Thoughts on Ayummati Culture

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Thoughts on Ayummati Culture

Post by imperialismus » 21 Nov 2017 22:33

I have an image in my head of Genghis Khan riding into battle on a giant reindeer. How awesome wouldn't that be?

I have a fairly well-developed conlang called Ayuma, but I've reached an impasse. The grammar is not quite finished--there are some flaws and issues I have with it which I've been unable to resolve--but I want to return to it. The basic idea is sound; it is still my best work. Ayuma's sound (phonology and morphophonology) is inspired by North Sámi, although its morphosyntax is sui generis. Originally, I had set this in our world, but I figure I might want to flesh out a conworld for it. This culture will be inspired by Sámi culture, by the nomadic empires like the Mongols, Xiungnu and Huns, and by traditional Norwegian folklore. Hopefully it will be interesting. Seriously, once the image of battle-reindeer entered my head, I couldn't resist. I haven't really settled on whether it should be a very low-fantasy setting or simply a realistic world. I'm very attracted to the idea of a world infused with mythology and folklore, where magic and the supernatural is taken for granted by people, but where its actual existence is left open to interpretation.

The Sámi do not ride their reindeer, but the Dukha of Mongolia do.

Ayummati culture

One day, I'll learn how to make cool maps. In the meantime, imagine an area straddling the Arctic circle, about the size of European Russia, largely taken up by mountain plateaus, inhabited by semi-nomadic reindeer herders. This is the area of Ayummati Ahhtanin ("Land of the People"), home of the large Ayummatina Seann, the Ayuma Confederation, from Ayumma-tina ("of the people") Sean-n (Togetherness, Brotherhood) [ɑjʉmʔmatɪ sɛæn:]. The land is divided into districts called beatina ahhtanina ("small lands"). Each ahhtanin is ruled by a council of men, who are in turn elected by a council of the female elders of the area, who have the power to depose the council of men. (This is directly inspired by the traditional governance of the Sámi siida.) Within each district, the land is communally owned and managed for the good of the commons. Each ahhtanin sends a male representative to the Ayummati Miwawa Ihhtan (The Great House of the Ayuma), which elects a council of women, the Ayummati Beatina Ihhtan (The Small House of the Ayuma), who together rule the entire confederation, solving disputes between quarreling districts and conducting foreign diplomacy like trade and war or peace treaties.

The Ayuma travel with their reindeer herds--a minority are sedentary and live off hunting and fishing near the coasts, and some are merchants traveling the great East-West trade routes--generally having distinct winter and summer grazing areas. They breed two races or subspecies of reindeer: the smaller dihaswa becinna ("meat deer"), which are bred for their meat and hides, and the much larger miwawa becinna or zahhtina becinna ("great dear" or "war deer"), which are used as beasts of burden and ridden during warfare. The Great Deer are much larger than our reindeer: while an adult reindeer is comparable in weight to an adult pony (200-300 kg), an adult male great deer is comparable in size to a large horse (upwards of one metric ton). The Ayuma also breed wolf-dogs, which are used for transportation via dog-sleds. The Ayuma cultivate an image of unusual affinity with animals: their shamans wear bear and wolf-skin coats, and legends tell of raids conducted with large packs of wolves or wolf-dogs guided by warriors riding war deer. (Imagine living in a small fishing village, peaceful and quiet, and suddenly four dozen wolves led by two dozen reindeer-archers descend on you, stealing all your livestock, eating your children and setting fire to your houses. Even the Mongols and Vikings would shake in their boots.)


The Ayuma practice a pantheistic form of shamanism, where ancestors are revered and the divine is immanent in all of nature. Each shaman is accompanied by an animal--a dog or a reindeer, or, in legends, a bear or a fantastical beast--which is considered to be an externalized part of their soul, called a haffis (lit. "hand"). A shaman can only practice as long as his haffis is alive; once the animal dies, the shaman must cease their mystical practice and devote the rest of their lives to instructing the next generation of shamans, as political advisors or as members of the various councils.

Shamans travel alternate planes of existence by feeding reindeer Amanita muscaria (fly agaric mushrooms), collecting, boiling and consuming their urine. The active ingredients in the fly agaric mushroom are excreted largely unmetabolized, and so human urine can be reused several times for maximal effect. Whether this practice exists in our world is up for dispute, but apparently it's real. I wonder how they collect the urine? Strapping buckets to the reindeers' behinds?

While plane-walking, the shamans consult the spirits of nature and of their ancestors. The greatest authority are the northern lights; they are considered to be the embodiment of the will of past generations. Children are told never to wave anything white at the northern lights, as this will anger it and incite it to strike you down. (This is another part of Sámi folklore which I cribbed directly; I remember being told this story in earnest as a child.)

Diplomacy and warfare

Unlike the real-life Sámi, the Ayuma people are a warlike and aggressive people who took over their lands by exiling or enslaving existing populations, establishing tributary relations with most of their neighbors and representing a constant threat to the more sedentary empires to their south, much like the Mongols. Their armies are composed of two branches: the cavalry, who ride war-deer (only scouts ride horses, captured from southernly neighbors) and wield bows, and the infantry, who carry spears and whips and are accompanied by dog brigades. (This is perhaps the most fantastical invention thus far: as far as I know, no historical army has ever extensively employed wolves or dogs as weapons; counterexamples welcome.) Consistent with their somewhat gender-egalitarian culture, women can be military commanders. Indeed, as members of the Miwawa Ihhtan, women are always formally supreme commanders of warfare, although who holds actual power depends upon the respective popular support of the Small Council of women and the Great Council of men who elect it.

The Queen of Reindeer, Binder of Ancestors

There is a story from the Christianization of Norway, circa 1000 AD: A king, I don't recall who (either Olav Tryggvason or Olav Haraldsson, posthumously known as St. Olav the Holy), wanted to demonstrate the superiority of his Lord and Savior over the Old Norse gods. So he showed up at a blót, or ritual sacrifical feast; and once the Sun rose, blinding everyone present, he had his man smash the idol of the Norse god Thor (or maybe it was Odin); the wooden idol was revealed to be infested with maggots. Thus the king demonstrated that the Christian God was superior, and the old gods were hollow and rotted from the inside.

A similar story occurs close to the in-universe present of the Ayuma. After a political rivalry with her uncle, a young woman trained as a shaman, personal name Aya, although known as the Nimmitina Becinna [nɪmʔmɪtɪnɑ bɛtsɪnʔnɑ] (King/Queen of the Reindeer; Ayuma has an animate-inanimate, not a masc-fem gender distinction), has started to consolidate her power. She professes an apocalyptic ideology that resonates with a warlike culture: that the Ayuma must conquer the known world, or they will be destroyed. The Ayuma Confederation may, in modern Earth-terms, be termed an elective oligarchy, but a single person can command power if they hold the majority in the small council. In order to gain the support of rebel ahhtanina, she called a conference of the elders on a dark, cloudless night in the winter. As expected, the aurora danced across the sky, a sign that the conference was sanctioned by the ancestors. Seated atop her great deer haffi, Aya commanded the ancestors to bow before her will--usually considered a complete blasphemy, as the shaman exists only to interpret the will of the ancestors, not command them--and lowered her hand. And the people gathered insist, to this day, that the aurora bowed its head in deference. Of course, future historians will likely declare it to be an example of mass hysteria, not unlike the the real-world example of the Miracle of the Sun.

Nevertheless, Aya was elected Miwawa Nimmitina Ayummati (Great Queen of the Ayuma), commander of armies and binder of ancestors. The stage is set for a southern invasion.

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Re: Thoughts on Ayummati Culture

Post by gestaltist » 22 Nov 2017 12:09

Quite interesting. I hope you'll share more.

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