Chapter Six: The Sabatallee (Sa-ba-TALL-ee)
The Sabatallee are a nomadic tribe of humanity that can be found in every part of Parna at some time or another. They are renowned merchants, infamous thieves, sought after entertainers, admired horsemen and enigmatic mystics. Of the four races of men that inhabit Parna the Sabatallee are by far the smallest in number and the least influential politically. In the last census before the conquest less than 1 in 20 Parnans are counted as Sabatallee, but their influence is wide spread. Every Mitirangu, Ator or Ivanvil living in Parna is aware of the Sabatallee and each culture has been influenced by this contact. Despite their lack of political influence and their limited resources contact with the Sabatallee is unavoidable and essential when trading with and within Parna. Thus any dwarf wishing to understand the character of Parna and to successfully trade within Parna needs to understand the Sabatallee.
The Sabatallee presence in Parna is seemingly incidental. They are a nomadic people of headers, merchants and peddlers and thus the borders of Parna mean as much to them as borders might mean to a fish or a bird. The earliest mention of the Sabatallee in Dwarven history regards a family of entertainers brought before one of the Bronzebeard kings nine centuries ago. This traveling group of performers and acrobats impressed the Bronzebeards, and were invited to stay as guests of the royal family. For over two years the Bronzebeard courtiers were audience to this Sabatallee circus. This relationship ended when evidence of theft was uncovered and several members of the family were executed and the rest exiled. After spending a year traveling among a Sabatallee Caravan I find that this antidote is very telling of the Sabatallee character.
In this chapter I will discuss how to properly identify a Sabatallee, discuss the merits and drawbacks of such encounters, and then briefly outline the material and mystical culture of the people.
Dress and Appearance
Properly identifying a Sabatallee can be very difficult because they are often fluent in other local languages and they share many physical characters with the other human tribes of Parna. The typical Sabatallee has tan skin the hue of rich ale, very similar to the tones of most surface dwarves. The hair is always dark and fine. Both men and women tend to wear it long and braided, often with beads tied into it. In terms of height they are moderate for men, but there is much variety in this aspect. Youthful Sabatallee tend towards a lithe form, but I did note that sever obesity was relatively common. These specimens were exceptionally large, I would say often weighing 2 to 3 times as much a lean person of the same height and much of that weight must have been fat. I noticed this phenomenon occurred mostly among middle-aged men who had acquired a great deal of wealth and perhaps respect among the community. Indeed, the weight gain was something much commented on among the Sabatallee. It appears that the weight is a symbol of status, but exactly who deserves to take on that weight is something much debated. Phrases such “deservedly fat” or “earned gut” are often applied to men of respect. However some may also be referred to as “fat before their time” and a common insult is “no purse for that belly” referring to men who represent wealth that they don’t actually possess.
The Sabatallee tend towards long faces and they have high rounded check bones and almond shaped eyes with sepia colored irises. I have never seen a blonde or blue eyed Sabatallee. They seem almost incapable of growing beards, occasionally one will have light scruff but for the most part they shave that off with flint or steel blades. While subtle physical differences are detectable by the trained observer, they could easily be mistaken for a rather tall Mitirangu.
Dress is by far the best way to detect a Sabatallee. When traveling both the men and women wear large wide brimmed soft leather hats, often decorated with a band or feathers. Most of their clothing tends be leather, soft skin riding pants, skin shirts and short leather coats are the norm. The hat and the short coat are the surest shines that one is talking to a Sabatallee. Other aspects are hard to distinguish because they dye and decorate these items according to personal taste and beyond. The preferred color schemes are deep earthen tones and autumnal colors. The typical Sabatallee piece of clothing will also have multiple glyphs painted or dyed into it and it will commonly be adorned with small tassels, beads or charms. While traveling most Sabatallee carry with them a whip and war club regardless of gender. I noticed that they tend to stay away from tunics and tend to wear soft shoes rather than hard boots. I seldom saw one wearing true jewelry but most hang various charms from necklaces and earrings. However, jewelry is a sign of status among the Sabatallee and the wealthy and often heavy-set Sabatallee do wear gems set in gold or silver.
Society and Culture
The other human tribes center their culture on social organizations, the central piece of Mitirangu life is the village, the Ivanvil around the extended family, the Ator nobility center society around the warrior hierarchies, but the Sabatallee center their society on their horse herds. I find the fact that they center their cultural on material wealth makes the Sabatallee lifestyle more dwarven than other human cultures. Sabatallee horse (and donkey) herds are driven to and from various pastures and water sources all year long by groups of Tenders. The groups of Tenders fluctuate in number and skill set during the course of the year. For example during the summer when a herd is grazing and the fawns are developing the number of tenders can get quite small as groups of Sabatallee venture out in search of other sources of food or adventure. Then when autumn approaches more Sabatallee will return and assist in driving the horses to a winter pastures or to markets. When the Sabatallee refers to a herd they more accurately refer to the horses that follow a particular route. The horses of the herd are often in as great a flux as their tenders. When a Sabatallee or group of Sabatallee leaves the herd for whatever reason it is not uncommon for them to take several horses or donkeys per person. These horses could be riding horses, sport horses, work-horses, pack-horses, trading horse, racing-horse, war-horses, hunting-horses and in some case meat or milk mares. The herds are always made up of a wide variety of horses, but their breeding is monitored closely in order to ensure pedigrees for each of the afore mentioned subsets. The Sabatallee have an enigmatic and complicated system for maintain breeding schemes without corrals and stables, but it appears effective.
Where as some cultures define the stages of their lives in relation to their trades (employed, unemployed, retired) or their marriages (bachelor, maiden, married, divorced, widowed) the Sabatallee see their lives always in relation to the herds. Three uniquely Sabatallee words are used to describe the different phases of an individual's life: Spion is away from the herd, Intre is between herds, and Turma is with the herd. If we to imagine the life of a Sabatallee as a house, than it would have three levels, Spion, Turma, and Intre and during the course of a Sabatallee’s lifespan he may occupy each of these levels at different times. During my first year in Parna I lived with a Sabatallee Caravan (a group of hard working merchants). The Intre lifestyle refers to the caravans, peddlers, circuses and rodeo groups and this lifestyle does demand a lot of dedicated labor, mostly moving from one place to another, but also trying to make a profit at what ever place they land. Turma was an entierly different, and undwarven lifestyle. During my fifth year, when I was returning home, I spent ten days living with a group of Sabatallee herd tenders in late summer. It is an unpleasent lifestyle. While there is some basic craftmaking (embroidery and leatherworking) most of the labor involved the chasing of hooved beasts: either hunting or herding. While in Turma the Sabatallee sleep on the ground, eat a diet of mostly fire cooked meat and worst of all the chief activity of Sabatallee living Turma is gossip. A typical day of a Turma Sabatallee would be to do several hours of work with the herd, some minor food preparation and then to sit around the fire smoke and talk about things which may or may not be true. Spion simply refers to any Sabatallee that is not living a Sabatallee lifestyle. Sabatallee that have become sailors, farmers, or horseless shopkeepers are referred to as Spion.
I found that inquiring about one relationship to a herd was considered to be in poor taste. I do not understand this rationale for I have stood with a pair of Sabatallee men on the deck of small fishing ship in the Nili sea and neither of them would admit to being Spion or Intre. Yet they were quite willing to discuss the lifestyles of other Sabatallee. For example they tried to distract from their own life choices by suggesting that working as fisherman was not really Spion, because it was less Spion than one man's sister who had married a Mitirangu and taken up farming. All I can say in conclusion is that no matter how a Sabatallee is living they never lose their tatse for fruitless gossip.
The Sabatallee also have different social ranks. In addition to living Spion, Turma or Intre the individual will also be considered a success, a child or thief. These social ranks are different than the peerage and peasant rankings of the Ator and the distinctions of class within dwarven society. This ranks are informal, applied by consensus and unevenly. For example one year a man may be considered a success and next a child. Understanding the three social ranks is important for understanding and having profitable trade relations with the Sabatallee.
These social ranks are not bestowed by formal recognition or by a body empowered to do so, they are not inherited and they carry with them no specific trappings of responsibility or duty. The social ranks, such as they are, are used as descriptors of a person's lifestyle, abilities, material wealth and goals. The three social ranks work loosely as a progression, and can be placed in a hierarchy. The term child is used to not only to refer to children but any Sabatallee that makes a living through the direction or generosity of another person. The Sabatallee do not use a single name to refer children, but will refer those considered children as "little brother", "daughter", "niece" and so on. Most herd tenders are called children, because they are collectively caring for material wealth and each other. Even when a Sabatallee caravan is away from the herd many of the members of the Caravan will be referred to as children. This is not a title based on age, but rather seems based on a perceived lack of ambition. Sabatallee who are content to work the herds, hunt and enjoy the simple pleasures of a life supported by that work are referred to as children.
A Sabatallee who displays energy or ambition is referred to as “M’veezee” which is the Mitirangu word for the thief. The term thief does not have the same negative connotation among the Sabatallee as it does among other groups nor does it refer to one who steals. A thief among the Sabatallee is any man or woman who is pursuing wealth. Someone earns the title of thief if they are actively engaged in mercantilism, gambling, actual thievery, and various types of swindles or cons. While these people externally appear no different than the ones considered children the best way for dwarf to distinguish the two is to characterize the thief by the possession of an energy that the children lack. When dealing with the Sabatallee in terms of trade, you will often find yourself directed to deal with an M'veezee. Do not be put off by this, because they are simply refering to somebody with ambition and drive.
Finally there are the individuals referred to by the Mitirangu word for success: Kisudi. Success comes in several types, but they are all characterized by measurable achievement. There is often a lot disagreement on who is a success and who is not. While among the Sabatallee for over a year I heard of only three living individuals who were universally considered successes. Interestingly they each lived very different lifestyles. The first success was a hermit woman named Bibi Monara. She was accomplished at the mystical art of marking or hexing. Though she was born Sabatallee and she lived a very different lifestyle than most of her people. She worked as subsistence farmer and local mystic in the South East Corner of Parna in a constant state of Spion. However all the Sabatallee knew of her and many would make special trips to obtain her advice or make use of her services. Another agreed upon success was man named Pasha, who I actually met on more than one occasion. Pasha would have been considered a Child, in that he always lived with the herd and seemed to have no designs upon material success. Yet Pasha was universally recognized for his achievements at the various Sabatallee equestrian sports. He was slight man with a quiet manner and an undemanding personality. Yet he was universally popular amoung all Sabatallee I spoke with. The final undisputed success was man named Lyco Veezee. Lyco was a huge man, with heavy jowls; fat hanging from his stomach and his back and height exceeding at least two meters. Lyco was extremely wealthy, and he dressed accordingly. He wore large jewels on his fingers and wore custom made dwarven style clothing. The opinions of him varied widely but he was universally regarded as a success. He maintained a home in the Dwarven city of Flamecopper, owned by right of debts several herds and commanded a large traveling circus. It is popular speculation that he has chests of wealth buried all over Parna.
Trade, Industry and Resources
The Ator conquest has been particularly hard on the Sabatallee way of life. First and foremost the invasion decreased the circulating currency. The new feudal laws prevent the peasent from any indepedent industry and all the gold at the Parnan mints was confiscated by the Ator nobitility. The Parna currency, the Golden Plank, essentially ceased to exist as far as the average peasent was concerned. This deeply hurt the ability of the Sabatallee to make a profit as middleman merchants. The Sabatallee peddlers have adapted however, namely they have either gone to barter system in which they trade mainly for food and shelter, or they have adopted Dwarven silver as their standard currency. In my experience most Sabatallee peddlers have compromised to work both with barter and coin, but their profit margins have decreased. One way in which the Sabatallee peddlers are dealing with is by being less mobile. Prior to conquest Peddler family would spend little more than a week near single settlement (enough to attend at least one market day but seldom more), but now peddlers will sometimes set up shop for a season trading more for subsistence than profit. Also the entourage that accompanies peddlers has become smaller, being that Peddler can support fewer “children”. The loss of the Golden Plank and the decreased mobility of the Sabatallee peddlers has actually been boon to Dwarven trade. With the Golden Plank essentially out of the hands of the commoner we no longer have to face the devaluation our currency when dealing with Sabatallee. The Teamster Guild has also seen their contracts to carry goods into the human lands increase ten fold since the conquest. Some of this could be due to the Ator migration and their demand for dwarven goods, but it is also in part due to the fact that Sabatallee free traders have started carrying fewer goods and carrying them less often.
The Ator conquest also greatly devalued the Sabatallee’s horse herds. Prior to the conquest the Sabatallee had a monopoly on horse breeding, training and trading in Parna and traded strongly with the bordering Kingdoms. The Ator themselves are accomplished horsemen and brought with their own herds. While the Ator have no engaged extensively in horse-trading they are not motivated to acquire Sabatallee breeds. Prior to the conquest the richest families in Parna were stable customers for Sabatallee horse traders. Now the richest families in the Parna are Ator warlords and they no longer interested in the Sabatallee horse. Additionally the Ator concepts of feudalism conflicts with Sabatallee life style, since in the feudal system all peasants are consider chattel and are not allowed to leave the lands of their lords. Some Ator Lords who thought they had awarded a large labor base were shocked when large percentage of their subjects just wandered off one night.
The most violent conflicts resulting from this confusion came not between the Sabatallee and the Ator but between Ator lords who accused one another of stealing the others labor force. After spending a year with a Sabatallee caravan I am certain that the Sabatallee themselves encouraged this confusion. Unlike the Ivanvil and Ator, the Sabatallee do not talk themselves into fights, but as I have noticed talk themselves out of fights with conniving and charming ruthlessness. To resolve this issue King Moltov named all Sabatallee his own property. The political reasons for this move have been debated, but it ended the some of the issues of Sabatallee mobility.
Sabatallee industries are limited but relatively unique. The most prolific industry is obviously that related to products obtained from the horse and donkey herds. But the Sabatallee also have a special method for treating leathers which yields a soft water resistant leather that his highly desired among Dwarven labor classes. Sabatallee jewelry is popular among the human lands, but the quality of their wares are embarrassing by Dwarven standards. However, Sabatallee jewelry was quite fashionable in Ironspear and Diamondspike for almost twenty years three centuries and a market for these goods may be rekindled. Two industries in which the Sabatallee still excel are in entertainment and the mystical trade of hexing or warding.
Sabatallee circuses and rodeo are much sought after as a draw for market days, or to provide entertainment for weddings, noble gatherings and other large-scale affairs. Sabatallee dancers, acrobats, stunt riders and puppeteers are generally trained since childhood in manner, which resembles our trade legacies. Any dwarf that has the opportunity should attend one of their performances. (I do advise that you stay away from gambling booths in that no dice, wheel or dart bares a seal of Droven and all games appeared rigged in some fashion.)
The mystical industry of the Sabatallee is often referred to as natural magic or directional magic. Sabatallee are the only human tribe that maintains the tradition of placing wards, hex and runes on items in order to imbue with the supernatural powers. These hexes and runes can change the nature of an object making it lighter, stronger or sharper. The wards may also provide protective energies against various threats. The art of bestowing these items is held by very few Sabatallee but it is a common enough art that most groups carry with them some hexed or warded items. In the past these items have been used to cover the gaps in Sabatallee technology. For example prior to the Ator invasion Sabatallee horsemen worked with out stirrups, and went into battle without barding for their horses, yet the use of warded horse brass allowed them cover this gap. Additionally the Sabatallee did not always have access to steel. But by placing Runes of the obsidian or stone items they were able to use stone weapons as effectively as steel. Indeed the obsidian blades are much sharper than steel blades. The magic of hexes and wards in all case I observed were transient and a Dwarf seeking to purchase an item so imbued should do so that in mind.
Most Sabatallee speak Mitirangu when in private but most Sabatallee that venture away from the herds speak several other languages. Indeed there are neighborhoods of permanently Spion Sabatallee in Ironspear who speak only Dwarven. I do believe that there is a Sabatallee language however; because of words like Spion which are not found in any other know language. What all Dwarves need to be aware of though when dealing with the Sabatallee is that they have a complicated and complete system of hand signals by which they communicate. The teaching of this language to children is one of the sure the signs that child is being raised Sabatallee. This language of hand signals also allows Sabatallee merchants to carry on silent conversations in front of potential customers.
Sabatallee culture is not strongly associated with any one religion. The Sabatallee that I met employed a pray as you go attitude towards the gods, often invoking the God they thought best suited the situation as opposed to a god they believed champions their lifestyle or a God who stands as a personal guardian. I did note a number of disturbing references towards the dead and I started to suspect that they may engage in a type of ancestral worship. On whole though the Sabatallee appeared to adopt religions, as they did manners or languages, in order to fit in with their surroundings.
History and Role in the Recent Conquest
Near to nothing is known about the Sabatallee's history prior to their entrance into Parna. They first appeared in our records directly ahead of the Mitirangu and it appears that they also came from the West as well. We know that Sabatallee tribes move through areas like Swazzcar, and are found in the Ven Mountains as well. However many tribes are a part of Parna and do see themselves as such. Three hundred years ago the Sabatallee in Parna at the time took an oath of loyalty to Parna, and a hundred years later the Sabatallee supported Complee in his conquest of the north. When I asked Sabatallee about the history of their they talked not of a connection to ancient homeland in the West but a connection to the grazing fields found in Parna, which we know they could not have occupied more than 1,200 years. The Sabatallee used the Parnan currency, paid taxes to Parna, accepted Parnan laws (though they did not always obey them) and fought for the Parnan king when he called for them. The Sabatallee are part of Parna.
During the 300 years of Parna’s existence as nation the Sabatallee have made up the mounted arm of their military. Sabatallee horsemen have always been effective scouts and skirmishers, but they are not professional soldiers and were not equipped as such either. During the Conquest the army of Parna met the advancing Ator force with a large number of foot men supported by Sabatallee horsemen. When the mounted Knights of charged the Sabatallee rode out to flank them and tried to break their lines. The Sabatallee failed, the Ator Knights ignored them as they rode into the Parnan foot soldiers. Then Sabatalle were then scattered by the Ator footmen that followed the charge. While the actual number of Sabatallee at the battle was less than the number of Mitirangu or the Ivanavil, I believe that the Sabatallee sent in a greater percentage of their people. The Sabatallee losses that day were great and every family I spoke to lost at least two members during the war. The Sabatallee’s future in Parnan military and Parna in general has yet to be decided.
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? Responses (5)
A well-made group of people.
This is truly a great write up for a culture. I would give it a 4.5 or 5, but there are numerous grammatical errors that drag it down slightly, so it gets a 4. Keep it up, and I hope to hear more about this land of Parna.
I have tried to make some changes, but I would love to get some edits if you have the time.
Love the details about the fat and social ranking, a great description overall. With sverigesson's note aside, it is a solid ethnographic description with quite a bit colorful history and essence packed in. Me likey!
As for the Ivanvill, the society and culture section really grabbed me. The phases, social rankings and the attitude towards deserved fat are just awesome details that really bring this bunch of nomads alive.