The Koushan Mai
The Koushan Mai are the natives of central Caia, in the lands that are currently known as Serukis and Caillah. They have lived there for thousands of years, since before the beginning of the Etrean Age. Their oral histories have stories of the Renewal, an age where the gods walked the world. Currently, the Koushan Mai are the minority in their once-homeland. They are a predominantly nomadic people, often working as wandering entertainers or itinerant workers to get by. They are persecuted for both their religion and their lifestyle; in Caillah, their worship has been ruled illegal and punishable by death.
The RenewalLike the majority of other cultures, the Koushan Mai woke at the dawn of the Renewal with no solid memories of what came before. There were only snatches of dreams, and wisps of collective impressions. Scared and confused, they grouped together in small clans. Unfortunately, this scrap of knowledge is the extent of the known history of the Koushan Mai during that era. Whilst there is an extensive collection of oral histories that span from this time to the current day, the Renewal was over five thousand years ago and the histories set during that time period are generally considered to by myths. This is especially true for histories that feature direct contact with their gods. Whilst speaking to deities was possible during the Renewal, the lack of sightings in the intervening millenia has relegated these stories to legend.
The gods that walked Etrea during the Renewal and before were not necessarily the deities of any particular religion. It is more likely that these gods came into contact with multiple groups of people across the continents, who created their own religions from the encounters. The similarities in certain deities across the continent of Caia, for example, support this theory.
The Etrean AgeThe Etrean Age began the moment that the gods were locked away on the Divine Plane. Like many cultures across Etrea, the Koushan Mai were left bereft. They believed that the withdrawal and absence of their gods was because of the life their people were living. This prompted great change in the lifestyle of the Koushan Mai.
VasethalWhilst they had spent much of the Renewal as nomads, in the first two thousand years of the Etran age, the Koushan Mai began to build themselves permanent homes. They called their homeland Vasethal - Land of Promise. They built beautiful temples to each of their gods, and settlements were built up around each of these temples. At the height of Koushan Mai civilisation, there were around three hundred clans that called Vasethal home. Whilst some of these clans continued to travel across the country, especially between the different temples, the majority of clans remained in the settlements, becoming custodians of the temples.
The Koushan Mai and the DragonsThroughout their history, the Koushan Mai have had a strong relationship with many of the dragon clans of Caia. In the early years of the Etrean Age, it was not unusual for a dragon clan to be within half a day's walk from a Koushan Mai settlement.
The Koushan Mai and the dragons became so intermingled that it is not uncommon for some dragon clans to practice Gen Mai, the Koushan Mai religion, as well as their own clan rituals. Marriage between the Koushan Mai and dragons was common, and in certain places it was hard to tell where the dragon clan ended and the Koushan Mai settlement began. Since the Draconic Concord of 4803 EA, some dragon clans have chosen to hide themselves amongst the Koushan Mai rather withdraw completely. This is especially true of dragon clans with a high proportion of mixed blood.
The Formation of CaillahIn 2394 EA, a large force sailed across the Eriasian Channel and landed on the coast of what is now known as Caillah. Whilst the Eriasians came with the view of conquest, the Koushan Mai laid no claim on Vasethal itself, and so, to begin with, the two cultures coexisted relatively peacefully. The Eriasians renamed the land Caillah, and themselves as Caillans. As the years passed, the population of Caillans grew and their settlements expanded. They began to move the Koushan Mai on by force whenever they got in their way. Temples and homes were torn down and the stone repurposed for Caillan castles. The Koushan Mai temples and communities that were hidden deeper in the forests survived for much longer.
The Founding of SerukisIn 3830 EA, a group of people from Kaien crossed the Teeth and founded the country of Serukis. This new country spanned the rest of the homelands of the Koushan Mai, all the way up to the Serpent, the wide river the Caillans had never bothered to ford. Like the Caillans, as the Seruic people exanded in population, they began to force the Koushan Mai out of their homes and temples. To protect the more vulnerable members of their clans, the Koushan Mai most often left peacefully, heading deeper into the forests.
We can shun our traditions to conform to society, or continue to live as we always have and be persecuted. Neither is a choice.The Koushan Mai are now the minority in their once homeland, and their numbers continue to dwindle. Most live a nomadic lifestyle, travelling from town to town and entertaining for coin. Vasethal remains in their hearts, but as a distant memory.
Some Koushan Mai are choosing to forsake the old ways and integrate with Seruic or Caillan culture. However, the majority of Koushan Mai are determined to continue practicing their religion and traditions, despite the persecution they face. There are very few temples remaining, concealed in thick forests. The others all lie in ruins, having been pillaged for their stone and treasures. Alongside these temples are permanent settlements, where the Koushan Mai are free to practice their religion and lifestyle in peace.
Men are the warriors, builders, and crafters in Koushan Mai society. However, these roles are not rigid and it is not unheard of for men to rear children or hunt for food. Whilst women leave their hair loose, men decorate their hair with myriad braids using ribbon, twine, beads, and pieces of bone.
Women are the hunters and the nurturers in Koushan Mai society. A woman stepping outside these roles, however, is not shunned; in fact, she is encouraged. Women generally leave their hair loose, though often they will put it up in a single bun whilst hunting to keep it out of the way.
The ashan identify as neither men nor women, and hold a unique place within Koushan Mai society. Often, the ashan take on roles in service to the gods, though, like both men and women, are free to take on any role they like. Ashan are usually identified in childhood, though some find themselves later in life. New ashan are welcomed to the clan with a celebratory ceremony in which they choose a new name for themselves. Whilst some ashan remain so for life, it is not uncommon for one to start to identify as male or female. This is marked by a ceremony similar to the one undertaken when they become ashan. During this, they choose a new name and reintroduce themselves to the clan.
- In the language of the Koushan Mai, their name for themselves means 'the chosen'. They believe that - if they as a people live a life that pleases their gods - then their gods will return to walk Etrea once more.
- There is no judgement after death, so death is not to be feared. Actions will be punished or rewarded in life.
- It is the responsibility of the stronger members of the clan to protect the more vulnerable.
AppearanceThe Koushan Mai are a pale-skinned people, like much of the north of Etrea. They generally have hair that ranges from medium brown to almost black. They keep their hair long; men braid and decorate their hair, whilst women keep it loose and bare. Their eyes tend towards brown and green, though blue eyes have become more common since the Seruic people came north. Many Koushan Mai have intricate black tattoos that cover their chest, back, and arms. Each tattoo tells the history of that person. However, since the persecution of the Koushan Mai has grown more severe, some clans have stopped the practice of tattooing altogether.
LanguageThe language of the Koushan Mai is known as Mokai Mai, or 'the words'. Mokai Mai is a completely oral language and does not have a written form. Currently, most Koushan Mai also speak either Seruic or Caillan, depending on their geographic location.
ReligionThe religion of the Koushan Mai is known as Gen Mai, or 'The Path'. Gen Mai is a polytheistic religion with a large pantheon of deities. Religion is closely integrated into every aspect of Koushan Mai society, and the gods are extremely important in daily life. Most Koushan Mai choose one or two gods as their guardians and focus their worship accordingly.
RelationshipsA family unit generally consists of two or three adults in a romantic relationship, plus any children they may have together. Whilst it is not unheard of for there to be four or five adults in a single relationship, it is uncommon, and more than that would be met with a raised eyebrow. When it comes to romantic relationships, gender does not matter.
by Dave Reed