Below is a great essay by Writers' Symposium Member Sabrina Klein.
Paul Genesse, Editor
Writers' Symposium Ezine
World Building in Tropical Forests: by Sabrina Klein ( elvenfire(at)att.net )
Social Structure: Usually groups are no bigger than a large clan or tribe. This gives way to government from within. This is important in reference to whom governs the group. The only reason for migration is to find sustenance, territorial dispute, and /or seasonal migration due to weather. Neither matriarchies nor patriarchies have a history of dominance on Earth in these environments. Matriarchy/patriarchy has a large role to play here. Division of labor is usually based on sex in small groups like this. This type of ecosystem usually spawns a hunter gatherer society. Hunting may most likely be accomplished by males and gathering and child rearing done by females.
Kinship and Descent: The group is most likely to have a very strong emphasis on family. Marriage is usually from within the group, unless a bride is negotiated for from outside, via bride price, raiding party, war, or trade. Children usually stay with the mother until a certain age, and then they can go elsewhere; such as if the child is male and learning to hunt with the father. However, do not discount the power of woman in a culture such as this. If the father has little to do with the early child rearing then most of the early values are impressed by the mother.
Religion & magic: Tropical forests generally create an individualistic or shamanistic religion. Shamans are highly respected as they are the only connection to the supernatural from the profane (mundane), and they can often bring or keep health from failing, or bring doom or save the group. The religion itself defines whether the religious specialist is exclusively male or female. It doesn't have to be influenced by the gender dominance within the social structure but it often is.
Usually if the society is matriarchal the main deity of power is female and vice versa. Hunter-gatherers tend to be nature oriented, and use the personification of animals, and/or celestial bodies. Ancestor worship can occur, but sometimes it's found within a more stable environment where the group isn't constantly moving; such as the ancient Chinese.
Economics: Economics of the Jungle could be interesting. Hunter-gatherers are most often traders. They lack the stability to have a hard currency because crea tion of money requires a stable site of residence. Unless each tribe used something that it manufactured from nature, but then counterfeiting could be an issue. Tribes could be raiders, and pillage until they have enough goods. They would then move past the raided tribes range to trade the goods acquired in another area as though it were their own.
Language: This would be more affected by the type of life that the ecology forces upon the inhabitants. The nomadic lifestyle would create a high exposure or a low exposure to other dialects or languages, and influence the originator's vernacular accordingly.
World building Tropical Forest:
Creating a culture here from nothing must take into account the effect of the ecology on the creature living in it. Carrying capacity dictates that a certain area of land can only support a certain amount of life. Therefore as groups grow larger they need more land to sustain them; (IE: hypothetically 50 people for food and water per 5 acres). The nomadic tribe may use women as a commodity in trade, creating a patriarchal system where daughters are highly valued because of the wealth obtainable through trade. If this is the case what does the religion say... most likely a male deity is at the top of the pantheon... or is there a pantheon?? Monotheism could create a way for control via the male patriarchs.
This eliminates a higher power for appeal within the supernatural. Then what is the "evil" supernatural like. Is it dominated by the feminine? What traits does this evil portray? It would concur that the evil deity would personify female disobedience, and is there a reviled cult of rebellious women that run the cult in secrecy..., logic would stand that it may be made of mostly mothers and grandmothers, very few maidens. Mothers would be the most likely to rebel against this part of the economy and religion being reluctant to part with their flesh and blood.
This cult would create political strife within the caste of women in reference both to each other, the loyal obedient women of the culture, and the independent thinking females that realize that the religion is being used as a source of power for the men. Are there separate eating, sleeping, and dressing areas for woman and men. Division of labor becomes a must, and thereby affects the economy of material wealth other than the w omen that the tribe gives birth to. The language may use all references to things in a general form as a male point of view. It may also have given way to a separate language of prestige used among the males for political and social ties.