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"Lift up your heads, and gaze into their eyes as you smite them. These hills are our home, and we will send them crawling back to theirs. Do not tremble in fear, your sisters stand beside you! Look inside, and ask yourself - are you a warrior, or merely some simpering man?" - Jesira, noted Yanatheran warrior, spoken prior to battle
"Feral beauty she had - power, grace, and danger all rolled into one, like a leopardess on the hunt. I'm no fool, though; even more than I would a leopardess, I stayed out of her way. If you've any sense at all, you'll stay away from the Yanathera, too." -Bralion Voorfist, Pardinese bard
Just east of the Swamps of Kedesh lies the stretch of rocky, hilly, inhospitable land known as the Toran Downs. Dividing the Blood Plains to the south from the Chindari Plains to the north, the soil of the Downs is poor, the terrain is rough, and the neighboring cultures are all known to be hostile; in short, this is not the type of place that would normally be associated with civilization. It is almost fitting, then, that one of the most unique of cultures would call this place home - the tribe known as the Yanathera.
The People: The Yanathera are a fairly xenophobic people, a trait no doubt related to their near-constant warring with the neighboring Arvox Collyra and Slaa'kar. Like the other cultures of western Antaron, the Yanathera are quite warlike and, while they are not particularly expansionist, they defend their own with unrivaled ferocity. Such ferocity stands in odd contrast to the single most fascinating aspect of these people - that the social structure of the Yanathera is completely matriarchal.
Yanatheran women are tall and muscular, standing an average of six feet in height, whereas the men are usually several inches shorter, and with much slighter builds. The people possess a dark, swarthy complexion similar to the Arvox Collyra, have jet-black hair, and normally have dark brown or hazel eyes, though the occasional green can be seen.
Dress: Due to the hot, humid environment, Yanatheran clothing tends to be rather limited; in fact, during the hottest summer months, it is not at all uncommon for both genders to wear nothing but loincloths in informal settings. In more public situations, the typical outfit for either gender is the yultan, a knee-length, sleeveless garment made of colorful jukat beads strung on lines of thin hide or catgut. The more elaborate the design and colors, the more power and prestige the wearer has in the simple society. During the mild winters, furs are worn for warmth.
Yanathera also decorate themselves by weaving beads into their hair, and by painting their bodies. Only those of highest stature of great warriors and leaders can weave the beads into their hair; over the years, these wrapped locks get longer and longer, becoming a weapon by the deadliest of warriors, much like a whip. Similarly, body painting is mainly restricted to the tribe's warriors, who use it either for camouflage or to intimidate their foes. However, in times of celebration, it is acceptable for any individual to paint their body with bright patterns.
Yanatheran warriors carry shields, but usually wear no armor aside from that which can be fashioned from hides or skins. Their weaponry usually consists of simple arms, such as spears, bows, and slings.
Culture and Society: Yanatheran society is a blend of primitive agriculture mixed with traditional hunting and gathering. The rocky soil of the Downs is far from qualifying as rich farmland, but the tribe manages to grow a small variety of crops in terraced gardens along the rivers that run through the hills, using wisely every drop of the available water. Fortunately, wildlife is both plentiful and diverse, with denizens of the hills, rivers, and the swamplands all within reasonably close access. Unlike their plainsmen neighbors to both the north and south, the Yanathera do not keep horses, as the creatures are ill equipped for life in the rugged hills, though they do raise ikitanals (something like short donkeys) for use as beasts of burden.
The warriors watch and hunt the Kasmilun Leira, the Forsaken Lands to the south of the Yanathera. These lands are filled with dangerous creatures that seek sanctuary in the swamps or deep hollows in the earth. The warriors have learned how to use the sound that travels along the rocks to find prey or stop predators. Those of the Blood Plains never know how the warriors are ready for them when they enter the Forsaken Lands, but the battles are terrible and quick.
Since Yanatheran culture is totally matriarchal, women hold all positions of leadership, carry the responsibility of defending the tribe, and perform all of the "important" jobs within the tribe. The smaller, weaker men are conditioned to be subservient from birth, and are considered fit only for simple, menial labor - and for breeding stock. They remain near the rivers, watching over the children within and tending the terrace gardens.
Marriage is an almost unheard of occurrence, due to the fact that Yanatheran men are considered to be so very inferior to the women. The typical situation has the female choosing any of the tribe's men that she may find suitable at the time for recreational or reproductive purposes, in whatever time frame she deems appropriate.
In extremely rare instances, an outside male might prove himself worthy of being a kaln-kar (life-mate), but in such a union, the man can only hope to be an equal; no Yanatheran woman would ever be subordinate to a male. Indeed, foreign men are considered to be very valuable, since they are frequently larger, stronger, and more assertive than their Yanatheran counterparts. However, being thus valued is a dubious honor, at best, as the Yanathera have absolutely no qualms about taking men as slaves for adding to the labor force or gene pool.
Yanathera have an interesting concept of family - while they recognize direct bloodlines, all Yanatheran females consider themselves to be sisters, as there is but one tribe. As a natural outgrowth of this concept, all individuals, save the ranbeki (loosely translated, chieftain) and the village elders, are to be treated as equals, regardless of the place that they fulfill within society. Learning is exclusively oral tradition, taught from generation to generation by the various village elders. Children are largely cared for by the village as a whole, rather than by individual mothers.
Individual sisters decide their own lot in life by balancing free will with the needs of their particular village; no one is born into any particular role. Women are the providers and protectors - hunting, farming, and defending. Men, on the other hand, live lives little better than slaves - their tasks include cooking, performing menial labor, and caring for the children, to name a few. It is noted, with some derision, that men are scarcely fit for the latter job, as they lack even the ability to nurse a child, forcing some of the sisters to fill in as wet nurses when the need arises. These sisters, known as Keria, are either mothers who have elected to spend the first year nursing their own child (and others, as needs dictate), or have chosen to continue filling that role for the tribe even after their own child has matured beyond that first year mark.
Stone is in rather plentiful supply in the region, and the Yanathera use it abundantly. The most important of village buildings, such as temples, are almost always crafted of stone, and many communal buildings use stone blocks as foundations for wood and mud-brick structures. Furthermore, the Yanathera are renowned for their ability to carve stone for both practical and decorative use - their arrows and spears carry razor-sharp stone tips, and their statues are said to be almost lifelike in their beauty.
Yanatheran villages are relatively peaceful, on the whole, unless threatened from without. Violent disputes inside of the tribe are absolutely unheard of, due in large part to the sister concept. However, outsiders should not expect the same treatment - it is very wise to avoid the Downs, if at all possible. Both the plains-dwelling Arvox Collyra and the swamp-dwelling Slaa'kar tend to raid Yanatheran villages (for different reasons), which in turn makes the sisters extremely wary of outsiders. Of course, the Yanatheran interest in foreign males has already been documented, and the tribe's warriors will occasionally mount raids of their own in order to satisfy this interest.
Trade and Commerce: Since the Yanathera have little contact with outsiders, trade is very limited. Within the tribe, simple barter is used for trading necessities. However, as there is an increasing interest from the outside world in Yanatheran decorative stonework, attempts to trade with the tribe are becoming more and more common (with varying results). Apparently, the Yanathera are interested in both precious metals and steel weaponry, so possibilities for trade may exist for those willing to face the perils.
Religion: The Yanathera worship many of the same deities as the "civilized" cultures of Antaron do, although their perspective is a bit different. Naturally, all of the important deities are depicted as being female, with male gods as subservient. In other respects, their system of religion is not that different from those of the five kingdoms; deities are worshipped in temples, and priestesses tend those houses of worship. The most important deities include:
Raminna - goddess of life (Lysora)
Mitrinti - goddess of fortune (Shinara)
Salkira - goddess of the hunt (Vilathera)
Intranki - goddess of war (Bakloran and Therrasor)
Pumulka - goddess of growth, fertility (Miellyah)
Kastriska - goddess of death (Tyrannis)
Many of the other members of the pantheon are acknowledged to exist, but their roles are considered to be minor, and there is little organized worship of them. The matriarchal view, so prevalent in the rest of Yanatheran society, is just as easily seen in matters of worship, as well; sisters may beseech the goddesses for favors, but any prayers that are directed toward male deities are phrased essentially as demands.
Values and Taboos: The Yanathera believe themselves to be a special, chosen people. Indeed, they view themselves as civilized, and the rest of the world as barbaric.
Strength is to be valued, though it is understood that strength comes in many forms. While the tribe is rather warlike, this is due to necessity, not desire - war in and of itself is neither glorious nor to be sought after, but rather a simple fact of life.
Women are expected to bear children at least once in their lives, unless they have taken special vows to deny themselves indulgences of the flesh - most commonly done by priestesses who seek to take a closer walk with their goddess, giving up virtually all earthly comforts, or by any sister that seeks increased purity for a time. This is not the normal case, however; Yanatheran women are usually fairly promiscuous, carrying their dominance and agressiveness into their relationships with men. As it is an honor to the man to be thus chosen, complaints regarding this system are nonexistent.
Daughters are very desirable; a sister who only bears male children is pitied among the people. Men are little more than property. In rare cases, an outsider can prove himself the match of a Yanatheran woman, and be grudgingly accepted, but such a thing is all but impossible for a Yanatheran man. As such, men have no rights and no say in much of anything; for a man to raise hand or voice to a woman is a terrible crime. If a sister becomes overly attached to an "unproven" man, it is seen as a sign of great weakness and shame.
Thanks to t_catt11, w/Yanamari and Matt (Gloern) Gatto for this contribution!