i can’t draw for shit today!! so all you get is the magnolia sigil for a header, which is not representative of the whole culture i’m going to talk about, it is just a regional symbol for relevant characters. anyway this is the answer to unanswered question 4 in the last worldbuilding wednesday post, which was about these red spotted guys (the red spots are actually tattoos). there will be nerd lingo and bio in this as usual although i tried to make it accessible.
the story they belong to, as far as characters are concerned, is about some angry old dudes yelling at each other with a splash of plague and politics in the background, but at its core it is a story about identity and catastrophic loss. those themes run deep here. since it is a brief overview (“brief overview”—it is 2442 words) i won’t be dwelling on any of it, but i hope glossing over and simplifying things won’t be too frustrating to anyone who’s going to bother reading it.
They’re Akashi people, or Màti Te, as they were previously known. They were one of the nomadic tribes of Tida circa about 600 years ago, but were collectively loathed by all the other tribes so they were wiped out and the survivors all fled to the southern islands of Asagai. Present-time, the only evidence left of their presence on the mainland are very rude and very inaccurate mythological tales of them eating people and spurting black demon blood out of every orifice.
For example, Bahari mythology goes that they are, in fact, not human at all. They are malevolent spirits with no true corporeal form who only wish to be human, who steal corpses to dismember them and reassemble the pieces to create new bodies to inhabit. Their detachable red-marked skin binds the parts together initially, and it is shed after growing another layer of skin underneath. Injuring them will cause them to explode and rain excessive amounts of putrid blood and extra organs which they have stored inside themselves for later use. People whose bodies have been defiled in such a way will never rest, and will curse and haunt their families for not protecting them. The only way to restore their spirits is to find the Akashi who did it, and kill them. Most stories are stories in which the hero seeks revenge for a lost loved one, or that she is taken by them but manages to outwit them and escape. There are a few tragedies that portray an Akashi character as a repentant monster, but they usually turn out to be faking it, or they succumb to their basal instincts in the end.
Sudden death and seizures were often attributed to Akashi across every tribe, and occasionally strokes and heart attacks as well (especially when they occur at night). Epilepsy is still colloquially known as Màti’s curse.
There is a grain of truth to these stories. Like, for instance, some of them do bleed everywhere. Hemophilia is a fairly common affliction (specifically clotting factor VIII quantitative deficiency) and it was once revered as a holy sign. Many storytellers, people involved in religious rites, tattoo artists and undertakers were hemophiliacs, and also male, because of how the condition is inherited. This has changed since the genocide—because of population bottlenecking and loss of knowledge about how to deal with it properly, there are so many bleeders and so many people dying from minor injuries that it has gone from a divine sign to a disease state. While fundamentally it’s the same sickness with the same methods of transmission and they understand it in a secular context now, there’s still this notion that it’s been corrupted. That the connection from the condition to Batu has been severed and what used to be a sacred holy thing is, 600 years after the fact, still being used as a weapon against them, and it’s one they’re never, ever going to be able to escape. Tida has by and large forgotten them entirely, but the Akashi haven’t forgotten Tida.
The southern islands were—and still are to an extent—thought to be vile pits of death. Everyone knew there were some manner of “people” on it who were stupid barbarians that lived in stupid barbarian sedentary villages, and who hated outsiders almost as much as they hated each other. The islands themselves are small, deficient in everything useful and basically worthless chunks of land no one wanted to bother with, not even if they had the option of never having to deal with the native ogre population. So, to the Akashi, they were the best possible place to run to—it meant nobody would track them down. There might not even be actual people living there. (There was and still is. They’re Senda.)
The refugee sex ratio was extremely skewed towards males, partially because they are seen as the weaker, more fragile sex who must be protected (a product of hemophilia being an important piece of the culture) and partially because the main targets in the extermination were the women. If you cut the matrilineal lines, you cut the jugular vein, because the matrilineal lines are the ones that count. Even if the men live on and pollute other lines with the bloodletting disease you will have at least eradicated the one that made the Akashi so horrifying in the first place: a kind of healing touch. It is a tactile ability, it doesn’t work if the healer is not physically touching the body, and it only works in a small range, but it is a very powerful and precise tool that is more or less possession. A patient can be mapped and fiddled with down to a cellular level, and it is done entirely while they are awake because anesthesia is not a thing yet and messing with the brain is a difficult task that is not really worth it. It is a very strange and very invasive feeling almost like sleep paralysis, a heavy weight being pressed down on you so hard that it feels as if you are being squeezed out of your own body. Not a painful experience though, just overwhelmingly weird. Cutting into the body is sometimes preferable since destroying a large tumour with touch alone would take too much time and effort than to excise it with a knife, heal the wound and scour any cancer that might be left—the dismemberment stories were probably based off surgery they did in a time when cutting sick people open to heal them was a ridiculous idea to everyone else. The stories about sudden deaths and seizures are not misinformed because it is something that is not only within their power to do, but also fairly easy to induce. The fact that it is so easy is why no healer operates alone, there are always others watching to make sure there are no slip ups, and if there are, that it’s immediately corrected.
There is a genetic component (a single locus, autosomal dominant transmission) but it’s only expressed if a child is exposed to specific hormones in utero, which the mother would only have circulating if she was an active healer herself. In other words, you either have the potential or you don’t, and if your mother was not a healer, you probably won’t be, even if your genetics say you should. There are exceptions, some people with correct genetics and an incorrect maternal line do have the ability (it had to start somewhere!!) but they’re uncommon. General skill, however, is taught, not inherited. Children with the ability are tattooed with the red ink when they turn five, and they begin by acting as living heart monitors, watching procedures and learning to scan and compare the patient’s status with their own. If they have the aptitude they go on to specialise in certain systems (the two in this picture are liver and intestines respectively) but wound healing is taught early on to everyone. The brain (or more specifically the neuron network, supportive cells like glial cells are a different story) is a special case no one really touches because it is so hard to fully map and one wrong move could mean memory loss or seizures or worse. Unless that is what they are going for, of course. Formally, shamen shouldn’t be using Màti’s gift to purposely injure or kill other people, but they have used it in a malicious way in the past, many times. The patchwork corpse ideas are old as dirt, but the specifics of the sickness they caused only really became cemented after people started trying to kill them off.
Asagai politics at the time of their exodus were more or less complete chaos, with several warlords vying for control and no central government. They arrived in the province of Goma and into the outstretched arms of the residing warlord who offered them safety if they offered her their talents to tip the war in her favour. And they did. The Conqueror’s red sea-ghosts gained a new name and respect as healers both as field medics and civilian doctors. They also assassinated some people but that was… classified information. Until they were better established and everyone had stopped being so wary about their presence anyway, which took a few generations, so most details about it were lost. Hasn’t stopped people from writing junky unification war novels about it though, especially since it’s well known that there is Akashi blood in the direct royal bloodline. I am glossing over this a lot but a unification war summary is a long post for another day.
Presently Akashi language is totally dead, although Senda is dying too; most people now speak a creole of both, while old Senda is only spoken in very isolated, rural areas. They’ve stolen a bunch of other Tidani words, mainly to be used in an offensive sort of way—in Tida a daema is a rooted city/waypoint, in Asagai it is roughly equivalent to “wretched hive.” Their name is not even their mother tongue, Akashi was a name given to them when they arrived in Goma (and it really is derived from a real life word meaning sea-ghost and akasha, with the bonus of aka meaning red in at least two languages). Màti Te just meant “of Màti” and while Màti still exists, the reference to the Akashi as a people does not. Their religions have also merged to a degree; Senda traditionally were strictly ancestor worship while Akashi had a small pantheon of true gods, while present day Senda emphasises non-ancestor spirits and Akashi took up a lot of the ancestor stuff and let their more minor gods fall by the wayside. The only ones left intact are their eponymous salamander god Màti and the carrion bird god Batu, although Batu’s form has shifted from vulture to the more recognisable crow since Asagai has no vultures.
Salamanders were reviled by most Tidani tribes because they were connected to Màti (or an iteration of them anyway, Tidani tribes share a lot of gods) and Màti is best known as a god of disease, so they were thought to be disease vectors. And, predictably, they killed them. Tida is hot, dry and flat—terrain similar to the Australian Outback—so amphibians weren’t exactly common there in the first place, but they are in Asagai. And they are sacred here. Akashi houses have courtyard pools for them, and occasionally Senda doctors’ houses too.
Batu, another cross-culture god, is pretty much universally loved despite being the one actually attributed to death itself. No Tidani tribe buries or cremates their dead—the ground is often unsuitable, supplies for cremation are often scarce, and they are transient people anyway so graves are not really a thing—so they leave bodies open to exposure and carrion birds in a construction similar to a dakhma. As their notoriety grew people began destroying Akashi burial sites, so they co-opted the designs of other tribes’ towers to trick them, and sometimes left their dead in burial sites that weren’t their own. (Sometimes other tribes would mistake the fake ones as their own and take them over.) The problem was that while there isn’t much of a physical difference between Akashi and other people, the bodies of Akashi shamen were instantly recognisable because of the red tattoos, so when they died, their skin was taken off and hidden before they were laid to rest at a site. They DID skin corpses once upon a time, and the corpses were always tattooed, that’s one thing in the myths that is 100% accurate. Human bone jewelry is another true bit of information, the matriarchs (and women in line to become matriarchs) wear earrings made from the bones of their ancestors and they do decorate things with collected hand and foot bones that are not always from their own. This practice stopped for a while but after emigrating they have since returned to dissecting out grandma’s femurs after her death. Sky burials, however, are no longer a thing because it was considered unclean, so they now cremate like the Senda do.
Otherwise, they are still largely detached from the Senda social system. They never fully integrated and probably never will. A lot of Senda society is still foreign to them, particularly the family structure. Senda society in general is very gender segregated; spouses do not even live in the same house. Family groups consisting of women and children live in one clan house for their entire life while the sons, after coming of age, move out and into a smaller communal house of unrelated men. Daughters learn their mother’s trade, sons learn the trade of whatever house they are accepted into. They are not monogamous, either. Women are allowed to officially take multiple husbands and having kids with different fathers does not carry much of a stigma. It is expected that you marry someone and have children, and there is a choice in the matter, but it’s not expected that you love that person. You can get that elsewhere, and it’s okay if you do. Akashi have smaller, tightly knit mixed groups. Marriages are arranged by the parents and approved by the matriarchs while their child is still relatively young, between clans in different districts or towns, and when they become of age the man moves in with his wife. And in this case, there is an expectation that they are at least close and capable of raising kids together, if they don’t actually love each other (which they should). Whether it’s pressure from family or actual genetic predisposition, monogamy is the way to go and they don’t tend to stray once they are locked in, even in unhappy marriages. They are technically allowed to take more than one spouse too but it is very, very rare. Some men do end up going to Senda communal houses to learn the trade, but don’t live there.
Also all buildings are structured a lot like tulou. It’s a carry-over from the pre-unification era where bandits and invading warlords would come and raid towns pretty much all the time, so they needed to find a way to defend themselves from them, which resulted in round miniature fortresses. Post-unification buildings are more open to the outside and are more wood than stone but they are still basically circular apartments.