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II.ii. The People of Zakhara

Zakhara is a true melting pot, populated by men and women from a myriad of races. Generally speaking, Zakhara lacks the racial prejudices of less civilized realms. Zakharans do not allow the brutish and crude actions of a minority to color their opinions of the larger group. Lifestyle, not race, defines and divides Zakharans.

In the Land of Fate, people fall into one of two broad groups: nomadic or settled. The nomads, or Al-Badia (ahl-BAH-dee-ya), are those who dwell in the hostile deserts of Zakhara. They are tough, loyal to their blood-relatives, and constantly in search of basic necessities: water, food, and grazing land for their herds. The need for trade brings the Al-Badia into contact with the "other half" of Zakhara's culture: the Al-Hadhar (ahl-HAH-dar), whose lifestyles are based in and around settled communities. Those who are permanently settled -- the people of the towns and villages who never move from their dwellings, are not Al-Badia. Artisans, merchants, craftsmen -- all are Al-Hadhar.

Al-Badia and Al-Hadar are different, but like two branches of a tree. They share a common culture, language, and code of ethics. They prefer to judge a person on his or her merit as measured against the basic beliefs of honor, family, hospitality, purity, and piety. Al-Badia and Al-Hadhar coexist peacefully because both groups understand and respect these same beliefs.

Honor is a cornerstone of Zakharan society. Every Zakharan is driven by the pursuit of honor and the prestige that it brings. Honor is made up by a person's character: is he honest and virtuous? Is he generous and kind? Is he loyal and brave? Every action affects one's personal honor and that of the family, as well. If a person acts dishonorably, the offense may stain the family's honor such that its memory lasts for generations. For every insult or injury to a person's honor, restitution must be made. The required restitution varies by the severity of the insult or injury. For a minor insult, an apology may be sufficient. Greater offenses, such as theft, may require huge monetary payments and loss of the offender's hand. Murder and amorous impropriety are generally the only offenses that warrant a punishment of death for the offender. In such cases, the offender's family will often carry out the sentence in order to remove or reduce the stain to the family's honor. By performing the deed themselves, they can restore greater honor to the family.

Blood Feud: To kill another person is not a crime if that killing is justified. However, disagreement between two groups on what is justified may lead to a blood feud. When one group believes that a killing was justified but the other group, who has just lost one of its own, disagrees, a viscous cycle of vengeful killings may ensue. The mediation of a third party is often the only way to resolve the conflict, allowing an honorable way for both parties to end the killings with a monetary settlement.

To Zakharans, a family is precious and irreplaceable. Even in the afterlife, a family remains intact, proving its strength as well as its importance. Material wealth is transient, but the bonds of blood are eternal.

Each person exists within the circle of his or her immediate family which spans all surviving generations. That family in turn, lies within a larger circle of cousins and uncles and aunts. Beyond that lies a third circle of relatives, one step removed,and then a fourth, like the rings which form around a pebble tossed into a pool. These circles create a person's identity. Man or woman, boy or girl, an individual is nothing without the group. The rights of the family therefore, must supersede the rights of any single person within it.

Zakharan families are typically lead by men. A father is in charge of his unwed daughters, his sons, and the families of his sons. In the villages, a son often lives with his father in the paternal home until he is well past 30 years of age. If he marries, his wife joins the crowded household and becomes part of her husband's circles. Although the new bride's position has officially changed, her brothers often continue to watch over her. If she divorces, she will return to her immediate family, taking up residence with her parents or siblings. Blood ties can never be broken.

Zakharans value large families, and they welcome the birth of each child. Eventually, of course, a paternal home can hold no more people. When space becomes scarce and a family can afford to build a new dwelling, a son will leave his paternal home and start anew. Rarely will he leave his ancestral village or city however.

In the desert, tents replace houses, but the customs are similar. A nomadic patriarch typically has the largest tent among members of his immediate circle. He resides with his wife (or on occasion, his wives) and his unmarried children. His married sons live in smaller tents, which are nearly always pitched nearby.

Because blood ties are so important, loyalty to one's family is tantamount to Zakharan law. First and foremost, a man's loyalty is to his immediate family. As noted before, his actions, for better or worse, will help define the honor of that family. A woman follows the same code. Loyalty next goes to the larger circle if, for example, a man is wronged and asks for help, his cousins are honor-bound to assist him, provided their actions would in no way dishonor their immediate families.

Honor and kinship are two golden threads in the fabric of Zakharan life. Without either, the fabric unravels.

In the Land of Fate, generosity brings honour, while stinginess spawns contempt. As a result, Zakharan hospitality is unrivalled. According to Zakharan ethics, a man must offer food and drink to anyone who appears at his doorstep as a friend, no matter how poor the host may be. In her husband's place, or when receiving female friends, a woman must do the same.

If a guest comes to the door at night, a host must offer lodging as well as sustenance. A wealthy host may also offer entertainment. such as the dance of a talented servant and perhaps even a gift. The obligation -and desire -to offer hospitality is as compelling as any personal need. A nomadic tribe whose food stuffs are nearly gone may avoid a busy oasis even If their water stores are equally low. The tribe would rather know thirst and hunger than be unable to offer hospitality to the strangers at the oasis.

A host assumes responsibility for the well-being of his guests. Whether a man lives in a goat’s-hair tent or a lavish house, his honour depends on how well he treats those who place themselves in his care. For this reason, guests can expect safety as well as sustenance, even if they once were the host's enemies. Arsenic and other toxins are easy to obtain in the Land of Fate, and poison is a common way to eliminate foes.

Nonetheless, once foes become guests -and share the bond of salt- even theycaneatheartily, expecting the host's protection as well as his friendship. In turn, the guests are expected to act as loyal friends, never overstaying their welcome, and never overstepping the bounds of good behaviour.

"The [Al-Badian] is generous and hospitable. Those are his most important qualities. He is also brave, but then bravery and generosity are almost the same thing, because when you are poor you have to be very brave to give away even what little you have. If your family depends for its livelihood on twenty goats, it is very hard to kill one to feed to a guest, but that is what the [Al-Badian] would do. No one would be turned away from his camp, not even an enemy. If anyone stole from the guest or did him any injury under the host's roof, the host would avenge the insult for the sake of his [honor]."
-- The Last of the Bedu by Michael Asher

The Bond of Salt
The salt bond epitomizes Zakharan hospitality and the mutual responsibilities of host and guest. When a guest ingests salt from a host's table, their bond becomes formal. Presumably, the salt remains in the guest's body for three days. Until those three days elapse, the host is responsible for the guest's welfare. By offering the salt, the host vows to protect the guest from harm for the duration of the salt bond.


In the Land of Fate, purity may be a man or woman's greatest virtue, at least publicly. A foreign lothario, condemned for his actions, may point to the harem (or harem) as proof of Zakharan "hypocrisy". In point of fact, very few Zakharan men have more than one wife. But even the wealthy sheikh with a harem is technically married to every woman whose unveiled face graces his bedchamber. Furthermore, a man and woman may divorce readily, and find new spouses, with no stigma attached for anyone. The fact that a sheikh or king is married to a particular woman for only a few weeks or even days implies no impropriety for him or for her. Long or short, a marriage is sacred in the Land of Fate.

Zakharans believe their own culture is more civilized than that of their "barbaric" neighbours. Certainly the Zakharan concept of purity is more complex. Throughout the Land of Fate, purity means avoiding all unnecessary physical contact between a man and a woman unless they are married however inadvertent or innocent that contact may seem.

Every honourable Zakharan woman would extend her hand to help a wounded man. But almost none would shake hands with a man who is newly introduced, lest he assume her improper or be violently tempted by her charms. Instead, a simple nod is the proper greeting. In strictly religious areas, even a flirtatious glance is considered a sin. At the very least, a man who openly casts fiery glances at an unmarried woman has paid her an insult rather than a compliment. Her brother or father would be perfectly in the right to demand some sort of retribution - from a public apology to a gift of many camels, depending on the woman's stature and the amorous man's audacity.

In a world where strength of character is exalted, Zakharans have a peculiar belief in every man and woman's underlying weakness where matters of the heart are concerned - It's for this reason that many women wear veils and don robes that conceal the shape of their bodies, it's also for this reason that a few groups require men to do the same - that is, to cover their bodies and the lower half of their faces whenever they're in public.

Not surprisingly, eyes, hands, and feet have become important objects of beauty in the human (or even non human) Zakharan form. Women line their eyes with kohl. Some tattoo their foreheads with a simple pattern. Others may decorate their brows with dots of henna, a natural dye which may also redden their nails. Bracelets adorn their wrists and ankles.

Believing that even eyes and hair create too great a temptation, some sects in the land of fate require woman to don an opaque hood whenever she's in public, concealing her entire head. The cloth has many tiny holes over the eyes, allowing her to look out, but preventing others from looking in. The rest of her body is completely engulfed by voluminous robes that sweep the ground.

Purity is also the basis for the seclusion of women, a common practice in the Land of Fate. Whether home is a tent, a mud brick house near an oasis, or a grand palace, it usually contains separate quarters for women, an area where no grown man but a husband may venture (and even then, he typically asks permission as a courtesy). The degree to which a woman must remain in these quarters varies. For instance, the laws of Zakharan hospitality require a woman to act as a host in her husband's absence, serving an honoured or needy guest who comes to their abode by offering coffee or food. Were her husband to appear later, she might politely retire to her quarters. Although foreigners might view seclusion as a prison, a Zakharan woman often sees it as her privilege as well as a sanctuary.

Religion is a way of life among people in the Land of Fate. If it seems that the codes of conduct described so far are pursued religiously, it's because they are. Honor is also a matter of piety, of behaving in the manner deemed good and right by those who rule the heavens, those who will determine whether you are worthy of finding paradise in the after life. A dishonorable man, it is said, is never worthy of this great reward.

Zakharans accept people whose religions are different. In fact, there are a great variety of faiths throughout the Land of Fate. Yet Zakharans find it exceedingly difficult to accept anyone who does not believe in and pay homage to some higher power. To believe in other gods may seem strange, but it is not a sin. The sin is believing in nothing.

Major gods, recognized throughout Zakhara, include Old Kor, Learned Zann, Brave Hajama, Najm the Adventurous, Selan the Beautiful Moon, Jisan of the Floods, and Haku of the Desert Winds, and Hakiyah of the Sea Breezes. None of these gods has a precise portfolio. Instead, each shows strength in a particular ideal or element, wisdom, knowledge, bravery, courage, beauty, bounty, freedom, and honesty.

Zakharan deities also include a plethora of lesser gods, local gods and demigods. Such minor deities may be venerated in one small area, while they are unknown just ten miles away. All gods, major and minor, answer their worshippers' needs with equal ability.

Respect for Authority:

© 2000 - 2004 Jonathan E. Bauder. All rights reserved by owners.