The Northern Bukdek
"And in those days, I dwelt in Um Jar, some one-hundred and ninety djurng distant from Yogol Buk; when removed from the hot air of the capitol into the rareified, cold air and comfortless, ancient lodgings of the unfathomably-antique Dragon Clan seat, I found myself amazed; it must be that the hardness of the North has in it's way forced our northern populace to be equally hard." -Tungrun Hsurbuk of the Purple Forefingers (of the Clan of the Scribes of the Golden Pavilion, and a Scribe of the Imperial Throne)
The Northern Bukdek are those most closely related to the blood and culture of their ancient nomad ancestors. Even to this day, the Northern Bukdek, unlike the other branches of the imperial populace in more southerly climes, do not settle into the densely-packed, massively-crowded cities and metropolitan districts which characterize those regions. The Bukdek of the north retain the wandering temperament and restless spirit of the ancient people of Temak Buk; they are more comfortable sitting a horse and wearing fur and leather than lying astride a palanquin and wearing the ornate fashions of the capitol.
The northern Bukdek largely retain a philosophy which has been called the "Way of the Bukdek Rider" (so called because it was the way of life of the original Bukdek nomads)- this is the path of living life moment to moment, espousing absolute honesty, kindness to friend, holding to family and clan, and mistrust of outsiders. To the northern Bukdek, life must be lived now to be enjoyed- they are a hard-riding, hard-fighting, hard-loving people, who drink to excess and, when they can, feast upon tender lamb. They remarkably close-tied to friends and family, but strangers will find only cold comfort in the North, where doors are shut to those who cannot boast family or clan ties, or bonds of friendship; this tradition of mistrust and closed clannishness is a product both of the history of the North (in which raids and ambushes against travelers and towns by bandits and nomads were and still are common) and a sense of "trueness", that is, the quintessentially northern opinion of being the "one true" and most faithful follower of the traditions of one's forefathers.
The customs of the North are based around family and clan. The most important part of Northern Bukdek culture is the home; the family is a revered institution. Loyalty to clan is desired over all things- in fact, loyalty is the most admired virtue for Northerners, a quality which makes them patriotic citizens of the Empire to this day (though they are also closed-minded, conservative, and disdainful of the "decadent" ways of the capitol and the Southern lands).
Northerners, like the Bukdek of old, are not inclined towards the ways of organized religion. Though they do submit to the heirarchies of the Imperial religion, and are beholden to the Priests of the Names of the Gods, the gods and temples of the North often retain a more shamanistic, highly personal feel; the theologies of the North owe much to the endless skies which rise over the plains. Most Northerners go to temple only at their leisure- few are pious in a traditional sense, and almost none are fanatical. The exception to this rule is based in ancient Northern tradition- the tradition of "spirit-marriage". Nearly all shrines in the North (save those of more southerly gods not connected with the tradition) have a spirit-wife or spirit-husband, a child chosen from birth by the priests to be symbolically married to the god; these spirit-spouses live their entire lives as a special kind of priest, used by the shrine as a speaker for the god and a voice for the proclamations and sermons of the priests essentially, their position is that of a "mascot" for the shrine or temple.
The northern Bukdek bear great resemblance to the other peoples of the steppes. They are tall and broad; their men are wide-shouldered and often bull-necked, while their women are heavy-breasted and wide-hipped. They have broad facial features with high cheekbones and arrow-shaped, aquiline noses. Their eyes are narrow in shape, with slight folds. They generally have an impressive, jutting jawline. They have extremely straight, glossy hair, generally a very deep brown or chestnut color (dark auburn is sometimes seen, but is rare); they have a medium pale-gold skin tone, unlike most other steppefolk, such as the Jjekki, who have a brown-red skintone. Northern Bukdek are known for aging gracefully- the weathering of the harsh winds tends to make them look leathery and aged, but not dessicated or frail; they rarely lose their hair with age.
The northern Bukdek, like most steppefolk, do not have the great traditions of body art which are common in more southerly nations. Tattooing is uncommon (though the baorngjuk sacred tattoo traditions of the Southeast are spreading northward); body-painting is more common (body-paint is very common amongst the tribes and nomads of the steppes), though due to it's temporary nature, it has become a thing for special occasions. The most common body art in the north is scarification- the most recognizable version of this is the triple-cicatrices which are scarred upon the cheeks of the men of the clans in the Kroaig Hills, or perhaps the arm-scars of the clans of Trurnguk and Obuj.
The dress of the northern Bukdek tends to reflect that of their ancient ancestors.
Men dress in loose trousers which are bound just below the knee with cord, and long, heavy fur cloaks; they may wear leather sleeves which cover from the wrist to the shoulder and are laced. While it is more traditional not to wear a shirt, in the more southerly regions, most also adopt a tunic in the fashion of the south. Mens' hair is cut short and held back from the eyes with the ubiquitous accessory of the north, the headband; the wearing of headbands, especially chequered headbands, is so synonymous with the north that it is practically cultural shorthand. In more fancy situations, men may adopt a leather pectoral adorned with clan-symbols, as well as special beadworked arm-sleeves; they may also place silver and iron rings in their noses and ears.
Women of the north dress in the traditional Bukdek paiulbuk, women's-robe. The northern paiulbuk is much more conservatively-cut and traditional than those of other parts of the Empire, essentially resembling a shapeless, cone-like draping robe and overcloak. Women usually decorate their robes with clan symbols and familial pictograms; a fancier dress-robe may be decorated with beads and bits of carven bone and worked iron. The women of the North cut their hair in a short bob-like hairstyle, shorn off straight around just below the ears. Typically, they adopt large, pendulant earrings and traditional Bukdek makeup (eyesockets dusted with bsugok-paste, lips brightened with duzchok-root).
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. The clans of the Kroaig hills draw from different traditions- men generally wear a pleated leather kilt rather than trousers, and Kroaig women rarely dress in more than the traditional bright red cloak. The clans in and around Manchudek, the lands of the Dragon Clan, draw from their own, separate Dragon Clan traditions (which will be described later). The scattered Clan of the Painted Breast dress generally in the same manner as most northerners, with the exception that women bare their breasts and paint them with colorful mythological scenes (from which the clan recieves its name). In the city of Undorok, the people favor intricately-folded tunics and robes, with large fur hats. Almost all Northern clothing favours chequered patterns, the colors orange, red, and green, and fur, all manner of fur.
The Dragon Clan and Other Clans of Manchudek
"I am struck by the uncouth and outrageous manners and appearance of the People of the Dragon- they and the other clans which dwell therein have a most barbaric ways, hardly worthy of the appelation of Bukdek. They are the most uncivilized but also quite among the strongest of our peoples." -Lady Dasok the Radiant, of the Might of Gangar Clan (in her seminal travel work, Travels In The North And Beyond Our Empire)
Centered in the astonishingly-old city of Um Jar, the region of the North known as Manchudek (land of the Dragon) is home to the most powerful and independent clan in the entire Empire, the unique and mighty Dragon Clan. During the age of Temak Buk, they were a nascent nation, a very powerful tribal entity which was the Bukdek tribes' greatest opponent for rule of the chaotic North. Even when the First Emperor and his riders had subdued the rest of the North, the Dragon Clan continued to hold Manchudek against them, a vicious thorn in the Empire's side for over a hundred years afterwards. After the Second War In The North (during which the armies of the Empire, led by the then-favoured Legion of the Brilliant White Tree, defeated both the invading Jjekki and the insurgents of the Dragon Clan), the Emperor Urchok Buk (called Urchok the Dragon-Tamer) crushed the Dragon armies at the Jarchuek River and rode into Um Jar. The Dragon Prince, leader of the Clan, was forced to bow before the Emperor (legend has it that he then died in battle against nineteen men alone and unarmed in order to make up for this shame).
To this day, the Dragon Clan remembers that defeat. They are the constant black sheep of the Empire's clans, adhering loosely to Imperial law but contrarian and rebellious, loyal to Imperial edicts but snide and mocking, fierce warriors, soldiers, and supporters of Imperial power. As it is said, the "best Romans are often northern barbarians"- in this case, it is an apt metaphor.
Thus, the People of the Dragon are known to be rebellious and contrarian, wild and volatile, full of barbarian humour. They love to fight and love to drink. They are pious to their strange Dragon Gods, as well as to various war gods and gods of strength and change- Wuryu, the Sow of Destruction, and many others. Dragon clansmen will often go out of their way to disagree and be a nuisance to tamer citizens of the Empire. Though they consider themselves Bukdek, their customs differ so largely that they often do not seem it.
The Dragon Clan's capitol is the ancient city of Um Jar. The leader of the Clan is titled the Dragon Prince; it is not a hereditary position- the Prince is instead chosen from a field of contestants (any who wish to compete) who battle for supremacy.
The most exalted position amongst the People of the Dragon is that of warrior. The bravos of the Dragon Clan train their entire lives for battle- frequent fights and competitions of strength between the Dragon warriors are a common sight in Manchudek. The warriors of the Dragon have a strong and complex code of honor- this code includes complete honesty (even at the expense of bluntness or appearing rude to delicate manners), strength in battle, never fleeing and never submitting. If their honor is transgressed, they will seek to be repayed in blood. If they break their code themselves, they will seek redemption through ritual suicide in battle or through servitude.
Clans of the Kroaig Hills
Undorok and the Tiukog River Clans
Clans of the Lake of the Mirror
The Clan of the Painted Breast
The Northern Foolish Dog Clan
The People of the Cold Stone
The People of the Orange Dawn
The Clan of Whirling Hand
The People of the Red Fortress
The Earth Jjekki
Tribes of the Tejitei
Tribes of the Mualung
Tribes of the White Dog