article by Joan Milligan
The Ebean culture initially evolved on the peninsula of Ebea, an arid desert region with roughly Mediterranean conditions on the rocky coastline giving rise to a culture of rivaling and trading city states. What was once a powerful coalition rapidly expanding towards its eastern borders began to fail as inbreeding brought the aristocracy low, granting more power to the dissenting people. The last viable alliance between city-states dissolved about a hundred and fifty years ago.
Although much better organized and technologically advanced, their sorry current state left the Ebeans easy prey to the "barbaric" tribes living east of them just waiting to leave their barren deserts and descend upon the empire's riches. The Suftic tribes have been growing stronger and more unified for years, and their blow to old Ebea could have been its demise, if it weren't for the Sufts' disinterest in destruction for its own sake.
An honorable, intelligent people honed to survival under merciless conditions, the tribesmen conquered Ebea and proceeded to melt right into it. They bred with its people birthing a generation of prodigies, Suftic toughness and brilliance tempered by Ebean refined culture. As the tribesmen adopted the Ebean gods and lifestyle, the empire's children were saved from degeneration by Suftic philosophy. Most importantly, Ebean parliaments, now forced to cooperate, came under the power of Suftic Matas, matriarchal absolute rulers, and a new, healthy system of a Mata and her small senate/government evolved gradually. The Suftic conquest of Ebea saved it in the nick of time.
All this happened less than two hundred years ago. The new empire has not yet had a chance to develop new problems. It revels in a golden age.
The Ebeans have naturally smooth, dark skin, varying in shades from the coffee-and-cream of the empire's natives to the polished ebony of the Suftic tribes. The Sufts also brought with them the black hair and eye color, but that proved recessive against the burnished copper and deep brown of the city dwellers. The hair is thin and stiff men cut it above their ears or shave it altogether, while women grow it long to their mid-backs then pin it up in elaborate styles.
The average male Ebean stands five feet six, the average female an inch or two shorter. They have toned and supple bodies, narrow shoulders and long legs, however standards of beauty demand men be muscular and straight as blades, and women curvy, soft and full. A skinny woman is considered ungainly and probably infertile; an overweight man is repulsive. Ebeans have very fine features, with strong cheekbones, full lips and almond-shaped eyes. Those of thicker Suftic blood have more body hair and distinctly high brows and square jaws.
With the Suftic conquest, ways were open to bring all types of dyes and fabrics once unknown into Ebea, and this change shows in the gaudy, bright fashions now popular throughout the empire. A hybrid has grown there as well Ebean men have adopted the functional tribal outfits of the Sufts, while Suftic women wrap themselves in capes, silks skirts after the empire's fashion. An Ebean man wears a long shift, sleeveless, usually in white or pale blue or red, over that a long-sleeved vest dyed a rich shade decorated with many beads, and over that the long coat the Sufts call the tuyma, which is ankle-length and comes with a wide hood, wrapped at the top like a turban against the desert heat. Leather leggings, once ideal for long rides, have developed into a softer form for everyday use and joined, instead of riding boots, with Ebean sandals.
The women both enjoy and are expected to dress up, displaying both the riches of their men and their own revered status. The knee-length skirt with scores of ribbons trailing it is the trademark Ebean fashion article, often made in two layers so that the ribboned one can be comfortably removed indoors. Shirts have generous cleavages concealed by airy shawls, and very puffy sleeves that tighten again above the wrists, leaving the hands free to the woman's two most important tasks cooking and writing. But the true fancy of the Ebean woman is in jewelry: anklets, medallions and hairpins.
It's important to understand that Ebeans recognize differences between men and women, not superiority in one or the other. Both traditionally and more powerfully due to Suftic influence, the Ebean man is the provider, not only to his family but to his entire society. The man is the arms and hands of the city-state and of the empire, who toils in the fields and with the livestock, plants and harvests and slaughters, and usually is a bit of a stranger is his own home. In that home, the woman rules, charged with raising her children, home-bound tasks like sewing and cooking and with culture on all its aspects. Women are the politicians, engineers, writers, scholars and artisans of Ebea. The proverb goes: "Men's work feeds the talking women; women's talk drives working men."
One thing Ebean culture has not been able to wean the Sufts off is the structure of the family, and so today most households are Suftic in nature, made of two or three kukotas or sibling groups. Marriages are arranged by the kukota when the children in question are very young. The girl is given to her future husband's family when she is seven, and becomes the total responsibility of his parents. She, her husband to be, his brothers and their wives and wives to be form a kukota which lives in its own wing of the house. As their parents' kukota ages and dies off they gradually take its place. The household is headed by the oldest married pair. There are still traditional Ebean households, nuclear families of which the husband is the head, but those are getting rarer. What the Ebeans did manage to integrate into Suftic society is the practice of planned parenthood, and so most married pairs have four children at most, forming kukotas of eight.
A thousand years ago, Ebean religion was animistic and totemic, revering any number of spirits. As thought and theology advanced, the concept became refined into a concept of a Platonic world of ideas. Some of the old religious practices remained as folklore, but most Ebeans no longer view the "spirits" in any anthropomorphic light, or even as sentient beings.
The Suftic tribes brought with them an array of divinities, a mythological jigsaw where no single story had only one version. At its most simplified, Suftic myth has four major gods, presiding over four pillars of human existence: hunting and foraging, breeding and child-rearing, warfare and defense, art and craftsmanship. These four gods are sexually ambiguous and are usually only addressed as their many various titles the Hunter, the Mother, the Rider, the Smith and so on. All four are absolutely benevolent, the Sufts never believed their gods meant them harm or struck them down. That was the work of the devils, the greatest of which were Old Bastard Sun and the Howling Beast Sandstorm. The Sufts viewed most forces of nature as sentient, malevolent entities out to destroy them, held back by the hard work of them and their gods.
Suftic faith and Ebean theology made strange bedfellows. The latter did not so much change the former's structure as shift its focus. The four gods are still worshipped in private shrines especially in families of strong Suftic ancestry, but they mostly serve as the basis to a rich mythology hanging between being viewed as truth or literature. The concept of nature's demons, however, powerfully caught onto Ebean imagination, and the intangible Platonic ideals took on nefarious casts. Nature is full of demons bringing famine, frost, plague, infant death, storms, bad food, and so on, to mankind, who labors against them with the flimsy aid of civilization's gods. The Ebeans have no supernatural entity to appease, only to fight, and few to pray to. If there's anything they are not tolerant of in other cultures, it's "superstitions".
Art and design:
The trademark Ebean craft, before and after the conquest, is glassblowing. Natural conditions make Ebea's sands perfect for making glass in all colors, and the empire's artisans have an amazing proficiency in the art. Glass is spun into vessels both for use and decoration, into beads, religious symbols, necklaces and bracelets, and any number of artifacts both for the art gallery and the household. An Ebean specialty is the glass image or miniature statue, usually portraying a mythological scene rich in color and detail.
Ebean visual art is usually abstract; their artists never developed a still life or landscape painting school, and portraits are rare as well. Paintings, most often frescos, focus on an aesthetic of color and geometry rather than portraying reality or myth. Sculpture has fallen mostly out of favor in recent times, and any material other than metal or glass has always been considered artistically inferior, anyway. Ebean jewelry has been powerfully influenced by its Suftic counterpart, and features mostly gold and copper in motifs of heavenly bodies and desert flowers. The most common precious stones in use in Ebea are the ruby and topaz.
The empire's natives focused more on philosophical debate and poetry in free verse before the conquest. Ebean poetry is mostly based upon puns, wordplay, sound-play, an internal meter and music. Internal rhymes are common lines rarely rhyme. The Ebean poets strive towards biabat, "sublime speech", in which both the sound of the words and their meaning would conjure exactly the same thoughts and images. They conceive of it as a sort of telepathy-through-language similar to what Elves experience when sending.
The Sufts brought with them a new tradition one of great mythological epics. Rather than writing poetry, Sufts memorize lengthy stories of their gods, heroes and ancestors, which the Ebeans put to writing and now greatly enjoy. Ebean written culture has been slowly but surely doing away with Suftic storytelling tradition since the conquest. What the Sufts did keep is their music stormy dancing tunes played on many instruments, an ancient "hard rock", a sharp, shocking contrast to Ebean music, which was as delicate and precise as their poetry. Ebean instruments of choice are the lute and harp; the Suftic, the pipes and huge mutha, barrel drums. Fashion has only just begun to put the two styles together, and the results so far are
Science and technology:
Ebean thought and theory are highly advanced, and can give 500 BC Athens competition; Ebean practice, less so, best compared to Babylon at its height. The one thing the Sufts have been unable to contribute to at all has been technology. Ebean thinkers for the most part women have made exact astronomical calculations and measurements, are well-aware that the world is round and revolves around the sun, and know the length of the solar and lunar years, including a precise and useful calendar. Mathematics is a rich and highly developed field analytical geometry is the latest rage in the empire. They have a primitive concept of atoms, and have been delving into a zoological and botanical classification system for some time, right now busily debating a very simplified theory of divinely-guided evolution.
But all this thought does not necessarily find its practical use in a land where thought and practice are very separate indeed. The Ebeans have yet to catch on to the fact that their strict gender separation hampers them a great deal in applying mathematics and engineering to everyday life the transition from "women's talk" to "men's work" is a difficult one. As such, save for its system of wells and canals, Ebea had never truly taken on any remarkable feats of engineering. Construction techniques for houses are still rather primitive most houses are built from wood and some white sandstone. Both the Ebeans and the Sufts are lacking at the forge, much prefer spears and bows to swords, and have no conception of a metal armor. Medicine, of all the sciences, is actually rather well-off, due to a weak taboo on examining dead bodies. The Ebean doctors angrily did away with Suftic practices of bleeding patients and drilling holes in bones to release demons living within, and spread instead the words of disinfection and a correct diet. Infant mortality is extremely low in the empire due to a real understanding of the mechanism of giving birth, and herbal contraceptives have been in regular use for hundreds of years to keep the population in check, instead.
The Ebean age of exploration and colonization, now at its height, is very swiftly perfecting maritime technologies. The compass is old news to the Sufts, in whose desert homeland there are magnetic rocks aplenty, but it was a shocking revolution to Ebean sailors, who are enamored with it enough to compose poems just in praise of this one invention. Ebea lacks proper wood to built truly durable ships the ships of choice for the empire's sailors are clever little bireme galleys that travel in fleets of ten to fifteen, very often losing a ship on the way but no cargo or crew. It's an ironic turn that the Sufts, incredible navigators that they are, are genetically inclined to seasickness the art of seaside navigation is still evolving for Ebea.
Education takes an important place in the lives of the empire's children. Young children are taught reading, writing, basic mathematics and a smattering of literature and history by their grandmothers, members of their family's oldest kukota. Children from all ends of society attend schools for three years between seven and ten, expanding their education; boys of richer families often complete six such years, and girls reach as many as eight years of schooling.
Government and economy:
The empire and the tribes had very different and yet complementary systems of rule. Ebea has long been a coalition of city-states each ruled by a powerful family of aristocrats with unlimited power over the people. This power has been their undoing: eager to preserve the blood they saw as superior, they married within their own group of elevated families so often that the generation to face the Suftic invaders was composed almost entirely of the borderline retarded.
Thankfully, as their rulers degenerated, the Ebean people found ways to adapt. In most city-states, a form of participatory democracy grew slowly that was open to all citizens over fifty. It was those huge "senates" that brought down the aristocrats, not the Suftic conquerors. The Ebeans were perfectly willing to accept Suftic authority by that time.
The Sufts were traditionally led by Matas, tribal mothers, councils of elderly women of which the oldest was senior. However, they quickly recognized that this system will not work on the level of a city, not to mention several cities. The system required some ironing out, but was at last established with minimal bloodshed.
In the Ebean city today, all citizens have a right to elect a "voting council" of sixty men and women over fifty years old, which function as a local senate. This council votes within itself and elevates two of its members a city Mata, who is always a woman, and a male or female Ku-I-Mata, empire's Mata (or Maka, if the position is given to a man) who will represent them in the Council of Councils. This Council of Councils' seat is at Kariata, the Ebean capital, and it runs the empire as a powerful centralized ruling body. It is Kariata's own Mata who is, in practice, the empress, although her right of veto is very much limited. Elections to the city's council take place every three years; elections to the Council of Councils, every five .Elections are never held in two cities at the same time.
Taxes in Ebea are quite high, charged in currency with about 30% being sent to the capital, but civil service is absolutely exemplary. Bureaucrats are held up to an almost saintly standard and are summarily replaced, usually within the day, if they prove incompetent or abuse the position. Ebea does not practice redistribution of resources: the money goes into a number of civil institutions such as public medical clinics, schools, "houses for the poor" where both hot meals and job openings are offered, and of course the maintaining of the wells and channels system, the cities themselves, the ports, and sanitation.
Ebean agriculture is quite advanced, making use of the plough and primitive seeding devices, animal power, and an efficient system of expertly dug wells and channels. Not many crops grow, but those that do are well-adapted to the climate and prosper: wheat and barley, grapes, olives, figs, dates, blood oranges, and the pride of the empire pomegranates, the Ebean national fruit, some of which grow to be the size of a child's head. Goats and sheep are the livestock of choice, and oxen are prize animals. The Sufts brought three important new animals with them horses, a fast, foul-tempered breed; the vumi, a sort of tame goat antelope with bristly white fur; and large, docile sheepdogs with coats the colors of the desert.
Except in times of drought, shortage was never an Ebean problem, and the empire had a fairly sufficient surplus to support the influx of the nomadic tribes. The shores of Ebea are rich and fertile, in shocking contrast to the depth of the desert beyond the narrow strip in which the city-states are built. But Ebean economy is also dependent on the low mountains of that desert for a supply of metals copper and iron highly abundant, gold is almost common, and gems come from the much deeper mines. The mountains also provide the colorful sands that go into Ebean glass art.
Ebean currency is made of copper and bronze and includes three basic units the basic Tab (pure copper), the quarter-Tab (bronze) and the Ten-Tab (copper with a dusting of gold). A quarter-Tab is the price of a handsome clutch of grapes, and the price of a pair of healthy full-grown oxen or a daughter for marriage is about a hundred Ten-Tabs.
Despite a tradition of plenty, what really spurred on the Ebean golden age is the founding of colonies. Initially, worry about the growing population was what encouraged the first sailors out now, Ebean economy is slowly becoming dependant on an influx of trade goods from any number of colonies in any number of neighboring lands. Spices, silks, ivory, exotic fruits (especially tomatoes), healing herbs and animal hides all flow into Ebea's ports regularly, and they have not been pricey for several decades now.
Suftic and Ebean are both dialects of a proto-language spoken by the first humans to arrive to the peninsula; they are about as compatible as Modern Hebrew and ancient Akkadian, not mutually comprehensible, but knowledge of one makes the other very easy to master. Ebean is much more commonly spoken today, as it is a much richer and versatile language.
Ebean is an agglutinative language, in which words are composed of distinguished morphemes rather than variants upon a root. It has a hard sound and staccato rhythm; like Japanese (and unlike Suftic, it should be noted), Ebean does not tolerate two consonants in succession, although diphthongs are common enough. The "i" sound is the most common vowel used. Ebean is characterized by a very precise approach to terminology, breaking down nouns to extremely exact descriptions, and is as such quite ideal for scientific and philosophical writing. While Ebean does not have different sociolects distinguishing social classes, as Suftic does, it does maintain a clear separation of pronouns regarding gender. The male words for "I", "me", "mine" are completely unlike the female words.
Suftic is softer in sound, ends most of its words on a vowel, and is much duller in its vocabulary but much richer in its grammatical forms, listing seven different tenses for the verb while Ebean lists three. A Suft's social status can be easily gleamed from their use of language, as can their age, as they have an easily distinguished "children's language". If Ebean is a natural language for nonfiction, Suftic was created to be sung. Many of the words in the two languages differ in pronunciation only.
Suftic has no written alphabet; Ebean writing began on parchment and is written as a flowing script resembling Cham script. The greatest masters of Ebean biabat sometimes dedicate years to composing poems that not only both mean and sound like the same thing, but look like it as well.
A note on names: Ebean names should be "translated" as the elves' names are, and are mostly one word or two-word combinations derived from various plants, weather phenomena, precious metals and colors never adjectives. Some select members of the colony are named Coriander, Saffron, Thunderchild, Silvercoil.
As foreign ties go, the Ebeans are perhaps the most benevolent colonialist empire that ever existed, for clear reasons. Once, the empire held the Suftic tribes in contempt; now that the Suftic conquest saved the empire, no Ebean will ever speak ill of another culture again. Intolerance is perhaps the strongest taboo in Ebean society.
The Ebeans treat the other human cultures they meet when building their colonies much as the Sufts treated them moving in, integrating, teaching, sharing, and striving to establish a union that would be better than the sum of its parts. They don't always succeed, but they try their very hardest to never return hostility only one colony to date ended up in a war, and the senate swiftly recalled the colonists all while still debating the empire's response.
"Ebea does not make war," the empire's children say. "There is enough of Ebea for everyone."
The Ebean Colony:
The colony on the land that the Ebeans call Eya-Lu-Ranat, land of rich forests, is government-licensed, composed for the most part of expert workers and their families, come to harvest the unique tree sap. Since it is not the most prized resource, the colony is small only about a hundred men and women, two dozen families made up of "half-kukotas", living in a small colonist village the likes of which the Ebeans are already experienced in building and managing. The colony lives mostly off gardens where they grow whatever Ebean crops that thrive in the unfamiliar climate, and off regular shipments from their motherland. They harvest the sap and sell it to the senate, which pays their venue in goods.
Family life in the colony is strictly regulated to make sure the population remains steady and that there are always enough working hands. The colony is not meant to be more than a trade outpost. Instead, the colonists, who are all of long-mixed Ebean and Suftic blood, live a rich communal life preserving and celebrating the traditions of the empire. The Ramat Colony is really a lot like an early kibbutz.
The colony is ruled by a senate-appointed Mata, Coriander, and a senior engineer, who happens to be her husband, Thunderchild. Theirs is the final say, although a participatory democracy is practiced on most decisions. Coriander is an impressive woman with a host of personal problems she sets aside using her hard work, and while she isn't very loved by the colonists, her husband is, and together they command a great deal of respect.