The Balhe Society

Concening the Societies and cultures found on Kalieda

The Balhe Society

Postby Rik on 18 Dec 2008, 12:48

The Balhe Society arose directly from the Vreski Society of the late Empire. The Empire was always a paradox, even to its rulers and subjects. Without doubt, Vreski Society had a single political structure and cultural milieu, both of which pivoted on the existence of a rigid caste system. At the time of the Imperial expansion into the south west quarter of Ewlah, Vreski Society had become stratified into a number of major castes which rarely interacted with each other beyond formal occasions. Every person inherited their caste at birth from their mother, and would remain part of that caste until their death. There was some separation of work between the castes - for instance lower order castes were not permitted to perform higher order caste work, and equally vice versa.

Co-operation between castes was formally controlled by Imperial edict, and informally controlled by cultural precedent. Marriage between castes was (surprisingly) permitted, but was not a common occurance. Thus the paradox: was the Vreski Empire a single Society, or was it several separate societies occupying the same space and time?

The Balhe mythos contends that the Balhe Peoples were descended primarily from the Vreski Servant (or Slave) caste, some of whom managed to escape into the interior of the continent during the chaos of the 'Strife' that led to the fall of the Vreski Empire. Linguistic evidence does seem to indicate that the founders of Balhe Society mostly came from lower order castes, with few words or structures of upper caste Imperial Vreski surviving in the Balhe languages. But more recent DNA research has shown that Balhe Society has a greater genetic variation than would be expected if they had descended from just one or two castes.

Balhe Society is certainly unique among all the Societies on Ewlah, in that it is the only one to have no 'history' beyond the shores of the continent. Whatever the origins of the Society, today it can be stereotyped as a largely democratic and individualistic Society underpinned by strong social awareness - community action often plays an important, but not overriding, role in the lives of individuals.

The history of the Balhe peoples

During the late 660s and early 670s the Vreski Empire underwent a number of natural and social disasters commonly known as The Time of Strife. This included two separate outbreaks of epidemic disease - the first almost certainly a haemorragic fever (possibly transmitted sexually as it tended to cluster in specific castes), while the second is thought to have been a viral infection, possibly influenza. Alongside these calamities there was also a political change as the Emperor neared the end of his long reign, and social changes marked by religious upheaval - particularly among the lower castes.

By 671, refugees from the Strife had ventured deep into the heart of the continent, following the Taete river northwards. By the end of that year, refugees had started cultivating areas around the shores of Cebrhuu Jimizhuu. The sustainability of these cultivations was precarious, and many died during this time - all Balhe peoples have a rich store of stories and laments retelling the horrors of life around the Lake of Rotting Corpses. Even so, this didn't stop the continued influx of new refugees arriving at the camps.

Pressure on the cultivations forced the refugees to explore the river further north. By this time some organisation had been established in the camps, alongside a rough and ready rule of law, which meant that these expeditions were more organised. In 686 one expedition entered the Jasuu valley and discovered the Jasuu Oasis of Type 2 lifeforms that had survived there. Without doubt it was this discovery that saved the nascent Society from disaster, as novel plants well adapted to the valley climate were able to be easily transplanted and exploited. By 688 a new plantation - Zeluerhine - had been established below the oasis, and within 5 orbits most of the survivors had moved north. It is also at this time that the trickle of refugees dried up as the Vreski Empire entered its last, brief phase of stability.

The Ba'hadim migration

The Ba'hadim, according to legend, were Servant Caste people who had been bred by the Vreski for aesthetic and sexual pleasure - though some researchers doubt the veracity of this story, rather arguing that the various body deformities occasionally seen in the modern Ba'hadim population are due more to inbreeding and mutation. Whatever the truth is, there is little argument that a large group of refugees left the Zeluerhine Plantation in 699 and headed west, crossing the Zoiznuu Jarakizhuu to reach the interior of their continent.

The trek of the Ba'hadim has become legendary across the whole continent. For almost 10 orbits the survivors from the mountain crossing headed northwards, reaching the Froshmuu Uveson in 709 or 710 where they finally chose to settle. For the next two centuries, the Ba'hadim disappear from human history: not until 914 was contact re-established with them, by Telik explorers.
Balhe expansion

For the rest of the population, the 8th century was a time of slow and steady expansion northwards up the Taete river and its tributaries. In 708 pioneers from Zeluerhine established Ziguh'he Plantation, which in turn established Trinkolhe Plantation in 725. Swaeye Plantation, in the Frhoshmuu Kausizhuu, was established in 739; Gevile Plantation in the Nauskounuu Taetizhuu followed in 760. And in 777 pioneers left Trinkolhe and headed east across the mountains to explore the Frhoshmuu Egosizhuu: Tobase Plantation was established in that valley in 785.

If the 8th century can be seen as a time of expansion northwards, the 9th century was a time of expansion east and west. Pioneers from Gevile moved east through the Pisyuu Gevilon in 790 to establish new settlements in the Farhuu river valleys, and over the course of the next 30 orbits much of the Cuskusuufluu Cantan was explored. The Faeyen Plantation on the east coast of the continent was established in 826, and steadily grew over the next 50 orbits to become the largest and most populous plantation in the Balhe Lands.

The Istrans had chosen not to cultivate this part of the eastern coast for good reasons: the area is plagued by typhoons, making soil management and cultivation difficult at best. The Balhe settlers, by establishing settlements inland and working their way slowly towards the coast, managed to spread the risk of failure - most of the cultivated land along the coast was built up slowly, and almost all of it is terraced and cleverly drained to prevent soil erosion following a storm. During the 840s and 850s much work was done on establishing new settlements in the islands off the coast. More importantly, the Istrans made contact with the Balhe settlers in 842: from this first contact grew trade between the Balhe and Istran Societies, extending in time to include the Ambostak to the north and the Telik to the south (though Balhe traders tend not to trade with the Vreski cities that they have to pass to reach the Telik Lands).

The Jaesconesh sect and the Taete Wars

Balhe religious beliefs have always been a complex affair, mixing local superstitions and beliefs with stories of a creator. The Vreski viewed the creator as a wrathful being, though most Balhe see the creator as mostly benign, or even indifferent. One visionary seer, Ganuete, formed his god in the Vreski mould. He was by all accounts a very charismatic person, who attracted an intensely evangelical set of followers. Ganuete was murdered in Zeluerhine in 722, but his religion survived his demise, and by the early 730s the Jaesconesh sect was evangelising in settlements and plantations throughout the Taete valleys.

The Jaesconesh world view was fundamentalist in nature, and intolerant of competing spiritualist beliefs. Even so, the sect managed to co-exist with the larger Balhe populations for over a century. By the mid 840s, tolerance between believer and non-believer was beginning to break down; arguments became much more heated, and often culminated in violence. In 849 open conflict between the two sides broke out in the city of Gevile: late in that orbit the Gevile Massacre saw Jaesconesh followers take over the city, killing hundreds of non-believers and expelling many more. The Massacre marked the start of the so called "Taete Wars" - a series of un-coordinated fights, ambushes, burnings and deliberate soil poisonings between believers and non believers. The non-believer survivors of the original massacre formed militias sworn to remove all believers from the valley; these militias attracted many volunteers from across the Balhe area.

The Gevile Massacre may have marked the high point of Jaesconesh efforts to evangelise the valley, but it also marked the start of their downfall. The believers were always a minority in the general population - no more than 15-20 per cent - and once the militias mobilised against them they had little chance of winning the war. By the mid 850s non-believer forces had gained the upper hand in the conflict. In the spring of 856 the Jaesconesh were given the choice to leave the valleys forever or face annihilation. The Jaesconesh chose life, and the survivors began what they called the Journey of Terror across the Soufwhuu Mesizhuu and Zoiznuu Kulhbizhuu. Many died on that journey: the Jaesconesh themselves claim only one in ten survived, reaching the Thakluuzh Verginizhuush in in the winter of 856.

Recent history

Prior to the Taete Wars, there had been little concept of government abover the level of the settlement or plantation - each cultivated area was effectively sovereign and independent, each with its own currency, laws and system of governance. Trade between settlements, plantations and cities was encouraged, but carried a risk that traders would fall foul of the widely diverse customs they had to deal with.

The concept of the Land - a system of governance above the level of the settlement moulded to meet local needs - arrived with the Telik traders in the 840s and the Taete Wars, which saw a massive increase in cooperation between settlements, particularly in the Taete valley, provided a foundation on which the idea could be tested. In 879 the settlements and plantations along the Taetuu River between Gevile in the north and Cebrhuu Skonamon in the south agreed a political settlement establishing the Land of Taete. The experiment proved to be successful, with a massive expansion in trade throughout the valley. In 894 the cultivations east of the mountains followed suit, creating the Land of Cantage - one of the largest single Lands ever created (if one discounts the Bartekol League, which was a loose federation of Lands rather than a Land in its own right).

Rather than join these new Lands, those settlements and plantations not included in the original agreements chose to become Lands in their own right and negotiate treaties and trade agreements to give them access to the emerging markets. The settlements south of Cebrhuu Skonamon established the Land of Frhadose in 899; the settlements in the Froshmuu Kausizhuu established the Land of Meskause in 904.

News that the fabled Ba'hadim still survived, and had established their own plantation and city - Ayene - in the interior of the continent reached the Balhe in 918. In 921 an expedition from Meskause set out across the mountains, reaching Ayene in the autumn of that orbit. They returned in 922 accompanied by Ba'hadim envoys, and over the course of the next 10 orbits great efforts were made to build a durable trail to connect the two Lands together.

Trade was also burgeoning in the east, principally with the northern Lands of the Istran and Ambostak Societies. Ambostak explorers had reached the Froutiguu river valleys in the early 940s, and by the 950s land-based trade routes were opening up between all three Societies, replacing the much riskier sea-based commerce. By the end of the century the cosmopolitan city of Cancwame had grown rapidly to become the largest city on the continent. Surprisingly, perhaps, the trading language of choice between the Societies was a simplified version of Gevey, the most widely spoken of the Balhe languages.

In the west, too, there was peace and expansion as the Jaesconesh survivors began to cultivate the lands around Cebrhuu Ohnen. Contact between the Jaesconesh and the rest of Balhe Society was limited - and to this day remains strained. From the start, the Jaesconesh organised themselves into a single theocratic state - called Nuulime. The four cities of Nuulime were all established in the 870s, and it appears that the people enjoyed a peaceful existence under the theocracy for more than a century. However, the 990s saw a hardening of religious fundamentalism across the four cities, accompanied by purges of the "uncommitted". It is believed that the first victims of the purges - who escaped death - were exiled to the Froshmuu Nulimizhuu in 996, and from that time the upper Nulim valley has become the place where dissidents and heretics are sent. To all intents and purposes Frheete (as the "Valley of Exile" is known in the Nuulim language) is a separate 'Land' to Nuulime.

Fundamentalism has not remained exiled across the mountains either. The 1020s saw the rise of another charismatic fundamentalist - Mi'huede - who began his preaching in Zeluerhine and moved slowly northwards. While nowhere near as successful as the Jaesconesh, his vision of the wrathful god attracted a following of several thousand by the time he reached the walls of Gevile in 1026. Denied entry to that city, and threatened with slaughter, he continued northwards and founded a new settlement in the Froshmuu Illhon - now the Land of Illhe.
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