Griot

The Living History of Tikor


The memory of Tikor lies within the heads of the Griots. Their duty is to recall the tales of old to inform people of the new.


 

Overview

 

Oral History

Remembering the events of the past isn’t a simple matter for the citizens of Garuda. The retention of history is something that is taken seriously by nearly all in the evergreen nation. Written history sometimes doesn't convey the whole story of the past. Writen works can be manipulated and changed as time passes. For a nation with a history as long and storied as Garuda's, keeping the record honest means something. It's this love and appreciation of history that gave rise to a unique form of Divination, one capable of preserving history through humans themselves. This led to a type of Diviner skilled in retaining the totality of an event, one with the ability to recall it perfectly and accurately. This is what a Griot is, the ultimate historian and oral storyteller. While written history is still considered an important component of education and understanding, no written book can match the breadth of detail in a Griot’s memory.

 

Ring Origins

The history of the Griot begins with the formation of Garuda itself. When the Ring of the Chosen came together for the first time, the nation would be formally founded. After Nzinga Ludan braved the The Eternal Flame and became recognized by the gods as ruler of Garuda, The Divinity, everyone there knew this was a momentous occasion. One of the Chosen who witnessed this was a See'er by the name of Ballanore Fesseke. Later on, Ballanore was asked about the legendary event and was able to recount it with perfect detail. The clarity of her recollection was unlike anything the Ring had ever seen before. The newly-crowned king was especially interested in this unique ability. Ballanore told, with great flair and detail, her role back home in the Adras Mountains. She was a Griot of the See'er. An oral historian with Hekan enhanced abilities to memorize and catalog real-life events. King Ludan asked for Ballanore to be his counsel to chronicle the events of the new kingdom, starting what would become a steadfast tradition for The Divine Order of the Phoenix.

 
I think every kid grows up with this fun, fictional version of a Griot in there head. Half grade school teacher, half storyteller. Then you get older and realize they're actually the world's most annoying gossiper. Now I tell the young'uns two things about them. One, if they're in your town they know your business. And second, so does everyone else now.
— Unknown

 

King's Court

Ballanore was hesitant at first and nearly rejected the proposal outright. Griots had a code that they adhered to. They couldn't be bought for political means. A Griot will remember all history, regardless of whether the participants like it or not. And if asked, they will divulge their information freely. Nzinga Ludan reaffirmed to the Griot that impartiality was what he wanted. It would be essential to ensure a true and clean record of the fledgling Garuda and The Divine Order of the Phoenix. This tradition would be something that could be passed along to generations to come. Ballanore agreed under a few conditions. The first being that neutrality in recording and presentation of history be maintained, no matter what. The second was that Ballanore would not be serving the king, but the nation. This would still put her at the side of the king, but it made clear where her loyalties lay. It is said that the bold and firm requests brought a smile to the newly-crowned king's face. It was a true display of neutrality, even at the bargaining table.

 

Truth Above Loyalty

While Garuda, and even the Order, venerate the keepers of history, they do not belong to any one nation or faction. The code of the Griot demands impartiality and total freedom. While they are more than eager to recount the annals of history, they do so for the sake of knowledge, and never for naked power. Many a king has been shocked when his boastful claims have been spoiled by the song of their trusted Griot. When it comes to recalling history, a Griot never lies. Their loyalty rests with the truth, and only the truth. While they may not be privy to every hidden detail of a situation, they always retell their stories with every detail they have witnessed, regardless of the reputations of those involved. This has solidified Griots as having an unbiased view of history. This is the reason why most Griot only ever serve one king or Nation. Their knowledge is invaluable to them and potentially dangerous in the hands of enemies.

 
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Karu Dinner Party by Sabina Lewis/Swordsfall Studios

Where there's a party and nobility, there are Griots nearby


 

Keepers of History

While the origin story of the Griot often starts with the inception of The Divine Order of the Phoenix, their origins actually run deeper. Every civilization has its own Griots and has had them long before the name Griot was used for all of them. However, no one has as long and storied a history with the profession as The See'er. These oral historians have been used for eons to chronicle the knowledge of their deities, the Pangool. Unlike the rest of the divine beings around Tikor, the whole Pangool pantheon is not corporeal. These ancient beings can only be contacted at their personal temples, which are hidden throughout The Outer Steeps. Using their knowledge to find the next Temple is the long term goal of the See'er. The more advanced Griot Hekan abilities have dramatically helped them with that goal.

 

Worldwide Tales

Griots are one of the few professions that can be found across the globe. Every nation, town, and organization has a use for chronicling. The neutrality of Griots has even allowed many to move around and collect history from conflicting parties. The historians have no interest in personal squabbles or alliances. Their only interest is the history of people and the stories they weave. Over time, having a chronicler in an organization shows its legitimacy. It shows that the work they are doing is important to history and that it's something worth preserving. Especially among the rich and powerful, having a Griot around is considered a requirement. Most will form contracts with a Griot to keep their children's history if they die. No matter where you go on Tikor, a keeper of history isn't far.

 
A King brings their Griot to every encounter. A wise King brings their Griot to every victory.
— Karu Proverb

 

Regional Training

While Griots originated with The See'er in Garuda, the method for becoming one varies from region to region. The independent organization for the songbirds, The Arbiters of History, don't run an organized school. The core belief is that history needs no teaching. All it takes is a willing and open observer, someone who wants to know the heart of every story. A soul that yearns for truth and seeks the details will learn all they need to know. How a Griot chooses to recite history is up to them. Where you live usually dictates the form of recitation used more than anything else. The most common form of communication is, and will always be, plain speech. Sometimes events of the past are straightforward in this way. Other times, truth comes via the sting of sarcasm or the parody of song. Griots are not required to regale the stories with emotional neutrality. A song has a heart and the best story resonates through emotions.

 

Independent Council

While Griots can range in temperament from jovial to calculating, their devotion to history is always singular. As the oral historians began to increase in number around the world, a council formed. The elder Griots, which were a part of the covert intelligence group, The Eyes of Garuda, formed the head of the Arbiters. While some outsiders worried about the cross over, none of the Griots themselves had issues. They knew more than anyone how seriously they took their oath of truth. It's through this council that Griots share information and ask for assistance on the few occasions where knowing the truth puts their lives at risk. Cities and towns without a Griot will often appeal to the Arbiters in the hopes that one might be sent their way. The Arbiters of History wear many hats, but all in the service of an untainted history.



Power of Song

 

The power that Griots wield is called the Power of Song. They're able to use lyrics and melodies to perform divination. The instrument used doesn't matter as long as the Griot is physically able to play it.


Perfect Memory


The most basic element of the Power of Song is the Griot's ability to recall every aspect of a moment. Where the normal mind has gaps in attention and subjective grey areas, Griots remember every detail as they happened. Even implicating or embarrassing information is recalled in this process. Any event they were there for is cataloged using all of their senses. Sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing are all recalled. Even the time of day is perfectly remembered. They retain it all and recount it at will. With practice and time, Griots can apply this to the material they've read or watched as well. Not just as an observer, but as a participant. A talented Griot can faithfully recount a historical event they've only studied in books, but with such detail that you would think they were there.

Master of Instruments


The spoken word is the most common tool of the Griot, but it's not always the most effective. Humans have long had a special relationship with music, and it is something that they are very tapped into. Human history contains songs and music as well as stories and prose. Because of this, the songbirds can play almost any instrument they pick up, without practice. They can then combine the instrument with the Power of Song to deliver the effects musically. A song becomes a walk down memory lane or a musical journey that tells a story. For many people, the image of the story plays in their heads like a vivid memory. Garuda has several famous tales of Griots who were able to quell whole armies with the power of one deep and rousing song. More than once, rousing empathy in the invading army has caused them to ultimately retreat in shame.

Inspiration Songs


  For a Griot, history is more than just a dry recounting of past events. It is also about reliving the moment and connecting to the feelings of the time. No song connects quite as much as one that rallies your emotions and ignites your soul. A talented Griot can strike raw inspiration in listeners. They not only tell the story, but inspire listeners to their core. Grimm Griots are famous for leading caravans of people to the tune of their kora. This effect is more than just mental though. The affected often feel physically empowered as well. The songs of the Griots can increase their strength, speed or sometimes both. The human mind is part of the key to using Hekan, and the Power of Song can help unlock part of that. Inspiring people in this way can lead them to their full potential.

Musical Manipulation


While a Griot aims to stay neutral, there are times when even they have to be deceitful. Crafty Griots can weave their songs to manipulate emotions rather than inspire. Instead of the music washing over the person, the Power of Song pierces them, bringing them along for the ride. A calm person can be turned into a mess of rage as the song riles up their emotions. The story of the song helps them to justify brutish behavior. Or it can do the opposite. A Griot's song can put someone to sleep during the height of anger. There is, in essence, no limit to the emotions that can be swayed as long as the Song can be heard. It's a fearsome ability, and one that often garners distrust in the people around them. It's a secret weapon Griot carry with them, and use only when needed.

Perception

Social Status

Griots sit in a strange position of being highly respected and feared, often by the same people. Their unique abilities make them sought after by almost everyone, including the rulers of nations. In a way, this automatically puts them in a vaunted social position. Having so many people and entities vie for your attention gives the Griot social power. They get to dictate where they want to be and who they want to be seen with.

Conversely, there are just as many powerful people who have something to hide, and nations with secrets they don't want to be recorded. This will always keep a Griot from ascending too high in social circles. According to many of the songbirds, this is more of a benefit than a drawback.

Operations

Tools

For a Griot, there is no tool quite like an instrument. While there are hundreds of different musical instruments on Tikor, most Griots tend to favor four specific ones, the kora, the goje, the balafon, and the xalam. The unique sounds they make have become synonymous with the singing historians. You can tell a bit about the Griot by the instruments they favor.



The Kora
This is the primary instrument of the Griotsw. It is a 23-stringed instrument that is plucked to make a note, and it is thought by many to be the precursor to the guitar. Superficially, it carries many similarities to a harp, and early on it was jokingly called a "Walking Harp". It has several optional pieces that can be added or removed to adjust the pitch and melody of the instrument. This unique design allows a Griot to play a wide range of sounds. The kora is most commonly used alongside singing or spoken word. It's popularity often overshadows the skill it takes to not only play, but even to tune the highly-variable instrument.

The Goje
A goje is a type of violin that comes in two different styles, some being one-stringed and others two-stringed. Both have the same trademark gourd-shaped body with the strings connected over a bridge. Unlike a kora, the string isn't plucked. Instead, it's played with a bowstring. The sounds that come from the stringed instrument seems to cut right to the soul. This is the instrument many Griots use to manipulate the emotions of their audience. When Griots gather in groups, a goje is sometimes paired up with a talking drum to create a full arrangement.

The Balafon
Of all the standard Griot instruments, the balafon is the only one that they can't actually take with them. A balafon is a 21 key long instrument that uses special gourds to produce an amazing sound. While it looks similar to a xylophone, the gourds that make up the sound are arranged in a precise way, making transporting the instrument an ordeal. For special occasions, however, they will make the effort to haul it out. This has also made seeing Griots in a formal setting a special event. The thudding ring of a balafon can't help but inspire people to their feet to dance. Or march, as the occasion calls for.

The Xalam
The final instrument used by the Griots is one that often carries considerable punch. A xalam is a small, oval-shaped, lute-like instrument that can have anywhere from one to five strings. It's strummed with one hand while being held with the other, much like a lute or guitar. However, the small and specific shape of the instrument produces a uniquely soft yet sharp sound. It's to this tune that Griots will often shape their most witty narratives. When this is played to a crowd, this is often at the expense of whichever poor soul is the subject of the tale. When people hear the first strums of a xalam, they know a witty but true tale is about to commence.

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Magic Off by Tumo Mere/Swordsfall Studios

Griots Eyes Only Glow When They Recall the Past

Qualifications:
As any Griot will proudly declare, anyone has the potential to become one of them, but few are actually capable of doing so. The Power of Song isn't taught, it's picked up independently. It's an ability one has to earn. The skills of a Griot are born from a thirst not only for knowing history, but also for sharing its lessons. That sort of fire comes from within. Eventually, it leads most to learn from another Griot. The rest is about your willingness to study hundreds of years of history.

Legality:
The songbirds live in a strange area outside of the law. They aren't trying to sell anything or cause harm, so no real regulation is needed. They simply want to observe, record and share the truth of a situation. The weight and importance this task carries protects most Griots from local laws. As long as they aren't trying to enact bodily harm, The Power of Song is always allowed. And more often, it is explicitly needed.

Payment:
When a Griot works for a city or government, they are rarely paid for their services. Instead, the oral historians are given free room and board. Some people will try to compensate them with gifts, trinkets, and precious metals. However, these gifts are almost always returned. Griots don't want it to seem like their songs can be bought, and they often avoid any payment that exceeds what they consider to be living expenses.


Cover image: Griot by Tumo Mere/Swordsfall Studios

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