Yakhat people

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The Yakhat are a group of nomadic herders who live (after the events of the novel Storm Bride) north of the river Prasa, between the White Teeth Mountains and Azatsi's Fingers. They are considered one of the "slow" peoples, which average lifespans in the range of 200 years.

This page contains spoilers for Storm Bride! Don't say I didn't warn you.

History of the Yakhat

The earliest oral histories of the Yakhat describe them living in a humid, marshy region far to the east and the south of where they currently live. There they made their homes on the few hills and ridges in the marshland which were not submerged during flood season. A region of higher elevation suitable for year-round habitation was known in Yakhat as a Ban, and they referred to their homeland as simply "the Bans" (Yakhat: Banan).

File:Village of the Marsh Arabs.jpeg
Louk Ban at the peak of the flood season

The Bans were the only parts of the marshland which were inhabitable year-round. During the rainy season, the water levels in the marsh rose and turned the Bans into isolated chains of islands which could only be reached by boat, while during the dry season the water level fell and travel between the Bans on foot became possible. The Yakhat raised small numbers of cattle and practiced fishing, weaving, and small-scale horticulture on the Bans, feeding the cattle on the grasslands that opened between the Bans in the dry season, and on quick-growing marsh grasses during the wet season.

The Yakhat were not notably warlike during this period of their history. This came to an end after the Bans were attacked by the Kourak people during a festival, after which the Yakhat were driven off the Bans to the fringes of the marsh. A man named Keishul, one of the refugees from these attacks, claimed to have been visited by the Power Golgoyat, and he rallied the Yakhat to strike back against the Kourak, then led them on a series of campaigns which brought them to the steppes which lay north and west or their original homeland.

It's not clear why the Yakhat didn't resettle on the Bans after this point. Their traditional history says that Keishul spurred them on, claiming that Golgoyat did not wish to return to the Bans. It has also been suggested that the Kourak (a settled agricultural culture) had begun to drain the marshes in order to support intensive agriculture, rendering the Bans unsuitable for the traditional Yakhat lifestyle. Whatever the reason, the Yakhat instead adopted the nomadic habits and large-scale cattle-herding practices of the steppe peoples, which they maintained for roughly the next hundred years. During this time they remained exceptionally warlike, continually attacking neighboring tribes, trade caravans, and the frontier cities of the settled empires.

Keshlik, son of Keishul (a reconstructed image)

Eventually the Yakhat became such a nuisance that the other steppe tribes allied to force the Yakhat away. During one of the battles with this alliance Keishul was killed and his son, Keshlik, assumed command. Under Keshlik's leadership the Yakhat retreated to the north and the west over a period of several years, until they crossed the Gap through Azatsi's Fingers (killing that region's native inhabitants, the Guza) and descended onto the high-altitude plains north of Prasa.

The Yakhat quickly came into contact with the Prasei, a settled people living in the coastal lowlands and along the Prasa river valley. They raided Praseo trade caravans and settlements and eventually sacked the city of Prasa. However, after the sack of Prasa a woman named Saotse under the guidance of the Power Oarsa was able to convince Keshlik that an ongoing war between the Prasei and the Yakhat would lead to the downfall of the Yakhat and Keshlik's personal ruin. Keshlik and the Yakhat tribal leaders subsequently made peace with the Yakhat, and the Yakhat settled into a more-or-less peaceful nomadic existence on the high plains. (These events are depicted in much greater detail in Storm Bride.)

Culture and society

Tribal structure

The Yakhat are divided into eleven tribes, which originally reflect the eleven Bans on which the Yakhat lived. After the shift to nomadism, the tribes were relevant as a form of social and military organization.

Tribe name Original Home Notes
Chalayit Chalay Ban Largest and most influential tribe
Khaatat Khaat Ban Ceremonially important tribe, home tribe of Keishul and Keshlik
Lougok Louk Ban Traditionally employed as scouts
Tanoutut Tanout Ban
Budhut But Ban
Bhuuyit Bhuuy Ban
Kalagak Kalak Ban
Pruyit Pruy Ban
Lagayit Lagay Ban
Kouchuk Kouk Ban
Gaadhat Gaat Ban

Each tribe governed its internal affairs with a council of elders, one of which was nominated as the "speaker" for the tribe in inter-tribal councils. During the period of active warfare, Keishul (and later his son, Keshlik) was granted the title "Leader of the Yakhat War Bands" by the speakers of the tribes, which gave him unique dictatorial authority over all military actions by the Yakhat, and by extension over the movements of all of the Yakhat encampments.

After the Yakhat made peace with the Prasei under Keshlik, the title "Leader of the War Bands" fell into disuse, and government of the Yakhat reverted to the councils of tribal elders.

Gender roles and marriage

After the transition from the Bans to the steppes, all Yakhat men became warriors once they came of age. Men were primarily concerned with fighting, raiding, and trading (when peaceful trade was possible), as well as herding and directing cattle when moving between pastures. They were not, however, primarily concerned with the care of the cattle while the encampment was set up.

Most of the care of the cattle actually fell on young, unmarried women, commonly referred to as "cow-maidens". Once they were old enough to ride a horse, it was the young Yakhat women who concerned themselves with rotating cattle between pastures near the camp, milking the cows, helping with calving, and otherwise tending to the herds. A cow-maiden could expect to spend a large fraction of each day on horseback, and it was frequently joked that the Yakhat women rode as well as or better than the men. After marriage, a woman would cease to ride out with the herds every day and would instead concern herself with horticulture, cheese-making, and other domestic crafts.

Young men lived with their mothers or aunts until they married. A man who wished to marry would come to the door of the tent of the women he married and present his spear to her, plying her with boasts of his prowess in battle and the wealth he had accumulated. If the woman accepted, she would take the man's spear into her tent, and their families would begin preparations for the wedding.

Religion

The Yakhat primarily venerated two of the Powers: Golgoyat and Khou.

Golgoyat was the embodiment of the storm cloud. During their years in the Bans his aspect was less fierce, and he was primarily thought of as the bringer of the monsoon rains which flooded the marshes every summer. After the transition to nomadism his avatar became the thunderstorm, and he was conceived as a vicious warrior who smote the enemies of the Yakhat with thunder and lightning.

Khou was the embodiment of the marshy earth, and she was the protectress of the Yakhat people in peacetime, the blesser of marriages and childbirth, and the guarantor of long life and fertility. On the Bans, Golgoyat and Khou were wedded every year in a ritual marriage, in which a young man and a young woman from the Khaatat tribe stood in for Golgoyat and Khou. This festival took place at the very end of the dry season, and was the high point of the year for the Yakhat. All eleven tribes gathered at Khaat Ban for the wedding, overflowing the Ban proper with their tents, and it was at one of these festivals that the Yakhat were first driven off the bans.

The wedding of Golgoyat and Khou lapsed during the years on the steppes, but after making peace with the Prasei the practice of a yearly celebration of the wedding was renewed in modified form. In the new celebration, the tribes gathered every year near the city of Prasa, where the wedding between the Powers was celebrated on the shores of the bay with a man and a woman from the Khaatat as stand-ins for the Powers. As before, it was a major time of celebration for the Yakhat, but it was also very important as an occasion for trade and socialization with the Prasei, and trade agreements to be executed during the following year were customarily made during the festivities of the wedding.