Sunday, October 4, 2020

GLoGtober #13: Tribe

         In accordance with the post-a-day challenge by SunderedWorldDM, whose dreams bore the Orbseeker and whose deeds send the world shuddering. 

Tribal societies are common in many fantasy settings, but are often the result of reflective depictions and stereotypes. It doesn't help that a book may simply refer to a particular society of humanoids as a tribe without any other note, save perhaps to name a chieftain.

The academic definition of a tribe is contested, sometimes hotly. For the purposes of this article, we'll say a tribe is a group of people with a common identity and social organization, but with few formal institutions or explict complex hierarchies. (Even this definition is foolishly constructed, and leaves out plenty of tribes of the world. Remember, the type specimen for "tribe" in English etymology is the Twelve Tribes of Israel.) One way to make fictional tribes interesting is to go out of your way to shirk one of the assumptions one might draw around tribal groups. 

Assumption: tribes are technologically inferior

  • This society could use items and techniques specialized to their own conditions, or access a similar family of technology as other parts of the world, or even be the originators of some central technologies held in common.
  • Assumption: tribes are nomadic

    • This society could, of course, live in villages, towns, or cities. They may even coexist with other nations, tribal or otherwise, or function as a crossroads for nomadic societies.
    • Assumption: tribes are mystically connected to the land

      • This society could simply value other things relevant to their way of living. Perhaps their fortunes depend on the sea, or are especially stable. This society may have recently been displaced or otherwise moved and act as relative newcomers to the places they find themselves.
      • Assumption: tribes are rural

        • This society could range in well-peopled areas or form those areas themselves. A tribe may well find itself in a metropolitan area, among other groups. Consider the tribes of the city of Rome.
        • Assumption: tribes are traditionalist

          • This society could have been recently formed or transformed into its current state, for some useful purpose. It might frequently develop new techniques or syncretically pick up customs from others.
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