Social Structure of the Ombesh and Aummesh

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Social Classes

Ombesh society classifies each individual by the social rank, or mufan, and these in turn are subdivided by the lineage, or ifti, to which one belongs. Social classes are broad, generally recognized distinctions but do not constitute actual social groups. There are four universally-recognized classes in Ombesh society: noble, common, and country, with some variants, and the Corpseborn, a low, untouchable group at the very lowest rung of society.

Social class corresponds to wealth to a certain degree, because inheritance is largely managed through lineages and because private enterprise and capital investment are not typical ways of economic management. There are nonetheless the ordinary variations in wealth among individuals whose lineages are of the same rank - great families down on their luck, and upstarts who have made a fortune despite low birth. Social mobility within each mufan is readily possible, through marriage, adoption, or good fortune.

Lineages

A lineage, or ifti, is an extended family all of whose members trace their descent back to a known ancestor. Small lineages may be a single nuclear family, but most lineages have between 50 - 500 members at any given time, across several generations, and some very large ones may have thousands.

At the top are the aristocratic or noble lineages, all of which are descended from, or purportedly descend from, known elite figures from the Omban Empire. False assertion of noble lineage is a very severe crime, punishable by death in some more conservative jurisdictions. Some noble lineages are well-known but have no known Imperial ancestors in the care of the Voice - these are known as ‘folk’ lineages because beyond some point, the precise relations to the distant ancestors are unknown. Still, these are recognized as noble families, and some of them are very important and have massive landholdings.

Below these are lineages known as common but which, in effect, are highly well-established, often ancient lineages. Common lineages normally have numerous well-known ancestors in various parts of the former Empire, and at least some branches have access to landholdings. Some common lineages, especially in urban areas, are strongly associated with particular trades, professions, or crafts, and are called craft lineages, and in addition to any landholdings they may have, they may control the use of particular trade secrets shared only among members of the lineage, and may have a common trade mark or brand used on particular products.

Country lineages are those that, stereotypically, are local lineages within a village, poorly known beyond a small area, and with no great landholdings to their name. The descriptor ‘country’ does not mean that its members live in the countryside - in fact, many may have migrated to cities in search of work because their lineage has poor landholdings.

At the bottom are the corpseborn, the dregs of society, born to a dead mother and stigmatized to live apart from the rest of society. They are not a lineage, but a caste of people with no socially-accepted ancestry.

Any of noble, common, or country lineages can be saintly lineages - those where there is a known ancestor who is a saint. Normally when a saint emerges, any of their descendants become members of a new, saintly lineage using their forename as the lineage name. The saints themselves are named as [Forename] Ula. Marriage into saintly lineages is highly sought after, so even the mediocre descendants of saints have many suitors. This property of lineages is separate from the class system.

There are a few lineages that, in particular regions, are recognized as specifically Hulti lineages, and are likely to bring suspicion of one’s membership in the Old Folk in those areas. While there is no necessary correlation between lineage and religious belief, children normally choose the lineage of a parent who shares their faith, and Hulti often choose to be adopted upon conversion to the Corps.

Hithkindred, since they are human, do have lineages, but normally do not use them in ordinary life. Of course, their families may have a different view of their obligations than they do! In the Duchy of Nulu, most speakers of Thu Parsh, and a substantial proportion of the Ombesh speakers of the lower classes, do not use lineage names but instead use patronymics ‘son of / daughter of’ with the prefix -eng.

Priests of both the Voice and Hand do have lineages, and exercise lineage obligations occasionally, but because they do not marry and have legitimate children, and because they must attend to the spiritual needs of all lineages, do not normally use their lineage names after taking vows. The expectation of neutrality across lineages is observed more often in some regions than others. After death, priests are treated as any ancestor of their lineage would be.

Kinship and Family

Lineages are the principal social institutions through which kin relations are expressed. These are groups who all trace their ancestry through direct lines to some ancestor, usually a real person whose remains are located in a well-known temple. Lineages are responsible for the care and wellbeing of any ancestors whose remains are in the care of the Voice, as well as for various social and economic duties toward the living. Lineages hold rights over land and property, which are distributed among members in good standing.

Ombesh descent is ambilineal with a slight patrilineal bias. In other words, children can reckon their descent through two distinct kinship groups, one from each parent, but choose one or the other to be the lineage from whom their descent will be reckoned, and determining what social obligations they have. Where parentage is firm, it is normal for a child to be considered a member of their father’s lineage, and even in adulthood, most people (over 70%) are members of their father’s lineage. But if, whether by virtue of a distinguished ancestry, an unknown father, or simply by geographic proximity, the mother’s lineage is more prominent, a male or female child may well be a member of their mother’s lineage - this is not seen as abnormal, and among elites especially, is a tool for political and social mobility, if the mother’s noble lineage is more powerful. People known to be descended from saints almost always wish to use that lineage, regardless of male or female line.

Conversely, however, to be a member of a lineage one must both exercise one’s obligations towards the lineage in order for the connection to be socially recognized. One can claim anything one wants, but being recognized as a member of a lineage and enjoying its rewards is a privilege, not a right.

Marriage is, normatively, outside the lineage but within the social class. In other words, eligible marriage partners are members of other lineages, but who are of the same social class. One does not join one’s marriage partner’s lineage upon marriage - lineage is reckoned by descent only. Cross-class marriages normally allow children to assert membership only in the lower-ranked of their two parents’ lineages. Children are raised in households with both parents, where possible, and more broadly, by their lineage, who take responsibility for orphans or those whose parents are not able to care for them.

Adoption is regulated among the nobility, but is otherwise a matter for the lineages to determine. Adoption into a lineage can happen during childhood or early adulthood, but almost never after a person has married or had offspring, due to the complexities this brings for the lineage system. The children of Corpseborn are often brought into communities for adoption and treated in every respect as the child of their parents. One is normally adopted formally by only one person, not a set of parents, into whose lineage the person is then socially recognized thereafter. Inevitably adoption causes the usual and expected range of conflicts over inheritance.

Leadership

The leadership of the various Ombesh countries varies (see the Geopolitics document) but in general, power is wielded by those of the noble lineages, and thus is to some degree hereditary. Exceptions include Hasmala, where high priestesses chosen largely by merit exercise supreme authority and select the Governors; Basai, where the Chancellors are the most powerful mystics, and Daligash, where wealth rather than birth is the source of political authority, especially in the cities. Having said this, there are noble lineages in all former regions of the Empire, and due to lineages holding lands, many of them remain wealthy and powerful even where formal class distinctions are muted.

In cities and large towns, governance is generally either centralized in a single mayor, or in a council, all of whom are normally of the elite. In smaller towns, social status, personal merit, and age may combine to give an individual relative authority. Lineage elders - older members, mostly men, usually well-respected - exercise considerable authority over the lands and property of the ifti, including the right to arrange and confirm marriages. The exact structure of how power is apportioned differs from country to country - in monarchies like Taizi and Sharai, for instance, power is relatively centralized, while in Daligash, where the lineage structure is weakest, two great factions (Bronze and Ruby) of wealthy elites delegate power. These officials are invested by the state with the authority to extract surpluses from lineages and use them to fund military endeavours, public works such as irrigation and defenses, support for craft specialists, and redistribution in times of famine.

The major formal, permanent military forces of the various countries are the Sentinels, although only in Choradan is military force exclusively restricted to them. Lineages are responsible for ensuring local defense against raiders, wild animals, and occasional inter-community disputes - only when matters get out of hand does the state intervene.

The Hand and the Voice are major power-brokers almost everywhere in the former empire except in western Malfan, and also hold influence in most of Ashnabis despite the lack of political unity. Only in Khutu and Hasmala do they hold power directly, however.

Particularly in smaller and rural communities, reckoners still occupy much of the informal legal and dispute-resolution authority they have always had. In larger communities, lineages have coopted this authority by each lineage ensuring that it has one or more of its own reckoners.

Names

Most Ombesh have a minimum of two names, a personal name (forename) and a lineage name. In conversation, the personal name is all that is used, and if more specificity is needed, then the lineage is added, either immediately following the forename, or, in more formal contexts, as “of the X”. In addition, some people have a third name, a sobriquet or nickname, which describes them in some way - by profession, by some physical or mental characteristic, or by some other trait. So for instance, Anim, a member of the Gadali lineage, who is a cooper might be known as Anim Gadali, Anim of the Gadali, or just Hoops to his friends.

Corpseborn do not have ordinary lineages or family names, and normally are known by but a single name. Among one another, Corpseborn often employ nicknames that are an ironic commentary on some attribute - so the cleverest woman in town might be called ‘Knucklehead’.

Gender Relations

Gender relations are rather egalitarian though not completely so. Military leaders tend to be male, which is a significant source of power. However, the access to magic through fos, available to both sexes, and the dyadic relationship between the female Hand and the male Voice (of which the former is politically much more powerful) mitigates gender inequality throughout most Ombesh territories. Daligash, Basai, and especially Hasmala are more egalitarian, while Khutu and Taizi are highly gender-stratified.

The division of labor is muted but undoubtedly present. Of course, the priesthoods are strictly divided. Beyond that, in principle, there is no strict limitation on women or men holding any profession or role. Agricultural labour, in particular, is widely practiced by everyone, including small children. Leadership roles within lineages tend to be held by men, which means that hereditary noble leadership in both urban and rural areas tends to be held by men in most cases - this is certainly not universal, however. Whaling, practiced widely and commercially in the northern countries, also tends to be a male profession.

Subsistence and Land Tenure

The nations in the territory of the former Omban Empire are based on large-scale agriculture, primarily focusing on grain cereals, as well as maritime endeavours (large-scale fishing, whaling, etc.), and mining. Livestock are kept especially in the south (Malfan, Daligash), and traded with the Enskrai to the south. Farms range in size from single-family farms to large landholdings run by great aristocratic lineages.

Throughout the various Ombesh lands, land rights over pastures and fields are held, not by individuals, but by lineages, who distribute rights to their lands to lineage members, or collect rents from tenant farmers whose lineages lack their own (or sufficient) lands. Mining rights are similarly held by lineages although most mine workers are not lineage members, but rather members of poorer country lineages, Corpseborn, or bubun hired for the purpose. Lineages in coastal regions will often purchase their own fleets of ships, with lesser sons and daughters employed to captain them.

Economics and Trade

The standard currency of the Omban Empire, the gold horn, silver tusk, and copper fang are the three currencies used throughout its successor states - all of them mint these coins to basically the same standard, with their own aesthetic preferences and emblems. The rough accepted ratio for these coins is 1 horn = 10 tusks = 100 fangs. Coinage is widely minted and used, and the coins of other realms are generally accepted as long as their weight and fineness are appropriate. The coins take their name from a former commodity currency based on ivory. A relatively standard wage is two silver tusks per day for unskilled labour.

Residence

Most individuals live in single-family dwellings in proximity to, though not cohabiting with, other members of their lineage. Large lineages normally have stone or brick longhouses that they use for festivals, ceremonies, for educating the young, and for storing valuable goods belonging to the group. In some cases, longhouses may be used as residences for younger unmarried people. In general, providing some sort of residence for lineage members is part of the obligation of the lineage.

Ashnabis

Most of the discussion above applies, generally, to most Ombesh-speaking regions, with the exceptions noted. In Ashnabis, social difference is more muted among the Aummesh and political authority is much more decentralized.

In Ashnabis, while there are lineages of various sizes, wealth levels, and amounts of prestige, there is no formal aristocracy within the class structure, and less recognition of a distinction between common and country lineages. None of the major or powerful Ombesh noble lineages have members in Ashnabis. There are a few folk noble lineages who trace their ancestry to Ombesh leaders who stayed in the region after the Empire’s end, and these marry among one another and their social superiority is generally recognized. However, because hereditary aristocracy is not a source of leadership authority in Ashnabis, noble rank does not affect daily life as much as it otherwise would. However, lineages remain an important source of social power - one owes obligations to one’s lineage members, both living and dead, and may not marry within one’s lineage.

Local lineage leaders (often but not always male) find themselves as respected elders, local warlords, or as local chiefs whose power is roughly hereditary, though always subject to the fortunes of their lineage. Reckoners are largely independent, and enjoy enormous respect in communities that have them. Military, magical, or other personal might is more regularly a source of political power than would be the case among the Ombesh.

Ashnabis does have its own Corpseborn communities and recognizes this social category. To a greater degree than elsewhere, Corpseborn are able to ignore the restrictions on their kind, especially in communities far removed from regular trade routes.

Throughout most of Ashnabis, the Hand and Voice are worshipped, and so priests have relatively high authority in communities. However, without a strong, persistent connection with their brothers and sisters across the Filija mountains, the large, complex priestly bureaucracies of the Ombesh are not found. Temples are relatively small, and dependent on the Hand to create bubun for agricultural labour, which of course requires a supply of bodies that is not always available.