ago and he was happy after that."
"An interesting man. Do you keep in touch with him?"
"Yes, of course; it was he who loaned me the money to become a lawyer."
"He sounds very kind; I should like to meet him."
"I wouldn't bother. To be honest, your English isn't quite as bad as I made out it was earlier."
Anthropologists are forever worried about ethno-centrism. This means that they are always trying to avoid judging other cultures by the standards of their own. This can range from the trivial ("You - you want me to eat that?!") to the rather more problematic ("But how can you be sure that the gods want a human sacrifice and not an animal one?"). It is a big issue among anthropologists as to whether they should accept or attempt to prevent what they see as transgressions of basic human rights. If an anthropologist heard warriors making a plan to go and rape the women of an adjacent tribe, for example, would it be best: a) to try and stop it, perhaps by warning the other tribe; b) to let it happen, as these people have been doing this same sort of thing for hundreds of years and it may serve to widen the gene pool or something; or c) to pack up and go home, rather than be an accessory? It's a poser...
I didn't feel I had to worry about anything so major from the HA. However, one piece of ethno-centrism which is still with us is the issue of gender. In the past, too many anthropologists (male and female, but mainly male) paid scant attention to the doings of the women of the peoples they were studying. This is because in those days most ordinary women in Western society weren't considered especially important, and anthropologists were therefore brought up to think along those unquestioned lines. As a result, a good deal of the fabric of the cultures they studied was omitted.
Nowadays, the question of whether or not women continue to be regarded as second-class citizens isn't the issue for most anthropologists: so long as they open their minds to the fact that there are two genders, and they make scrupulous efforts to study both, they can't really be expected to do any more. They may not get all the information they want, due to problems with the culture they're studying ("Women must not look upon the food we eat at the ceremony because it makes it impure") or the culture they're from ("Men must not ask direct sexually-related questions of women because it may oppress them"), but they do have an obligation to try.
I therefore decided that I needed to have an understanding of the distaff side of HA society. Anthropologists, you might think, ought to be good at this sort of thing; they are, after all, trained to observe and make sense of alien cultures. My own experience, unfortunately, belies this: being an anthropologist gives one no more idea of the workings of the mind of members of the opposite sex than that possessed by, say, a rock. Comprehending what makes female HA tick was therefore going to be a doubly tricky problem.
I began by simply observing. I wanted to know what sort of activities female HA got up to, of course, but my main reason was to try to ascertain the relationships that female HA had with other HA, particularly with their children (since I knew they were primarily responsible for childcare). I therefore sat in the doorway of my hut after lunch one day, and watched the comings and goings of Lakka's wives.
With hindsight, of course, spending an entire afternoon staring at women is perhaps not a particularly intelligent thing to do. Polygamy being accepted among the HA, I was in no danger of Lakka coming up to me and bashing my face in, however my activities did not escape the notice of the women themselves; indeed, they seemed quite pleased with the attention. I myself was oblivious to their game, being a consummate professional, but it did occur to me after three or four hours that they seemed to be wearing much brighter clothing, were waving to me then covering their mouths as they giggled, coyly, and were hanging about in small groups. The children had also miraculously been spirited away.
All this was just grist for my mill, however, and I made copious notes with the intention of figuring out later what strange custom I might be observing. Naturally, I had waved back when they'd waved at me, and had smiled back when they'd smiled at me, this being the normal, polite response of a harmless idiot.
As the afternoon began to draw on, though, I perceived a marked difference in attitude. The women were no longer waving and smiling and happy, they were gesticulating, frowning and annoyed. Most of the men-folk were well on the way to drunken oblivion by then, except me, and I mused that perhaps that might have something to do with it.
I was mistaken.
All at once, a deputation of three attractive6 but angry orc women came up to me and rattled off a few sentences in HAish so quickly that I didn't understand a word. When I asked them to repeat it, more slowly, one of them summarised.
"Are you going to ****7 any of us or what?"
Well, I'd been without female companionship for quite a while, and I must admit that this situation did bother me from time to time. Nevertheless, it was something of a shock to be approached in such a candid fashion by three women I had unknowingly been seducing all afternoon.
But hey, why not take them up on their suggestion? They wanted it, I was one of the few conscious males for miles around, no-one on Earth would ever know, they weren't hideously ugly, I couldn't possibly catch AIDS, it would only be ethno-centric of me to think that fathering a child and then abandoning it was irresponsible... Yes, yes, yes! What possible grounds were there for not letting my hormones have a bit of fun?
I looked again at the women, and immediately felt a sudden pounding of my heart, followed by a strange, raw sensation beginning to spread through my body. I tried to resist, but I was powerless, I had to succumb. The French and Italians are famed for their passion, but it's as nothing when compared against the sheer, overwhelming force of the emotion I was experiencing - the most powerful, unstoppable feeling known to mankind: the embarrassment of an Englishman.
I lost all power of speech, as if my tongue had swollen to three times its normal size. I looked from one face to another, desperately trying to figure a way out of my predicament yet completely unable to do so.
I tried to speak. "Bab bab bab," I said.
"You take his arms, I'll pull down his trousers," said the middle orc.
Upon hearing that, my brain went into panicked overdrive. Wild thoughts flashed across it in an instant, a galaxy of possibilities flitting in parallel from neuron to neuron until it came up with a foolproof solution.
I later was able to piece together accounts from witnesses as to what transpired next. The orcs, undeterred, did remove my trousers but were so aghast at seeing that I had recently washed that they left me in disgust.
From that incident onwards, no female HA ever regarded me as an object of lust. Instead, they all treated me as if I were somehow sexless. This actually worked out well in the long term, because it meant that I could ask them questions of a sexual nature without fear that they may think I was hitting on them. They could also be relaxed and friendly when I was in their company.
On the whole, though, I think the French and Italians have a better time of it.
Having had to abort my first attempts to penetrate the psyche of the female HA, I decided that perhaps it might be worthwhile instead to invest some time exploring the attitude of the male HA to them. I had already noticed that HA females did not partake of whisky, and was interested to learn what the male HA made of the fact. This being general, background information, my first instincts were to ask SKUP, since I could speak to him in English. If it was interesting enough, I could always back it up with some proper study later (assuming SKUP wasn't entirely misinforming me).
The next day, SKUP and I were paying our weekly visit to MIkuMIku (he to pick up the latest despatch in his on-going battle with law tutors, and me to indulge the foul perversion of taking a shower). By now, he and I had become accomplished at communication when travelling at speed on an agricultural motorcycle, so we could hold reasonable conversations during the couple of hours or so it took us to reach the fort.
"Are you going to be buying any more of that SHEPKATmiMEK whisky this time round?" I began.
"I don't think I will today, no. People are beginning to expect it, and I seem to be suddenly acquiring a lot of friends I didn't used to have."
"Female friends?" See how subtle anthropologists can be.
"We don't allow women whisky."
"Really? Why's that?"
"Because it's bad for them."
"Who says it's bad? The HAIKAG?"
"No, the midwives. If women drink whisky, they can lose their babies."
"Because they're so drunk they don't know where they left them?" I said this as a joke, but with the admittedly deeper purpose of putting my mind at rest that SKUP hadn't actually meant it that way...
"No, because they can get born too soon and things."
Oh well, an eminently sensible reason, although I'd have preferred to have been forced to work it out from some folk story.
"Hold on, though, women aren't pregnant all the time. Couldn't they just give it up when they were expecting a baby?"
SKUP laughed at this. "It is not permitted. Whisky is sacred; once it has worked its power on you, it is not something you care to give up!"
I felt rather uncomfortable that SKUP seemed to be advocating alcoholism as a positive lifestyle, so I didn't at the time probe deeper. Instead, I kept with the female angle.
"I suppose that part of the reason women have many husbands is that there is a shortage of available men in the early evenings," I mused.
"It has always been the way of the HA," came the enigmatic reply.
If that were the case, then the HA must have been knocking back whisky for a long, long time. That the women hadn't rebelled against being allowed whisky probably meant that they were happy with the arrangement, which, objectively, did seem to be a good deal. With more sober females around than sober males, those who feel like a night of raw sex can usually find someone to oblige, and those who don't needn't bother. It certainly addresses any problem of libido mismatch.
I was still concerned about the fact that on Earth women have been consistently shown to prefer to attach themselves to men in a serial fashion, whereas men aren't too unhappy with parallel relationships; however, I was acutely aware that this wasn't Earth, and that these weren't actually humans even, so the same wasn't necessarily true for them. In terms of evolution, though, the HA arrangement as I understood it was certainly possible: those women who maintained multiple partners would have more babies than those who didn't (because they could always find a husband to father one when they were in the mood), and therefore their partner-selection genes would be passed on to their offspring. Of course, there remained the problem of how this might have all started, which I would have to give some thought to later.
I realised that SKUP was saying something.
"In MIkuMIku, the women do drink, but they only have one husband."
"You have a girlfriend in MIkuMIku, don't you? Will she marry you if she knows she'll have to share you?"
"LIMInador, yes. She will not marry me if she knows that she'll have to share, so I have taken the precaution of not telling her."
"She's bound to find out, though, they always do."
"No, she's quite stupid, I'm sure she won't."
"How did you meet her, anyway?"
SKUP put on his reminiscing voice. "She works in a bar. I used to go in and buy a drink, and I was at first very surprised to see a woman drinking whisky, so I said nothing to her. Then, one day, my ride into MIkuMIku was delayed and I didn't get in until after midnight. I saw her staggering down the street so drunk that she could barely see, and I was mortified."
"You found it distressing?"
"Did I ever! It meant the bar had closed! I had to try and talk her into using her key to let me in so I could buy a drink, and that's how we got to know one another." He sighed.
"That's the kind of romantic story seldom heard where I come from," I declared, after a suitable pause.
"From darkness comes light," he replied.
From darkness comes light. The phrase was simple enough, but as a philosophy it was rather minimal. What did it mean? From lack of knowledge comes knowledge? From evil comes good? From the future comes the present? From Russia with Love comes after Dr No?
Nevertheless, over the course of the next week I experimented looking at HA life as if this statement were a guiding principle. It seemed a reasonable bet that the expression had something to do with the organisation of people's lives. The HA's propensity to do as little as possible might have been popular with the gods of entropy, but it doesn't really get a culture moving; perhaps it was an exhortation for them to get off their backsides and work, occasionally? From seeds come lush fields of wheat or something?
After a few false starts, I decided to get down to basics. What's the first thing which the HA say to one another in the morning? "Sleep (well)?" OK, so what if that weren't just a polite way of asking if someone had a good rest: what could it possibly be asking instead that fitted the darkness-to-light template?
As the HA seem to have quite a reasonable appreciation of why they do the things they do, my obvious next move was to ask one of them (carfefully selected) what they meant by the exchange.
Fifteen minutes later (ie. unusually quickly), SKUP appeared at my door. "You wanted me?" he asked.
"Yes, SKUP, sorry, it's just a quick question. This `Sleep well?' stuff you HA all say to one another in the morning; what do you mean by it?"
"We're just asking the other person whether they slept well. Can I go now?"
"So if I went to sleep and woke up at my leisure feeling fully refreshed, would I have slept well?"
"I expect so."
"But if I tossed and turned all night and hardly slept at all, I wouldn't have slept well?"
"Probably? Is there a case when I could say I definitely didn't sleep well?"
"Well if you didn't go to sleep."
Not entirely the answer I had in mind...
I tried to remain cheerful. "Any other cases?"
"Every time I wake up, I know whether I have slept well or not."
"But how do you judge it? Because you feel well, or don't feel tired, or - "
"Because I will remember my dreams."
A glimmer of insight hit me. "So from the darkness of sleep has come the lightness of dreams?"
"The lightness of understanding. Dreams are just messages; it's what they tell you that's important."
"And what do they tell you?"
"Don't Earth humans experience dreams?"
"They do, yes, of course."
"Well there you are then. Look, can I go? Only I want to finish an essay on theft; I thought that maybe if I stole an idea from someone else then I could illustrate my point, but no-one else seems to have had that idea for me to steal it."
I let him get back to his work...
I felt that I had actually learned something here, but I wasn't entirely sure what it was. The HA obviously endowed dreams with some prenatural quality which was central enough to their lives for them to question one another about it every morning, but as to what this piece of mysticism might be...
I'd have to research further.
When it comes down to it, from darkness comes light is a somewhat broad statement. It can be applied to all manner of things, and by questioning different individuals I soon found that it was used all over the place. Paradigms for light coming from dark were: being born; beginning menstruation (desire of males being classified as lightness); breaking voice (desire of females being classified likewise); birth of first child (for women) or of sister's first child (for men); birth of first grandchild (daughter's or sister's daughter's). Death was explicitly not an example of the axiom; as Lakka put it, "whether it is light from darkness, we cannot know until it happens to us."
It was fair to argue, therefore, that the HA did have a religion, formed around the concept of light from darkness. I hadn't seen any evidence that it came with a full set of rites and rituals, but certainly everyone accepted the dogma as obvious fact, and applied it under all circumstances. Whenever I questioned anyone further about it, though, they were completely unable (or unwilling?) to go into detail.
I did manage to delve a little deeper into this aspect of their lives, however, when, by chance, the HAIKAG passed through OLtic on his way back from another HA village a day or two away. As spiritual leader of the HA, he should surely have more awareness of the nature and origins of their beliefs than was required of ordinary, common-or-garden HA.
"Excuse me," I said, catching him as he strode out alone into the bracken. "I was wondering about your guiding principle, from darkness comes light: do you know the history of it?"
The HAIKAG smiled, wisely, as religious personnel are wont to do with depressing frequency. "It has always been so," he replied.
"But where did it come from? How do you know it has always been so?"
"The evidence is all about you, you need merely look."
I'd heard that argument before. "But my people believe that the world was - worlds were - created by a single God. They also say that the evidence is everywhere; all you need do is look, and in all things you see the hand of this god. Is that something like what the HA believe? A god created everything?"
"See that?" The HAIKAG pointed at a wheelbarrow. "That was made by old JaSEP. No way is he any kind of deity."
Well, perhaps God didn't create quite everything...
"But you must have some idea of the origins of your belief?"I persevered. "Someone must have first discovered that this is how the universe works."
"It became clear to all of us, as one. There was nobody who did our thinking for us."
"Then what is the rôle of the HAIKAG in all this?"
"Ahh, the HAIKAG is the keeper of the evidence." He stopped in front of a bush. "Now, would you please be so kind as to excuse me; if I don't defecate soon, my bowels are going to take action of their own accord."
It all finally clicked at the end of the week when I recalled that for female HA, the morning greeting was not "sleep well?", but merely "sleep?". Why should that be? Didn't male HA think women dreamed?
The answer, of course, was that women did dream, but they didn't get rolling drunk and wake up with a raging hangover. The centrality of whisky to the lives of male HA was, in effect, an equivalent to the 1960s Earth hippy-style "spiritual awareness through drugs" philosophy. The HA believe that if light comes from darkness, then by inducing darkness (getting intoxicated), light will be generated (by regaining sobriety). The strange dreams brought on by falling asleep in a stupor whenever the opportunity presents itself are insights; they are jewels of raw intuition to be used and reflected upon during times of more lucid thought.
Great... I came to study culture, and I end up studying counter-culture.
My ideas were confirmed when I asked whether young boys would be greeted "sleep well?" or just "sleep?" (it was the latter). I myself was afforded the former because, by demonstrating my familiarity with whisky bottles upon arriving at the village, I had clearly shown that I had prior experience of its mystical properties.
This knowledge fundamentally altered my perception of the HA. Whereas previously I had assumed that they got drunk either through boredom or as some form of socialisation, it was actually of profound significance to them - far more so than in Dublin, where I did the fieldwork for my PhD.
Of course, I was saddened, too. Orc physiology is certainly different to that of humans (no human would ever get a nose as big as an orc, except through wildly ill-advised plastic surgery), but I didn't doubt that drinking almost pure alcohol would wreak havoc with their livers. As for alcoholism, well it was hard to ascertain whether or not they had a physical need for it as they drank it regularly anyway; I suspected they didn't, since they seemed to get drunk pretty easily on the stuff. I know that ethnic Europeans have enzymes in their body which ethnic Orientals don't, and that this means that, say, Japanese can become intoxicated much quicker than, say, Germans. Whether something like that was in operation with the HA, I couldn't be sure, but if evolution had any say in the matter I suspected it probably did.
Oh well, at least the HA version of religion can claim with absolute certainty to have a holy spirit.
1 "Gender" is an anthropological term meaning "sex rôle", used because some societies allow people to adopt a gender other than the one their basic biology indicates. The HA aren't anywhere near this organised, however.
2 Only female HA who have menstruated are classified as "women". Oh, but I guess a male HA who somehow managed it would get to be one, too...
3 Orcs have a shorter gestation period than humans.
4 "No, no, it's quite all right, I've caused you far too much bother as it is, there's really no need to circumcise me, I'm feeling a little tired to be honest."
5 Orcs have a shorter life expectancy than humans. Even orcs with human lifestyles generally drop dead by 60 (male) and 63 (female). The HA have little access to medicine, and therefore tend to cop their clogs around five or ten years sooner.
6 I use the term non-ethno-centrically here...
7 I didn't have enough HAish vocabulary to know the word she said here, although I have a shrewd idea that it probably translates to "fuck".
21st January 1999: ltlwo6.htm