(ohng-KAH-kah-skah) : The contract that binds two together

If you look closely enough, you see: the world is held together by knots.
— Ibraim, Hohatu Caravan Driver
  Onkakaska is the elaborate currency system of knotwork cords used to track inventory and record credit contracts among Caravans.   The origin of Onkakaska as currency is nebulous. Some claim that the tradition began in the Naval Caravels, where knotwork is a commonplace skill, and was carried into The Dust as the empire expanded inwards on the continent. Others claim it almost certainly moved out of the Ni'Anman, who have their own strong decorative knotwork, and was Trued when the practice was assimilated by the Caravans who traded with and recruited their Southern neighbors. Others claim it was always a part of the desert, as a variation of the artisan cloth traditions already present in Ni'kashiga culture, and which rose to prominence as a fiscal artform during the expansion.   Regardless of the origins, the practice of Onkakaska is an artform that remains common practice among the migratory Caravans. Far sturdier than bushfruit papers, far lighter than metal coinage, and far more practical than actual inventory, Onkakaska is the dominant form of inventory and credit records for these far-ranging communities.  
Onkakaska, that? The wise merchant knows that success is a twisted line, that you wind again and again to the same places, that the lines you cast to these people are the ones that will hold you fast when the dust would have you fly away. This is why we honor the knot in this way: because it holds us fast to the places and people that matter.

Manufacturing process

Initial Manufacturing

The raw elements of Onkakaska are simple: twisted fibers, typically spun and waxed. Keepers of Onkakaska usually travel with premade threads as anticipated for the journey, and several wads of roving with which to make new threads as needed.    

Maintenance as an active record

Onkakaska are notoriously challenging to newcomers, and their care, adjustment, and reading are entrusted to elder members of the Caravans. These highly-trained specialists record not only the financial details of the caravan's journey - inventory accounting, credits and debits, and payments - but use the knots as method of detailing any potentially-crucial information that could be relevant to the trip, such as miles traveled, aspects of weather, and numerical accounts of interactions. The reading of an Okakaska lies not only in the visual details, but in the tactile reading and in the finer details of construction.  

Elements of Onkakaska

Onkakaska Proper: The Primary Rope

Onkakaska contain a primary rope, which tends to be thicker (in order to bear the weight of the secondary rope) and shorter in length, typically designed to eventually encircle and connect around the shoulders of the Knotkeeper, who may wear the Onkakaska during important trading negotiations.   Onkakaska record the entirety of a trade cycle: A caravan typically has its own primary Onkakaska - with a new one made for each new migratory route cycle - while a settlement or trade ground will have their own, documenting the past a'hu of contractual agreements and financial records.  

Thon'pa: The Secondary Rope

Secondary ropes, better known as Thon'pa or Thon'kakaska, branch out from the primary rope, each noting a particular interaction or financial record based on the color of the string used, the structure of the knots, and the direction in which they are tied. Two copies are made: one for the caravan, and one for the trade ground.   The type of fibers used to spin the Thon'pa typically encode potentially significant aspects of the general interaction (weather, conditions, miles traveled, etc), and the color of thread used generally identifies any significant parameters to the agreement: as a record, as a debt to be repaid, as a contractual agreement for futures and credits, and any other modifiers to the normal record of exchange. Particularly complex records may be thicker than standard Thon'pa, or branch off into supplemental tertiary threads as required or as the original contract is modified over time.  

Aska: The Fiscal Knot

Though the types of knots are a tactile language all their own, each with their own unique name, the general term for Onkakaska knots is Aska, sometimes referred to as Aska'kakaska. As a form of binary, the placement and type of knot (or the addition of a supplemental knotwork) encodes both the quantity of product transacted and identifies the product itself.  

Ince': The Signature Record

The end of a financial record is defined by the inclusions of Ince', or Ince'kakaska. As "marker" tabs, or carved beads made from wood, stone, metals, or even sturdy ceramics, they are affixed to the bottom of the secondary rope, with the loose ends sealed.   In addition to adding minor weight to help straighten the secondary rope for the ease of reading, these markers note the end of the negotiation, and help create a visual timeline of trade grounds, which each have their own distinctive Markers. The Ince' is provided by the trade grounds and caravan, with each receiving the Thon'pa "closed" with the other's Ince', and the marker identifies the other party with which the contract is held as well as the location where the agreement was transacted.  


The Onkakaska is especially significant among the Caravans, where it is used as a form of financial record and credit/debit currency.  

As social currency

As desert currency, Onkakaska relies not only on physical inventory and trade agreements, but on the social currency of elaborate interdependence and trust relationships that wilderness survival thrives on. It predominantly records trade between caravans, who import goods and products, and the trade grounds of settlements, who provide water and replenishment of supplies, as well as export local goods and empowerments. Because the products exchanged are largely of necessity - water and provisions - when onkakaska is employed as a system of credit and debit, should the contract of an onkakaska be broken, the consequences are dire: if one or both parties do not perish due to a lack of necessities in these harsh environments, they would soon suffer long-term consequences as either trade ground or caravan would refuse future trade invitations, effectively exiling the offenders from their supply lines.   Though they travel with the Caravans, makers of Onkakaska ultimately belong to and report to Flock Khokhatho. In this way, there is less chance of a particular Maker being swayed unfairly into deceitfulness in favor of the Caravan, and helps to preserve the trust between the trade negotiations.

Use in Contemporary Times

As the empire has expanded, the concept of the Caravan route has shifted: no longer bound to primarily Ochi O'hka, trade routes cross the majority of the Inbound Lands. As the Greater Inbound Lands have become unified under the Ni'kashiga, movement away from barter systems into standardization of Bthoga and Manzeska have replaced much of the need for Onkakaska. This being said, it is still the favored financial record of choice among caravans when noting major inventory transactions and credit/debit, for its sturdiness and effectiveness as a tactile language currency.  

Outbound Significance

  Artifacts referencing Okakaska include:
  • The Archeological Association (Modular Art Pod), 2019
  Influence for Okakaska includes:
Item type
Currency & Deeds
Owning Organization
Raw materials & Components
Onkakaska may be made from any number of fibers and wools, spun into thread, and their Marker Tabs are specialized to the Trade Grounds they represent. The final threads themselves are generally waxed, a weatherproofing that also serves to make the knot easier to tie, and less likely to slip.
The Keeper of an Onkakaska is skilled not only for their mathematical prowess and their ability to calculate transactions on the spot, but for their capacity as a fiber artisan. The Keeper must be able to spin sturdy and consistently-sized thread by way of the spindle, differentiate between fibers by touch, and memorize a variety of knots as appropriate to the creating and reading of record.   Many Onkakaska Keepers start careers within Flock K^ok^atho, where they hone their practice before specializing in the more travel-intensive career of Onkakaska.


Please Login in order to comment!
3 Nov, 2019 16:39

Your article is very polished and so in-depth!

12 Nov, 2019 17:18

Thank you! I research very thoroughly before adding aspects to the world, in order to honor the things I bring in! I hope that they will inspire others to look more deeply into some of these things, as well ^_^

15 Nov, 2019 00:21

Very elaborate! :D

19 Nov, 2019 18:31

I can definitely indulge in spending time in this world, certainly!

17 Nov, 2019 22:14

Very good article!

19 Nov, 2019 18:32

Thank you! I appreciate you taking time to comment so!

18 Nov, 2019 18:29

I love all of the exotic words you've made. They feel like they're part of a language.   I'm not exactly clear on how a knotted rope can serve as a record of sale and a currency. currency is exchanged from party to party, a record of sale is not. (or should I say, Knot?)

19 Nov, 2019 18:44

They are! Though there is a certain incorporation of "drift" (to consider how the language would have shifted over time and how it would have been affected by other cultures and the incorporation of loanwords...and also to excuse my continual growth), much of the Ni'kashiga High Tongue is based on Osage language. It is my way of reclaiming my ancestral language and activating it in a way that engages me as a speaker. Making it the dominant language of my world guides me to a more fuller understanding of the language and what it carries forward from our traditional culture, and perhaps how it could live moving ahead.   As for the bit about currency: as I see it, I'm looking beyond the idea of currency as numismatics, and rather at the concept that currency of any system (that isn't direct and immediate forms of barter, and especially in currency that may rely on systems of credit) is at its root the reliance on a system of belief. As for the record of sale, I think of these as receipts for those exchanges (especially where credit may be involved): one party gets one copy, the other gets the other, as reference points for the transaction. Looking into other forms of currencies as they show in non-Western culture give more reference points to these (such as the transfer of items that signify future obligation that are sometimes used in place of money). I hope this helps explain where I come from!

20 Nov, 2019 16:08

Oh. so you keep a copy of the receipt so you can redeem it for what you bought; basically an IOU. That makes sense.

21 Nov, 2019 03:17

Exactly! Much of early trade dealt with futures: establishing both a set price in the immediate moment while also establishing an agreed-upon production amount. So this is essentially conversing with that. ("You bring us food and wool roving now, and we can promise to produce x amount of fabric by the time you pass through again.")

20 Nov, 2019 16:19

In that picture halfway down, is the bird-person using a top instead of the spindle of a spinning wheel? I don't pretend to know how spinning threads works but that's pretty cool.

21 Nov, 2019 03:29

In a sort, yes! It's called a drop spindle, and is (to the best of my knowledge) the oldest form of spinning (as industrial wheels came later). You're basically using the physics of the spinning motion to encourage the natural tendency of wool's microscopic scales to want to grab onto itself and graft into a curl.   Drop spindles have the benefits of being much more mobile, and skilled spindlers can actually walk and spindle at the same time, which makes sense for a nomadic culture. There's some cool videos showing all the different types that have been produced through the ages for different final products when it comes to yarn/thread thickness and material. My favorite to watch is actually Dine' standing support spindles, but I can't imagine lugging one of those around the desert for any great distance!

21 Nov, 2019 03:32

Oh! To clarify: drop spindles hang in the air and spin, using their size and weight to maintain spin. Support spindles are the same, except they rest in small smooth bowls that help them to continue gliding, and are typically much smaller. Spindles like the Dine' spindle rest on the ground and are typically spun by one hand on a thigh while the other drafts the roving (the combed wool) into the thinness desired.

21 Nov, 2019 03:33

....Ha, obviously I have gotten way into this. I should probably link some of this in the citations area.