Humans of River Twine Holt: The Bukno-Baha

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(article by Joan Milligan - posted 07/31/06)


Far, far to the North and East, beyond the woods and river lands that the Elves know, the hills and forests belong to a human nation of many scattered clans – the Baha. These humans dwell still in the same lands where their ancestors began walking upright, living very simple lives of hunting, gathering and warring among their clans as they have done for countless centuries – before the Fierce Ones came.

The Fierce Ones, as the Baha called the raider and slaver tribe that fell on them from the North, broke the nation apart, the clans unable to unite after being in conflict since the beginning of memory. The Baha clans were scattered. Most wandered south into the open hills, but one chose to stay in the woods and follow the sunset. Those are the Bukno-Baha – the Baha of the Sacred Tree. After long months of wandering, this small clan of humans, perhaps three hundred in total, set its home near the fertile river land. The generation that journeyed aged and died – but the children of the clan are still struggling to feel at home.



The Bukno-Baha are a very slight race of humans, men and women both standing no more than five feet three, slim, fine-boned, light and agile. They have milky-fair skin in sharp contrast to their deep black hair, which is rich and tends to be wavy and somewhat oily. Children of both sexes keep their hair cropped to flimsy fuzz until they undergo their rites of adulthood, at which point they start growing it long to their shoulders. Men braid their hair on the left side and women on the right; a woman will split her braid to two after having her first child and continue to add new braids for every new baby. Bukno-Baha have very round eyes in black, dark green or midnight-blue, and an elfin cast to their features, with small noses and thin lips. They appreciate androgynous beauty; both men and women are measured by the thickness of the hair, the roundness of the eyes and the set of the back and shoulders.

The clan has yet to find replacements for all the dyes they knew how to produce in their original homeland, and so their outfits are usually very plain except for what they get from the Ebean colony. They favor uneven cuts and layered clothing, attaching sheets of fabric rather than sewing a shirt or pants out of a single hide, looking for a variety of shades and textures. Men and women alike wear tight sleeveless shirts and long leggings, and favor all sorts of decoration. Women wear a lot of beads, usually made of bone, in long rows and patterns that look like an extension of the lines of their bodies – sometimes a whole beaded "skeleton", and always a circle over the womb. Men favor chokers and arm bands. Both sexes decorate their bare arms with body paint, usually hand-painted patterns out of nature: animal hides, flowers and tree barks.


The Bukno-Baha view a child's developing sexuality with a great deal of humor and public interest, encouraging experimentation and freedom, although an adult approaching a child or youth risks a quick public execution. The adolescent years in the tribe are cheerfully lusty – because later, everything changes.

It is the women of the Bukno-Baha that choose their future husbands and initiate marriage, often setting up the men of their age group to be examined for health and strength like human livestock. The initial marriage is a tentative thing and the couple still lives separately in their parents' households. But the moment the marriage produces children, it is absolutely final and cannot be broken, the man and woman are bound together for good, moving into their own teepee. If no children are born, the union is naturally annulled after three years.

The socially acceptable venue for those displeased with their marriage is same-sex relationships. It's not uncommon for an unhappily married man to disappear on long hunting trips with his "sweetest brother", or a woman to meet pseudo-secretly with her "sweetest sister" while her husband is away, so long as the children are still supported by both parents.

Despite that power of women, the Bukno-Baha are not a matriarchy. Only a man can be chief or shaman and only the men hunt and win the prestige of the hunt. The women are exempt from a number of ceremonies, and while outside and in public, a man who bows head before his woman is a man shamed. The woman's power is, by contrast, an absolute within her own teepee, where she runs the family's affairs and can bludgeon her man verbally and physically to her heart's content – so long as she is submissive in public. "Every woman is a chief in her house" is the saying, "but no woman is ever chieftess."

Religious belief:

The Bukno-Baha attribute creation to a single deity, Bo, featured in any number of stories and songs. Bo is actually a lot more like an experimenting child or a playful baby animal than a mighty god – he created the world through a series of games, childish messes, blunders and brilliant ideas that didn't turn out as expected. Bo can take any form, but his forms of choice were, while the Baha still lived in their old home a boy with thick back fur all over his body, or sometimes a fisher cat. Now those cats are nowhere to be found, and instead, Bo's animal form is observed to be the pale-furred "spirit bears" of the woods, which astonish the Bukno-Baha – and accordingly, his boy-form's fur is now depicted as silver-white.

Bo does have a darker side – Yoro-Bo, the Thunderer, who strikes down those who break society's laws with nature's most capricious forces. Bo does not demand worship from the Bukno-Baha except that they tell stories about him; he is largely not interested in humans.

In Bukno-Baha myths, humans were created by accident when Bo tried to make a limestone statue of himself. Because he has no fixed form, he kept reshaping the statue, and the limestone chips became the Baha clans. Eventually he smashed the statue in frustration, and the Bukno-Baha hold that their clan was made from the statue fragments themselves. The image of Bo looking into a pool or river and being amazed by the inconsistency of his own form is a common one in Baha myth.

Bo is surrounded by a host of other deities with many names and natures, created accidentally in his various adventures, most of them concerned only with a particular feature of the world. A few commonly mentioned examples: Oyaba, a small fairy-like creature who dances on your tongue when you eat a good berry; Poyep the hunter, who is the only deity that comes into regular contact with humans and often acts as their advocate before the careless Bo; and Mamumo, a vicious spirit responsible for the pains of giving birth, who must be honored by shrill screams from the mother or it will kill the newborn.

The figurehead of the Bukno-Baha's spiritual lives is the clan's shaman. Trained from early youth, the shaman uses psychoactive herbs, smoke and meditative dancing to enter a deep trance and then a state of glossolalia – speaking in tongues, in which he is believed to be speaking the language that Bo spoke to his spirit brood in the days before mankind. Equipped with this language, the shaman is empowered to bind, banish and bargain with spirits.

Art and design:

The Bukno-Baha's arts of choice are storytelling – and standup comedy. Because of their nomadic lifestyle, they rarely bothered with visual arts except talismans, small ritual carvings or the decoration of clothes; however, the ability to tell a good, especially funny story is greatly prized in the tribe. Most stories concern the distant, mythic past of the clan, or the various adventures of Bo and his minor godlings. Stories aren't simply told – they are chanted, always involving at least one song, and sometimes reenacted with small puppets of wood and bone. Bo is never sculpted this way – he is always "played" by the storyteller's hand.

The Bukno-Baha call their standup comedy Bayumop, which literally translates "a dew of insults", with the implication being that said insults are supposed to freshen up those "washed" in them and disappear by the next morning. Around a fire one night, some member of the clan who has any qualm with any other will stand up, and start humorously telling the tale of his woes and conflicts, making fun of the character of all involved, including himself. If the Bayumop is imaginative and funny, the audience will soon be in peals of laughter, and the offenders will risk no end of shame if they don't step up and apologize – or start their own show, detailing their side of the conflict. Eventually, whoever is wittier and funnier gets the better end of the deal. If the problem is resolved, the show is over, but if it persists, the clan will quote choice bits for weeks at end until peace is restored. A Bayumop is an equal opportunity ritual – everyone, men, women and children, may raise their qualms against anyone, even the chief.

Life cycle and rituals:

In the Bukno-Baha clans, children belong to an age group from they day they are born to the day they become adults. The first age group includes boys and girls up to the age of seven, who stay at home with their mothers. Then, one night, the older boys will storm through the village dressed in costumes and body paint, howling and screaming, and herd the younger boys out into the forest. The terrified children are warned that they are, right now, only prey, and then are handed their first bows, on which they will now learn to be predators. For the girls, the ritual is much simpler and gentler – when a girl enters the second age group, she gets to hold her first baby, and is summarily introduced into the tasks of caring for her younger brothers and sisters.

The second age-group typically includes children up to the age of ten. This is when the boys are nicknamed "man-cubs" and focus all their might on learning to hunt, fish, forage and defend themselves. They sleep in their families' teepees but spend all day together, learning and practicing. Between ten and twelve, the boys undergo another ritual of circumcision, nail clipping and shaving all their body hair – a symbolic shedding of skin. After that, and until their rite of passage at fourteen, they will live together in the Ayom, the boys' teepee, learn legends, herb lore and all about sex, and compete mightily for the growing girls who will come to pick husbands.

Girls will, at this stage, begin to learn to weave, gather, fletch arrows and chip tools – for them, this stage continues until menstruation. A girl's first course is marked with a great celebration among the clan's women. The men believe that the blood turns the women into powerful spirit-animals; they will cower in their teepees, while the women dance through the camp rabid, naked and laughing hysterically, carrying the girl on their shoulders. This ritual is likely the happiest day of a girl's life – that same night, the eldest woman will take her into her teepee and teach her how to pick a husband and what to do to produce the healthiest, strongest child.

This is the girls' rite of passage – the boys' is infinitely crueler. They are led out of the boys' teepee by a procession of hunters dressed as mythical monsters and animals. The women will wail, tear their hair and run to stroke and caress their sons and brothers as they normally would a loved one's dead body, but the boys may not react. They are dead now, and the animals are taking them to the forest to be devoured. The boys will walk all night through the worst conditions the forest has to offer, but they may not react, because they are dead. Only after dawn has risen and they are completely exhausted, are the boys allowed to draw their ritual knives and attempt to unmask the hunters – killing the animals and winning their way back from the underworld. The boys are now men and return to the clan to receive new names – but the boy who couldn't keep up in the journey or failed to cut any mask stays "dead", a pariah, until the next age group goes through the ritual.

Science and technology:

The Bukno-Baha are a hunter-gatherer society just barely out of the Stone Age, practically at the Elves' technical level. Metals of all sorts are a very, very new concept to them, and their favored weapon in the hunt is the short bow and javelin. They are great masters of those weapons, however, and produce arrows that even elfin fletchers may envy.

Craft is an important thing to the Bukno-Baha women, who can win great prestige denied them in the hunt by making fine baskets, ropes, jewelry and tools. Those stone tools are primitive, but they work, including knives, scalpels, scrapping and knapping stones, exquisitely made needles, pins and combs of bone, and something new: jugs made from river mud and burned in stone ovens. The jugs are a new invention in the tribe that mostly relied on water skins made from animal bladders, and not yet perfected.

Perhaps due to their (fortunate) natural resilience, the Bukno-Baha's medical practices are very primitive. They have, quite simply, yet to figure out that the problem, not the symptoms, should be treated. They have an array of herbs that ease fever and numb pain, but few that actually do anything against infection, and they swear by rationing the food a sick person is allowed, saying that the body is polluted enough.

Government and economy:

Technically, the clan is ruled by a chief, but in practice the chief is nothing without his Four Strong: the head of the hunters, the shaman and the eldest man and woman in the clan. These four can dispute his decisions, and even if he does not accept their opinions, if they have an agreement between them, they will quietly spread their own word through the clan, and in most cases, it is they, and not the chief, who will be obeyed.

Chieftainship is not simply hereditary. When he gains his position, the chief is expected to select his heir from among the youths only just completing their rites of passage, and train him in the art of ruling from that day on. The shaman and head hunter do the same with their future replacements. Usually, only the shaman selects his apprentice without consulting the other Four Strong – if they do not approve of the chief's choice of heir, as they often aren't, they are expected to present their own candidate to compete with him. This can sometimes lead to disputes within the clan.

The Bukno-Baha are hunters and gatherers who get all their food on their own. They manage their diet much like the Elves, sending out both hunting and foraging parties, living off whatever prey they can bring down or trap and whatever bounty the forests offer. Until their arrival West and their meeting with the Ebeans, the Bukno-Baha did not have a concept of agriculture, as they never stayed in one place for more than a season. They practice some trade in raw goods within their own clan, especially those craftsmen with some expertise, but at large it's a test of a child's adulthood that they can feed themselves and their families.

The Bukno-Baha domesticated a few animals – small wild dogs called Moyuno, more like foxes than wolves, and a species of omnivorous goats that don't as much travel with them as follow them around for the camp's leavings. They are skilled gatherers, but don't cultivate any plants, even medicinal.


The Bukno-Baha have a simple language that is easy to learn in theory, but all but impossible to pronounce if you are not born into it. They have very fluid syllables, mixing "p" and "b", "r" and "l" and "v" and "f" seemingly freely, but with precise meanings, usually referring to feminine/masculine or singular/plural forms. The syntax can be challenging, as it distinguishes male/female, several forms of plural depending on the number, and five verb tenses, but the actual vocabulary is all but minimal. The Bukno-Baha don't say "ocean" or "river" – they say "very big pond" or "rain on the ground".

Bahato, as the language is appropriately called, usually does not allow two consonants together save for specific cases, and never allows two vowels together. The most common vowel used is "o". It does not have a written alphabet, and has so far proven too much for the Ebean letters to handle.

The Bukno-Baha's names are very often theophoric – making use of the name of a god, most often Bo, but not only. Male names will only end with "o" or a consonant, while female names will always end with any vowel except "o".


The village is made up from the same teepees, tents of animal hide that served the Bukno-Baha in their temporary camps during their wandering days. It's arranged after Ebean fashion, with clear streets and a central clearing with a main fire pit. Unlike the colony, however, it has very few gardens and fields, all of which are rather poor, and the people are very rarely indoors, preferring to sit outside as they did in the wandering days. The village is surrounded by a crude wooden wall that the Ebeans helped the Bukno-Baha build, and there are guards at the gate.


Baha Exploration & Hunting Ranges
Full Size

With reference to the map at right (see the Full Size version), the main Bukno-Baha settlement is located alongside the Ebean colony/village (orange dot). The blue area shows the hunting range of the Baha tribe of humans in the present day. Baha hunting parties may be assumed to frequent the blue area, and to occasionally (in small numbers and far less frequently) range in the purple area as well. This includes Baha escorts of Ebean gathering parties. The red area shows the approximate extent of a plantshaped thornwall that is sufficient (to date) to discourage human parties from coming into the valley in which the Holt's Dentrees are located.

Natives/colonists relations and the threat of the Fierce Ones:

The Ebean colonists have arrived to the shores of the elves' homeland approximately thirty years ago. They set up their colony, which grew slowly, surveyed the land but found it, so they thought, empty of other civilizations. Although children have already been born and grew to adulthood in the colony, it is still considered a small outpost in Ebean standards. The arrival of the Bukno-Baha from the East caught the settlers by surprise, but they were only happy to welcome them… with just a little bit of help from the elves of River Twine.

In the years that have passed since, a good welcome turned into a fast friendship between the peoples: agreements were drawn regarding land, resources and future trade, knowledge and resources are shared freely. The two groups coexist in easy harmony, avoiding any serious disputes so far – although both remain guarded about their native culture, and no mingling of blood has occurred yet.

What truly brought the two groups of humans together, though, was a threat to the both of them – the tribes of raiders and slavers called the Fierce Ones.

The Fierce Ones have plagued the Baha clans for years before the Bukno-Baha moved west. They come in once a year or so in the harvest season, pillage the clan of their choice and carry off men, women and children to their own unknown homes. The Bukno-Baha don't know much about the Fierce Ones except that they are huge (usually over six feet tall) and shockingly colored, with bright gold or flaming red hair, and that their women fight as mercilessly as their men. They fear those folk, who display horrific ritual scarring all over their bodies and speak in a freakishly fast and complicated language no clansman ever managed to learn.

When the Fierce Ones were sighted in the Bukno-Baha's new homeland, the Ebeans immediately pitched in to help their neighbors – they taught the Bukno-Baha to settle in one place, the village, to start growing their food and keeping livestock, to build a wall and set guards. Although this is taking a lot of getting used to from the Bukno-Baha, the combined might of the natives and colonists already repelled one raid, with minimal casualties.

But the Fierce Ones are no fools, and their threat persists, and in the meantime, the old men and hot-headed youths of both groups are starting to wonder if either of them are not giving too much to the "Others". The strangeness of the settled lifestyle, and the fact that the seasonal Ebean ship is running late, are not helping at all…


Tamyon, chief of the Bukno-Baha: The tallest and sturdiest man in the Bukno-Baha clan, Tamyon was something of an outcast in his youth because of his size, and it was a surprise to the entire clan when the old chief, Poyon, chose him for his successor. Tamyon is quiet, brooding, sharp-witted and a capable hands-on leader who commands great respect from his clan, especially the hunters, who are in awe of his prowess as an archer and spear-thrower. Tamyon is whole-heartedly devoted to his easy-mannered wife and their newborn twin children, but a distant mentor to his chosen heir, Bomo. Tamyon has been chief for about as long as Coriander has been Mata – five years.

Nonoli, Tamyon's wife: The chief's wife won her world with a remarkable skill of observation and wise counsel. Nonoli chose Tamyon for her husband when they were still small children, and was rewarded for her faith in him richly. Though she is young, only seventeen, she is already held in high regard by the clan for her always to-the-point advice, as well as her perfect memory, which she uses well as a storyteller. Nonoli has recently given birth to twins, Poyeno and Alali.

Bomo, Tamyon's heir: A fourteen year-old boy, freshly out of his rite of adulthood, Bomo has only been chief's heir for a couple of months, but that has evidently been long enough for the Four Strong to keep a wary eye on him. Bomo is restless, reckless, adventurous and a rule-breaker, and more – he is possessed of the inner drive of a socially dysfunctional visionary. He gets along extremely well with the Ebeans, whose language he picked up with remarkable speed, and is aching to study their various strange arts, rather than spend his life as a hunter or even as chief.

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