Oceans and Salt water shores by Sabrina Klein
Oceans are something of a wondrous place to set a culture. We in reality don’t have any culture past or present that lives solely, without touching land, on or within the oceans of our planet. There are many cultures that use the ocean for survival or spend the majority of their time on the ocean. It is a powerful influence on humanity.
Shore: The economics of an oceanic culture demand that they take most of their materials from the sea, and for the most part use the ocean for transportation. If the culture is on an archipelago then fresh water may be a valuable resource. They may use shells as a form of coinage, or more likely use a barter system of trade. Trade inland is a very likely thing.
Underwater: If the culture resided under the surface of the ocean then anything gathered from a land dwelling race might well be considered of great value and prestige.
Language: There are many things that alter language within culture. Ecology generally doesn’t alter language patterns, but in this case ecology alters physiology, which therefore alters language due to physical limitations of the speakers. Physiology in these environments may play a huge part in language development.
A culture that wrapped itself around the shore of the ocean would develop an air breathing language as normal. It may use references of water in odd or unique ways. However the true differential for shore cultures would be amphibious habitation. If the culture was amphibious then it may develop more than two aspects of language.
However, an underwater culture may use more verbal language than body language because light travels badly in water. Body language would most likely be reserved for closer quarters, or clearer waters where visibility cannot cloud the interpretation of physical movement. It also may have two types of languages. One is used for far away and another that is used for closer contact. The reason for this might be that while sound travels well in water its finer points do not. Therefore pronunciation may well reduce verbal communication to clicks and whistles due to the physical limitations of the physiology that it takes to live with gills underwater. Physical makeup can always play a major role in the development of language. Here in fantasy is where it would be most visible. Tones in combination with clicks and whistles coul d mean a slew of things in the language of the deep or the language of the shallower depths.
Social Structure: These types of cultures are both hunter-gatherer and agrigarian. Both models have a potential for a high degree of success. Both also have the potential to be very complicated systems. Though underwater cultures could have less of a tendency toward democratic systems, because they are immersed in an environment where survival is threatened on a constant basis. All configurations of stratified government models would work in this instance, for either shore cultures or underwater.
Religion & Magic: Obviously the center of the religion is going to involve water in some major aspect. However, the general rule of a female deity usually dictates a matriarchal society and vice versa may not apply here. Secondary deities may include personification of sea creatures, the moon, and with shoreline culture the personification of weather events such as storms or wind. Magic in the ocean may not accommodate material components nearly as well as semantic and/or verbal components. The type of magic would definitely depend on the type of social structure according to Wallace’s continuum. The higher the technology and the more complex the social structure means the more complex the magic. It may also dictate whether magic is restricted to specialists.
Kinship & Descent: The system of descent whether patriarchal or matriarchal would most definitely depend on whether the culture viewed the sea as male or female. Water affects so much of their lives; food, materials, medicine, all kinds of things, that it would be the ruling ‘force’ within not only the supernatural structure but also the pattern of relationships. The sea brings life and takes it away. The descent of people should follow the natural element that keeps them alive.
World building: Creation of a civilization in an ocean environment must be defined by depth. The deep ocean is going to have a different type of culture than a shallow oceanic environment. For ease of development we will choose a shallow oceanic environment to prevent the isolationist model. Shallow oceanic cultures may have a limited but not isolated group of contact with other cultures. The other issue is that the limited contact would be with those who would also affect the language that is spoken above land. Communication in a culture that is agrigarian or/ and isn’t nomadic is more likely to develop a writing system. Written communication would be likely in pictographic form as the light doesn’t tend to be very good below a certain amount of footage. The growth of flora on rock surfaces would limit fine writing.
Something else to consider is the written language used for only sacred purposes? The religious specialists of the shallow oceanic ecology could be the only ones permitted to walk on land. The culture may view the land as a version of the underworld. They may view vegetation as well as fauna on land as demonic. Perhaps they see the creatures that live on land as evil because they do not live in the resplendent waters of the ocean where life abounds in an ever present cycle of life. The reason they view the ocean as having no real death is that a lot of creatures that live in the ocean if they stop moving they will die.
Religion may not have many physical components because the ocean currents as physical forces would take them away with the currents, or maybe not if the physical representations were big enough or in underwater caverns. Religious elements may also include sound, and temples that are big enough to resist ocean currents.
The stratification of the political and social structure would be in a caste system. Things change much to fast in this environment for there to be any room left to argue with elders/officials in times of danger or strife. However, in all cultures there is usually a system for resolving disputes. What would a system where there is little room to challenge the hierarchy be like? Would it be combative, spiritual, or intellectual? Economics would most likely reflect that those of higher position within society would have more money and power. Money creates gaps not only in the economic structures, but also in the religious structure. The caste systems are steep, and money is required for offerings to the gods. This makes religious worship a truly hard price for those towards the bottom of the food chain.