Lakes and Rivers by anthropology student Sabrina Klein
Economics: The ecology of lakes and rivers does promote trade. The ease of transport along water ways improves the likely hood of travel a great deal. Money systems would develop in cultures that were built up on shores, more often this would happen in lakes. Rivers on the other hand may encourage groups to become nomadic among the river systems. Entire cultures may not follow this model, so it may only be a part of the culture that does.
Language: Language of rivers and lakes would be affected by ecology. River areas are far more than lakes would exhibit an effect on the ecology of the inhabitants both flora and fauna. Rivers tend to have natural geologic boundaries that in a low tech culture could serve to create a language barrier and thereby create a large group of languages or dialects. These dialects have the potential to become isolated over generations of little or no contact with other groups. The language may have the syntax affected in that it may be a slow spoken language with long sounds rather than short sharp ones. The written part would most likely not be pictographic. However the writing would be influenced by the materials at hand to create it. A good example is the papyrus paper of the Nile as opposed to the clay tablets of Sumerian culture.
Kinship & Descent: Stationary residence creates one of two effects. A tight knit community where family is extremely important, or a looser knit group where nuclear family is important and the relationship with extended family is not stressed. The choice of matrilineal or patrilineal could be entirely based on geographic community. Travel between groups may occur therefore differences in viewpoint in descent would occur as communities may be far enough apart.
Leadership & Stratification: Leadership in a culture or grouping of smaller cultures might be formed on several levels. Group coalition in an area where travel between groups is easily achieved might be the most common. Group coalition would be particularly prevalent if the group resides around a lake or group of lakes, and then they may breaks down into smaller groups of clans or tribes. Rivers would make travel a little harder, rivers flow only on direction, making the upriver trip harder. Cultures of a river system may be divided by natural barriers. Rivers, unless they are on floodplains are normally pent up in valleys which over time have been cut through hills or mountains. Natural barriers tend to isolate groups. These natural barriers in turn create smaller groups based on the size of the geographical area in question. Therefore governing systems that apply to smaller groups would best apply here, at least in a low tech culture. In a high tech culture where travel is easier across drastic landscapes the isolation of people is less therefore the idea of small based governments or large based governments would be more flexible. Not to say that just because it’s a low tech culture or group of cultures they are going to be isolated and have a smaller based governmental system… just its more likely. Besides what happens when different small governments meet either conflict or friendship… this still may lead to smaller disagreements.
Religion & Magick: Religion among inland waters would reflect both the ecology surrounding the water as well as the presence of water. It is one of the few ecologies that often blends with another. The significance of the water ways with in the cultures would dictate the significance in the religion.
World-building: In many cultures lakes and rivers hold special supernatural significance. Usually they have connections to the underworld, or to the domain of the gods. Perhaps in this culture they will be cherished as places of purity where none may go whom do not perform cleansing rituals. Some water ways would set aside for religious specialists, yet others would be used for strictly profane practices. Women might be deemed to be unclean if they aren’t married and are of childbearing age and would have to bath here rather than contaminate sacred water with their un-cleanliness. The goddess of water would be a mother goddess to signify the cleanliness of the water. The moon would play a light role as it creates the tide flow, a male god as the character for the moon. In most cultures the moon and the sun are opposite sexes. But perhaps the moon and the sun are brothers in competition for the affection of the water goddess.
Trade would be optimized by the water ways, yet the ecology surrounding the river or lake would also affect economics. Keep that in mind. Rivers are often traveled by many groups which draw languages together, so influence from another culture’s language would be defiantly possible.
Surrounding ecologies would also affect the kinship relationships, and the rivers and lakes would alter how those base ecologies build cultures. Polygamy doesn’t seem likely unless the surround ecology would promote that behavior. If the water ways are taken symbolically into the culture marriage would be extremely important. Rivers running together and lakes as singular bodies, fed by a single tributary or multiple tributaries would affect the rules off marriage where these water ways were considered symbolic of the relationships between the sexes.
If it’s a desert the water ways become essential. Forests with river systems happen frequently, lakes also occur often within woodlands. Wetlands have a symbiotic relationship with lakes and rivers therefore the culture would incorporate them the same way. Rivers found in tundra and taigas are arid climates. Rivers often spring forth from mountain tops where ice melts and flows toward the sea. Lakes in these two areas are cold and freeze over most of the year. Apply the effects of the surrounding ecology to the river and lake systems and then incorporate it into world building cultures accordingly.