The Koushan Mai Ethnicity in Etrea | World Anvil

The Koushan Mai

The Chosen

The Koushan Mai are the natives of central Caia, in the lands that are currently known as Serukis and Caillah. Their oral histories have stories from the Renewal all the way to the present day.   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 Early Enervant Age
  Like the majority of other cultures, the Koushan Mai woke after 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 the early years of the Enervant Age.   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 this period, the lack of sightings in the intervening millenia has relegated these stories to legend.  
The gods that walked Etrea during the early Enervant Age 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.

  Between four to five thousand years ago, the presence of the gods on Etrea became much less common and, eventually, they disappeared altogether. 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.  
  Whilst they had spent much of the early age as nomads, 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 Dragons
  Throughout their history, the Koushan Mai have had a strong relationship with many of the dragon clans of Caia. In the early years of Vasethal, 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 Caillah
  In 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 stones repurposed for Caillan castles. The Koushan Mai temples and communities that were hidden deeper in the forests survived for much longer.  
The Founding of Serukis
  In 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.  
Current Day
We can shun our traditions to conform to society, or continue to live as we always have and be persecuted. Neither is a choice.
— A Koushan Mai
  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.

Gender Roles



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

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.
Vasethal, now Serukis and Caillah
Mokai Mai, Seruic, Caillan
Gen Mai

Languages spoken

Core Beliefs

  • 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.


  The 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.  


  The 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.  


  The 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.  


  A 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.  

Naming Traditions

  Koushan Mai individuals traditionally have three names. The first is their given name, the name chosen by their parents for them. The second name is their mother's name. If their mother is unknown, then the second name is the name of a surrogate parent or a priest at the temple who has taken them in. The third name is their clan name, with the preposition 'av' (of) in front of it.

Cover image: by Niilo Isotalo


Author's Notes

This article was originally written as part of WorldEmber 2020.

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2 Dec, 2020 08:47

This is so incredibly detailed. I don't know much about the surrounding cultures and places but i really want to.

You should check out the The 5 Shudake, if you want of course.
2 Dec, 2020 09:51

Thank you so much! <3 I'm hoping to get at least one more ethnicity article done this month.

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
2 Dec, 2020 14:49

Before I start gushing, I just want to highlight what I think is a typo- "Marriage between the Koushan and Mai " in the section about the Koushan Mai and the dragons   On to the article- I absolutely love the details that went into this culture, I love that they have a third gender identity, and I'm excited to hear more about the traditions behind their tattoos!   I'm really interested in knowing more about their relationships with dragons- how big are dragons in your world, how old do they grow? How hard is it to maintain a relationship with a dragon? Anyway, I love the relationship the two have.

Creator of Arda Almayed
2 Dec, 2020 16:16

Oops, I fixed that now! Thank you for noticing it! :D   Dragons in my world are shifters. They have both a dragon and human form, so relations are -generally- carried out with dragons in human form. They have a longer lifespan than humans, but I haven't quite worked out how much longer yet. Hopefully I'll get around to writing a dragon article this month or early next year! :)   Thank you for the lovely comment! <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
Jacob Billings
3 Dec, 2020 02:22

Ooh. Very detailed. I love the sudden contrast of "The Chosen" being persecuted in their own lands that you established within the vignette.   The reliance upon the gods, as well as their banishment, is a really interesting way to establish a purposeful change in culture. It also allows you to explore the idea of different paths of the evolution of the culture to grow as each begins to come to different conclusions about why their gods aren't returning. Maybe some far drawn away group may come to the conclusion that the god's abandoned them and the only way to restore balance is to wipe humanity clean and restart while another group pledges themselves to purity in order to restore the gods' faith in them.   I'm curious to know more about their language. Do they still use it and, if so, do all of them speak two languages as they believe they need to continue the oral tradition of their original language?   You mention relations can be of all sorts. I'm curious, is there some specific way in which surrogate parents are established? Is there a large population of children up for adoption or do, perhaps, two homosexual couples of opposite sex get together and make an agreement to have children(yeah, that's a kind of weird way, but, you never know)? Just a thought.   I like the inclusion that gender roles aren't rigid. It'd be interesting to see how their culture feels about those that don't conform to any form of gender roles, especially nonbinary or genderfluid individuals. Also, you mention the hair tidbit twice in the article. I'd say you might want to remove the mention in this section; it fits better into appearance.   Along the same line, what exactly are Ashan? You mention a lack of conformity to gender at all, but you don't mention what makes the Ashan such. I may have missed an article, however.   Great work. Cultures are super interesting as, no matter how detailed the article, there'll always be something that gets overlooked because of the complexity of human societies.

3 Dec, 2020 03:16

Wow, thank you so much for the detailed comment. You've given me a lot to think about!   Considering it's been over 5000 years, I definitely think some of the Koushan Mai are beginning to question their beliefs. I definitely have some plans for that in the future.   Regarding relationships: I actually had a paragraph explaining that, whilst relationships that create children are preferable, there is not a need for a relationship to produce children. Orphans are generally taken in by the temples, though I'm sure some childless couples also would be willing to take them in.   Thanks for the advice about the hair tidbit! I'll deal with that.   The ashan are basically any individual who does not conform to male or female. Many are genderfluid or nonbinary, but a lot of transgender individuals go through a stage of identifying as ashan too (even just for a little bit, to go through the ceremonies as it's like reintroducing yourself to your clan). They kind of present themselves as a mixture between male and female, though some leaning more to one side or the other, or some changing it up from day to day. One of their gods is actually ashan, so it is also seen as a rather spiritual thing. I'm going to write a proper article about the ashan, which hopefully will explain a bit more. I don't want to use modern terminology so it's a little bit of a struggle. Hopefully that makes it a little less confusing?   Thank you so much again. You've given me a lot to think about! :)

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
5 Dec, 2020 18:29

Absolutely wonderful work Emy! Poor Koushan Mai though, getting their temples destroyed and having their lands taken :( The way you've written about it is excellent, I'd love to find and visit a temple they had hidden deep within a forest.   Also, I love that the males decorate their hair with braids and beads and bones and such!

5 Dec, 2020 19:09

Thank you so much, Stormbril! <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
8 Dec, 2020 02:26

I love the third gender option that has choice. I am also curious about how tattoos tell a person's story. Do you have an article on that?

Author of the Liminal Chronicles urban fantasy series | vssCollab very short story prompts | Author Website
8 Dec, 2020 02:27

I have an article planned in my pledge document, so that will be coming this month! :D

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
9 Dec, 2020 14:08

Amazing writing and incredibly detailed and with a breathing history. I'm interested to know more about the ethnicity who persecuted them-- as well as why the Dragon Accord needed to be created. Thank you for sharing.

Choose your poison:   Phasmatum: An Afro-Solar-Fantasy world created for my epic novels.
Adazuri: A shonen-inspired magitech fantasy world home-brewed for 5e.
9 Dec, 2020 14:19

Aw thank you so much! <3 Yeah I've got a bunch of articles still to write. :D

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
24 Dec, 2020 04:30

I think everything I want to say has been said already, but wow what an in-depth look into an ethnicity. A complex and tragic history with spiritual mystery and cultural conflict. I couldn't ask for more to describe who the Koshan Mai are. Great work!


"I am become destroyer creator of worlds!"
24 Dec, 2020 13:25

Thanks so much, Zog! <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
7 Feb, 2021 05:51

Wow, what an amazing well-written article. It is so full of depth and the it brings the Koushan Mai to life.   I do admit I have one question I would love you to explain for me, if you would: where is the conflict of those people?   You have shown a convincing conflict about the dwindling numbers of the Koushan by the persecution of their people and religion from the outside. This part I liked a lot. But where is the conflict *within* the people? You explain a certain culture and customs they adhere to, yet also point out they give the freedom for anyone to break away from those same Koushan-defining traditions. So how is it this people remained under this one name and haven't broken up to many small groups during all those thousands of years?   Specifically with the ideas of freedom from gender roles, gender identity or monogamy - if these choices are not contested, where is the conflict that would makes them feel less than perfect. Make them feel human?   This is not to say I don't love these ideas, just interested to know where their cracks show.   In any case a wonderful read!

Let us unite against the enemies of Album!
7 Feb, 2021 14:25

Ooo, thank you. That's definitely something I need to think about and add some information about.   Thank you very much for the comment! <3

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
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