PEOPLES OF THARN
by Chris Wayan, 2004
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Contents: Sentiary, People or Not?, Culture, Technology.
Medieval bestiaries described all known beasts; this is a sentiary, a guide to all 13 intelligent species known on Tharn. Click on a species for details.
ARTHOM||Arthom (singular: Artho) are omnivorous insectoids looking half-monkey, half-moth. They're small (only a meter tall, with a wingspan of 2-3 m) and extremely light, massing around 10 kilos. As vocal as parrots, they fill a similar niche.||Har Trench (west of Tarkas Upland) where they evolved, plus a few in nearby Chanath Trench. Arthom can't fly or even breathe comfortably on the plains or uplands.||Originally arthom ate nuts and fruit, hunted small game, snared birds and fish. Nut-hoarding and fruitpicking led to the earliest agriculture on Tharn; many tree-crops are Artho. Most are still farmers, orchardists, woodworkers, fishers, traders. Just not travelers.|
BOS||Bos are scaly, fork-tongued, saurian... mammals. You can be sure of this because they'll flaunt their breasts at you on the slightest excuse (yes, the boys too).||Subtropical brush and open woods. Bos originally browsed fruit, grubs and leafbuds at ground level; today they garden and trade as well.||Bos are psychologically astute, with a strong sense of the absurd. They make canny traders and superb actors, singers and clowns. Like bonobos, they use sex (and humor) to defuse tension and cement friendships.|
CAMAROO||Marsupial, bipedal cameloids, adapted for the cold and thin air of the uplands--rounded, golden, fluffy as vicuñas.||All the greener uplands, including the shield volcanoes. Some farm the shores of subpolar lakes, too.||A hardy, calm people, for they had few natural enemies up in the thin air. Farmers, herders, caravan traders, weavers. Mad for music, color, fur-dyes, cosmetics. Camaroos invented writing, murals, and sculpture. Believers in two heavens.|
CENTAHS||Cheetah-like centaurs common on Tharn's veldts, with four-digit hands. Coats vary greatly, from spots to stripes to plain, by region and tribe.||Veldts and open woods. Centahs are found in mixed-species towns. They're more relaxed around other species than their own, since territoriality isn't triggered.||Originally carnivores, but tool use and trade has broadened their diet greatly. Playful, sensual, a bit vain. Fond of poetry, song, stories, music, dancing, sex--or all of them at once. Mutual grooming is courteous, so don't be startled if a centah pets you. Just pet it right back.|
ELAFFES||The second-biggest people on Tharn. Elaffes are herbivores of the forest floor, who use a prehensile trunk to strip leaves, buds, and fruit from trees up to 7 meters up. They've developed many of Tharn's tree-crops.||Elaffes, like most four-limbed species on Tharn, evolved in northern Yoof Trench. They've spread to cool forests around Zor Chasma, but overheat in the tropics and can't breathe in uplands.||Elaffes never had natural enemies, so they're fearless and hard to anger. They radiate calm and reassurance. This is partly due to their slower perception of time (possibly a function of their size; like Terran whales, elaffes can live centuries).|
FLYOTES||Dog-sized pack animals with brains bigger than chimps. Picture a reddish, big-headed coyote with hawk-wings. All four paws have an opposable thumbs for a heel, like bird feet. Omnivorous, preferring meat.||Open woods and canyons, deserts--wherever isolated trees or cliff-caves provide safe nests. Small numbers are found in low-altitude mixed-species towns, too.||Flyotes face the same evolutionary bind as wingbok: their bodies (and brains) have reached the maximum flight-weight practical in the thin air of Tharn's plains. Only in craters and trenches do they grow big and smart enough to be undeniable people.|
LEBBIRDS||A feline frame with wings and handlike paws. Omnivores, not exclusive carnivores. Nearly leopard-sized, lebbirds are far lighter and more delicate: hollow-boned.||Wooded trenches only--lebbirds can't fly on the plains. Many still live in treetop clanhouses, but most prefer mixed villages.||Fishers, orchardists, actors, dancers, musicians, herbalists and perfumiers. Intensely curious, loving puzzles, they also make fine therapists, shamans, and scientists. As tactile and sensual as centahs, but gentler, more delicate.|
LOBBRAS||Lobbras look like centauroid zebras with antennae, eye-stalks, and sideways jaws. For under the stripes, they're crustaceans who climbed from the sea into coastal mangroves and ended up out on the veldt.||Open forest, veldt and prairie--much like veltaurs, though lobbras can tolerate more cold. But they can't breathe in uplands, restricting their range.||Farmers, fishers, traders, travelers. Their hoots echo over the plains. Originally grazers not averse to insects and grubs, but berrying, root-digging and larva-harvesting led early to farming; many plains crops are Lobbran, including Tharnian honey (secreted by thumb-sized pseudo-crickets living in termite-mound hives).|
MAMOOKS||Shaggy, tusked giants in the snow. But not elephants--dinos! Huge lungs and efficient oxygen transport, since they must breathe air as thin as 0.1 atmosphere.||Two ecozones: the polar tundras, and the more fertile uplands. They grow uncomfortable much above freezing.||Nomadic musical storytellers. Shamanic mystics, rejecting religious hierarchy--each individual dreams a cycle of visionary tales, which can be told to others by the owner, but not passed further on. Psychologically astute, mamooks are superb actors and singers.|
MOPS||Birdlike small dinosaurs with thick feathers. Hot-blooded, bipedal, long-tailed. Viviparous with marsupial pouches. Omnivores.||Cool forests, both subpolar and montane. Nomadic herders in the uplands too.||Elegant, vain, with bright tails and crests. Hunters and foresters. Today they farm and herd as well. Famed for wood sculpture, fire dance, featherwork, leatherwork. Their music sounds Balkan, with close harmonies.|
THOTTERS||Like Amazonian otters with opposable thumbs on all four paws, and a human-sized brain. Thotters are as vocal as dolphins, and use echolocation in muddy water. Equally comfortable on land and in water. Omnivores.||Evolved by a shallow equatorial bedsea, but spread to waters all over Tharn. In recent, safer eons they've ventured ashore, in trading towns.||Thotters are playful, affectionate, optimistic, and hyperactive. Guided by dreams and dance-induced visions. Traders, handcrafters, or aquafarmers herding parru (duckbill dinos) for their tasty eggs.|
VELTAURS||Gracile centauroids far lighter than horses, with paws not hooves. Originally herbivores, veltaurs can still digest some cellulose, but tool use has increased their intake of fruit, leaves, buds, bugs and fish.||Warm savannas and open woods. They don't like cold. Historically wary of centahs and sometimes patronizing to lobbras; but many are now found in mixed-species towns.||High-strung, tactile, playful, beautiful and a touch vain. Prone to religious visions and ecstasy. Fond of poetry, song, stories, music, dancing, sex--better yet, all of them at once. Not violent, but with a temper; veltaurs kick if teased.|
WINGBOK||Small, winged antelope who chase new growth after the rains. Hoofed herbivores--their only manipulative organ is the prehensile, tri-forked, half-meter-long tongue (kissing a wingbok is, well, memorable).||Veldt and open woods. Two subspecies, plains and trench, who can interbreed but rarely do. Trench wingbok are much larger, massing twice the plains species, with brains to match.||Trench wingbok are shy, sensitive people, with minimal material culture, but rich inner lives. They're famed for their delicate emotional perceptions, depth psychology, love poetry, and aerial courtship dances. Plains wingbok are stunted--not just stature, but mind and culture.|
PEOPLE OR NOT?
Flyotes and wingbok bring up loaded issues for Terrans. Are these species people or not? A fair-minded Terran would uncomfortably conclude "Some, in certain environments, but not others, even their identical twins brought up in different environments." We'd agonize over where to put the threshold--for on Tharn, unlike Earth, some tribe will be right on it. Where do Tharnians put the line?
No Tharnian religion denies evolution, or sets people apart from animals. On Tharn, the Missing Links aren't missing; they live down the block. It's built into the language: instead of two opposed words and concepts, "animal" and "people", Tharnians have a spectrum of terms to describe creatures with various levels of peoplish behaviors, such as:
Inevitably, perhaps, such words are freely used to describe and flatter and insult individuals of any species--just as we constantly use animal metaphors about each other.
For Tharnians, intelligence is multiple, the product of many interacting abilities; and the cultivation of those abilities is valued, for there's a constant underlying sense they're the flower of evolution. This aspect of Tharnian culture might feel medieval to us: progress and the good life is seen less in material terms (more goods produced, more wealth), but in behavior--how alert, knowledgeable, cultured, gentle and leisured people are. The word for it in Trade Camaroo is yitlaki, literally translating "awareness" but connoting sensitivity as well as intelligence.
The term's origins are revealing; yitlaki is borrowed from the wingbok tongue of Chanath Trench, where a gradient of wingbok (from dwarf plains-grazers to big sophisticated trench people) live along the steep Sharoo River as it drops two miles into the trench; one of the few places where trench and plains subspecies mix socially (and genetically, proving they're still one species). Sharoo wingbok are painfully aware how precarious and precious yitlaki is; more so, perhaps, than wealthier, more confident species. Species like humans.
I've downplayed technology in my tours, for a reason: Tharnians do. They see progress in terms of yitlaki, intelligence or awareness, and its practical manifestation is the good life here and now, not material progress promising wealth in the future. Tharnians, like Californians, have a nimby (Not In My Back Yard!) attitude toward pollution, so technological application lags well behind scientific knowledge. Nimbyism is one inevitable consequence of multispecies culture--if tuna had the vote, we wouldn't be dumping mercury in their water, would we? On Tharn, quick-and-dirty solutions always offend someone.
There's an ecological reason technology's simple, too. Tharn suffers from irregular Dry Ages. Whenever a birdsea forms, sequestering much of the world's water in one deep sea, rains can fail all over the planet. Forests shrink and lake-levels all drop. Civilization can adjust and rebuild, of course--just in time for the rains to return, the lakes to rise, and all the new cities to be drowned. Technology that gets saved from cycle to cycle tends to be freestanding and portable, for technology needing much infrastructure dies out.
Tharnians, however, don't seem to be suffering much from their low technology. The same obsession with quality of life that slows technological advances means that Tharnians won't tolerate public nuisances.
Nuisances like plague. Epidemics are rare on Tharn--the population includes so many species from utterly different lineages. You try infecting cats, lobsters and dinosaurs--it ain't easy being a disease here! And nimbyism makes for good public sanitation--public health is central to Tharnian politics the way war/defense is on Earth. Before 1900, Terran cities were consistently less healthy than the country; not so on Tharn.
Famine and war are rare in democracies (as we have been so amazingly slow to learn). Tharn's quasi-anarchist guilds and consensus-based politics have a similar damping effect on conflict: public outrage costs bad planners their jobs. When the good life goes wrong, Tharnians assume they've slid into zeet, a false consensus (this arthom word literally means "a sour harmony" or "dissonant interval"). Their plans were incomplete, overlooking some need; time to revise! An extreme pragmatism underpins Tharnian cooperation.
But the issue that gets to the heart of being Tharnian isn't obvious on the surface, and the closest Earth term is off-putting: cannibalism! Technically our word means eating one's own species, which no Tharnian people does; but the popular usage is closer to "eating people"--and on Tharn, with people of so many species, have none ever eaten their neighbors? It's hard to say, and I'm not being coy--Tharnian trade language uses a single term for a whole cluster of Terran social ills: cannibalism, slavery, wage-slavery and poverty, racism, sexism, imperialism/colonialism: wukalu, "parasitism" (literally, "ticking" or "mosquitoing"). They're all various ways to feed off others--cannibalism, in Tharnian eyes.
So do Tharnians wukalu Tharnians? Well, yes, of course, or they'd lack the word. But whatever atrocities prehistory may hide, wukalu is an individual pathology today, not tribal policy. For a very good reason: Tharnian species diversity has much the same effect as a constitutional division of powers in human politics. When you have many tool-users, all capable of gossip, foresight, alliances, and altruism, predation soon provokes an alliance against it. With enough players in the game, cooperation pays better, and over time becomes internalized. Tharnians are well-behaved, yitlaki, because they have to be; in their crowded environment, exploitation's unstable. I've argued this in more detail in another planet-study, Serrana.
To sum up: Tharnian material technology looks preindustrial, but doesn't fully reflect Tharnian scientific progress. And social technology is quite advanced--not due to any special Tharnian moral strength, but due to the richer social environment! The sheer number of intelligent species, regardless of their individual character, gave Tharnians a sociopolitical head start. This echoes Jared Diamond's argument (in his book "Guns, Germs, and Steel") that Europeans had geographic and ecological advantages, such as more exploitable flora and fauna. On Tharn, just replace "exploitable" with "cooperative"--and subtract all the guns, most of the germs, and at least the sharpest steel.
And quite a bit of the steal.
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