Saturday, July 5, 2008

World Building: Wetlands

Wetlands (a.k.a. Swamps, Fens, Marshes, Bogs, & Bayous)

An anthropological approach by Sabrina Klein

Kinship & Descent: Family life in the wetlands would be one of ever present danger. The swamps are not a safe place to wander. Fauna have an unusual ability to hide and not be seen. Vegetation on all levels here makes it extremely easy for the non-predatory fauna to hide, sometimes next to the predatory flora. This place has enough danger that the plants will eat you too, similarly so does a tropical forest.

Also large civilized populations in this type of ecology would disrupt the environment’s balance in ways that would alter the flora and fauna. People who did live in this ecology would most likely live in smaller groups, non nomadic. Families would be close together, particularly nuclear families. However, they would not be isolated. Matrilineal or patrilineal may reside here. Division of labor would be a pillar of the society, and it would need to be defined. Hunter-gatherer groups would be common because the soil in these areas doesn’t work well for agriculture.

Language: Language here would not necessarily be affected by the environment. The more than likely non-isolationist nature of villages would create a stable language group barring no geographical boundaries between dialects. Most things creating true language barriers are geographical. Boundaries can also physically unique to the life forms; such as a wolf communicating with a human in the same language. Though there may be supernatural or magical means that allow for communication.

Organization & Stratification: The most common way of organizing a group in this type of ecology would be more finite compared to other ecologies. It may include a council of elders. The oldest people may be revered, the dangers of the wetlands are many and to grow old may indicate wisdom apart from the group. This is the way it is in several ecologies. Usually this is more often the case in correlation with the lower levels of technology. The dangers of wetland don’t come from just the flora or the fauna, but they come from the land itself. Age might very well become a way of marking prestige. Therefore leadership may be based on age, with coming of age rituals becoming very important. Whether it is age or sex that sets up the leadership in a group; caste systems simply don’t seem to be the normal idea for a wetland culture. They could interfere with survival of the group in such a harsh environment, particularly if the swamp (insert random a.k.a. for swamp…) is prone to freezing during the winter months if the latitude or elevation permits.

Economics: High trafficked trade routes in a swamp may prove to exist most often inside groups that are within the geographical boundaries. Travel with large amounts of goods for anything other than trade might not be well received unless there is a river or lake system within the swamp making transportation of goods and services less of a hardship and less expensive. Wheeled vehicles that are not of a high enough technological advancement to navigate through unstable ground and through often heavy vegetation would not be used to transport goods for trade over long distances. The building of roads in wetlands would, most likely, dictate a higher level of technology than hunter gatherer, or the presence of a previous culture of higher technological advancement. Wheeled vehicles may not be used at all. Animals would more than likely be used over land, or watercrafts on river and lakes present in the area. Canal systems would indicate a large workforce (possible slave labor, forced labor by the hierarchy, and/or the technology to build them with machines. At the very least a canal built without technology would take a long time depending on the distance. Watercrafts may be the mode of transportation if a river or lake system is present, or even if the water table is high enough to create water through most of the area.

Religion & Magick: Religion and magick are often related. Religion would most likely be nature based in a low tech culture, and possibly ancestor worship in a high-tech culture. Civilizations in this ecology see too much of natures precariousness within the land itself to not assign it a supernatural anima. Ancestor worship may also take hold in addition to or independently depending on the social stratification. Religion always has the potential for elaborate rituals in whatever technology level that it creates. Where there is an environment that constantly poses a threat to survival via the flora, fauna, geologic features, or weather conditions cultures are more likely to view that gods must be appeased. Such as virgins being thrown into volcanoes to appease the volcano and keep it from erupting… we all know how well that works. The rituals may or may not be deeply rooted within the culture. However influence of another culture especially with a higher technological understanding of the environment may affect these rituals. The question really is how; do the natives react to the assault on their gods.

World-building in a Wetland: Isolation with in a wetland environment may be a serious issue affecting all cultures within it. So you may have many smaller groups that have language differences. The language difference because of close proximity may not create a barrier constantly. Some languages would be more common than others. Possibly even a common tongue maybe the vernacular of the majority. Economics in such an environment would prove to be interesting. Trade may use a barter system or a system of hard currency. There probably wouldn’t be market places. The swamp itself would have to be cleared. Natives would know that to do that creates more problems that it is worth. However, it does create a hunter gatherer society. That in turn because wetland is never good farm land means no agrigarian set ups. Farming would be difficult. I would be possible to cultivate an area where a grove of say berry bushes already existed. People may take the other invasive plants from strangling out the flora endangering a food source, but nothing more than that is really possible. Eventually the carrying capacity will cause one of two things to happen. The groups will split on its own to find more sustenance, or the groups will stay cohesive and move to find a lesser populated area where their larger numbers will be more easily supported.

The organization for such a group(s) could vary from one to another or there could be one intermittent council of leadership. Whether that is matriarchal or patriarchal is perhaps influential by several factors…religion, how is kinship defined. Is it matrilineal or patrilineal? This often will help define the power structure of a group. Religion may also play a defining role in the way a group is stratified. Hunter-gatherer groups tend to rely on their faith to fix sickness and to keep the environment at bay. Religion in these environments is often used to explain the unexplained particularly where technology is low. A low tech religion will often anthropormorphize something that poses a great danger; For example the Mayan and the Jaguar, the Hawaiian volcanoes and Pele, and the Greek god Zeus as the entity responsible for storms.

Religious specialists are often also caretakers of the sick. Usually only one sex has connection with the supernatural, but it would be fun if it were both. Defined by ability, or perceived ability by the current religious specialist. If it was what rituals surround this choosing, and when does it happen. Are there portents to its coming? Are there taboos? Magick of these religions is often heavily tied to the lands around it.

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