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Biqasli Ceremonial Costume

Biqas, meaning 'Journey of the Breath', is a spiritual philosophy that colours the way the Lahhei and many other communities in the northern Tunnels experience the world around them. They interpret the flow of oxygen through the Tunnels as the Breath of the Tunnels, which is forever on the move in a non-linear, but also not really circular journey. It is a journey in which the traveller is always in multiple places at once and at the same time nowhere at all.
The Journey of the Breath is intrinsically linked to the biological cycle of the forest near Lahhei. As the amount of oxygen produced by the forest varies from period to period, so does the presence of the Breath. When the forest becomes active again after its annual period or relative silence, this marks the return of the Breath. This is celebrated with a week long fertility festival, otherwise known as the Biqas festival.
A core part of this festival is the Biqasli, a symbolic re-enactment of the Journey of the Breath, expressed through a ritual dance. The dance is performed four times throughout the week, by two different dancers. These dancers vary from year to year. However, to the audience, and, in fact, also to the dancers themselves when they are performing, there is no dancer. Just a costume and a symbol. The Biqasli ceremonial costume is designed to make the wearer disappear in movement until the mask is removed at the end of the performance.

Design

The Biqasli ceremonial costume worn in Lahhei uses the same base as many other pieces of Lahhei clothing: a long-sleeved white shirt and white leggings. From there, a few layers are added.

Salanasi

A wrap skirt with a lot of splits to ensure smooth movement. From the front it looks similar to a fancy loincloth. It has the same colour as the base. The design doesn't just allow smooth movement for the wearer. It is also designed to be flexible enough to seemingly take on a life of its own during the performance, flying and dancing around the wearer's body like a set of cloth tentacles.

Qila

Two large white drapes attached to the wearer's arms (at the wrist and the shoulder), designed to spread like wings when the wearer spreads their arms. Like the Salanasi, the Qila are designed to move around the wearer during the performance. More so than the Salanasi, however, the Qila's philosophical purpose is to extend the wearer's arms and body, making it look (and feel) like they are merging with their environment. Tiny beads of light crystals are woven into the Qila's fabric, too few to make the fabric glow, but enough to allow an otherworldly shimmer in a shadowy environment.

The Mask

The Mask - the core piece of the entire costume - is designed to be as featureless as possible without sacrificing practicality. It has two eyes, six breathing holes for a nose, and a tiny rectangular mouth that is almost invisible from afar. The rest of the mask is edged with symbols all representing the Journey of the Breath. These edgings make clever use of the seams already present in the mask, as it is made of various exoskeleton parts. Its backside is made of cloth and is supposed to cover the entire back of the head like a veil.
In terms of symbolism the mask is the core part of the entire costume, meaning that, when put on after putting on the rest of the costume, it effectively becomes the entire costume. For this reason the mask must always be put on last. Removing the mask becomes the equivalent of stripping naked, revealing the wearer's true self. The mask is only removed at the very end of the performance. Removing the mask beforehand, even before the start of the performance and even for a short while, is considered a disruption of the ceremony. Thankfully there are no direct penalties for doing so. The offending party may at worst be chastized by a festival organizer or a Council member. If they are part of an artist collective they may have to apologize to their fellow artists. There may also be some nasty looks from bystanders up until a few days after the festival is over. It does tend to become a bit more insidious if the mask is removed and a Peeping Tongue happens to show up. There is no causal relationship between the two, but that doesn't stop some people from confusing correlation with causation. Especially in the early days when knowledge of the Peeping Tongues was scarce, performers were often accused of (accidentally) summoning the Tongue, an accusation that would irrepairably damage their reputation.

History and Evolution

Early Concept (10 ATC - 95 ATC)

The Biqasli performance started out as nothing more but an improvised dance, performed when different Tunnel communities came together. Most of these communities still led a nomadic life in the Tunnels, and some of them moved to the south just before the north was cut off from the rest of the world during the formation of Dreamfall. Early performances would take place in complete and utter darkness, and the dancers were completely naked, apart from wearing a filter mask since the Tunnel air wasn't always clean. Light crystals were strapped to the dancers' arms and legs to create a glowing silhouette in the dark.

Founding the first Settlements in the North (95 ATC - 200 ATC)

The dance itself varied from settlement to settlement, as previously improvised moves were turned into set choreographies. The costume still didn't have a set form yet. Resources were scarce and the first official versions of the costume were made of the same materials used to create armour and scavenger clothing - mostly leather, scales and exoskeleton parts. Although these materials allowed for smooth and fast movement for scouts, travellers and warriors, they were largely usuited for ceremonial dances, which obviously required an entirely different set of moves. The choreography was adapted to allow the use of these armour-like pieces without putting too much strain on the wearer. Early choreographies were slow and somewhat stiff and uneventful compared to the later ones.

The Shkttt and the Early Days of Lahhei (200 ATC - 310 ATC)

The founders of Lahhei were all members of various destroyed communities, banding together to survive. They couldn't find any better location than a massive cave with a lake in it, connected to one of the Tunnels' countless river systems, and an entire subterranean forest teeming with life. What's more, the cave was located close to a Shkttt colony.
The Shikttt, sometimes called silk worms, are a species of giant hyperintelligent worms that operate in hive mind clusters (the aforementioned colonies). They are known as beings of unfathomable wisdom, the type of wisdom that would kill any Elphin unlucky enough to be exposed to much (or all) of it at once. Communications between the Elphin and the Shkttt are therefore fairly shallow, but the Shkttt in this particular cave system proved and immensely valuable ally. A trade agreement was established. The Shkttt would give up some of their weave in exchange for food - any food, including Elphin corpses. This arrangement caused a revolution in the way the early Lahhei settlers made and wore their clothing. Shkttt silk is durable and very lightweight, allowing for much more comfortable movement than the scavenger garb of the past. The Biqasli ceremonial costume underwent a metamorphosis, and so did the choreography of the dance itself, giving more room for swift movement and acrobatics. It was only then when the Qila were introduced. The first Qila were just pieces of fabric, since crystal refining technologies weren't developed enough to create beads as small as the ones woven into the later Qila.

Perfecting the Mask, Evolving the Dance (320 ATC - 560 ATC)

With the consistent availability of clean air in Lahhei's caves, using a filter mask was no longer necessary. It was soon replaced with a mask made especially for the ceremony. The early designs were mostly blank, apart from the seams and patterns already visible on the exoskeleton parts used. Over time, these patterns were expanded upon, using an ever growing visual language to symbolize the Journey of the Breath. Rumor has it that these symbols were Qead, meaning 'charged' with magic, which then explains why the wearers of the mask tend to lose themselves during the performance. However, this would suggest that at some point a mage was involved in the mask's manufacturing process, and even in all those years, no mage has stepped forward to confirm this. That being said, no mage has explicitly denied it either.
As for the dance itself, performances from this period onward would take place in small - and increasingly larger - theaters. The dancer was now surrounded by multiple light sources, but the lighting was still fairly dim compared to the lighting inside for example the city's Council building. The choreography of the dance continued to evolve. At this point a steady rythm was established, which could be expanded upon and played with. This rythm would end up evolving as well moving forward.
Item type
Clothing / Accessory
Related ethnicities
Raw materials & Components
Shkttt silk, tiny light crystals woven into the Qila. The mask is made of exoskeleton parts from various Tunnel insects.
Early Design of the Biqasli Ceremonial Costume (Enthanaes, Circa 100 ATC)
Early Design 1 (HeroForge)
More recent design of the Biqasli Ceremonial Costume (Lahhei, circa 230 ATC)
Early Design 2 (HeroForge)

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Cover image: Dancer by Rain Tunison

Comments

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12 May, 2021 20:51

Great article! The entire idea of how the costume is used for the dancing rituals and it actually makes the dance invisible is just fantastic. I like how well tought out and clear the evolution of the costume was. The symbiosis with the Shkttt for the materials is pretty nice as well.   It is a shame though that nobody can see the dances :p I wonder are there also dancers that just do random movements as nobody really sees if they are performing the correct dance?

Feel free to check out my Bard Challenge article and my Worldember Overview if you want to see what I am up to!
13 May, 2021 06:47

Thanks for the comment! I really appreciate it, and I'm glad you liked it.

Also thank you for the feedback. You bring up a good point. I will clarify this next time I go over the text. It's important to note that the dance itself isn't entirely invisible, only the dancer (e.g. the person behind the costume). It is true though that some people take some liberties with the choreography. The choreography is designed in such a way that it maintains a steady rythm. As long as the rythm remains intact there is some room for improvisation. If the rythm is broken, however, people tend to notice.

Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
14 May, 2021 11:26

Nice article! I love the background behind the philosophy and ceremony and that the costume is attempting to erase the identity of the dancers. The flowing and shimmery cloth also sounds like to would be very beautiful to see in action :D It's very interesting to know the origin of the silk!   You explain that the original dances were perform in complete darkness, but I imagine this must not be the case anymore to see the light reflected off the crystals in the cloth. What kind of light are they using now? Full illumination? Or something smaller that would makes more shadows?   I love the design of the mask and the link (or non-link) with the peeping tongues :D

Feel free to check my list of WE articles.
14 May, 2021 17:13

Thank you for the comment! It means a lot! And yes, I forgot to mention that outright in the first draft, but indeed, the later performances use some outside light sources.
I added it to the article.

Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
19 May, 2021 13:31

Ooooh! Very nice hear you've added!

Feel free to check my list of WE articles.
27 May, 2021 02:21

Great article! Among other points, I like how each piece of the costume has a name and a purpose.

28 May, 2021 07:27

Thank you for the comment! It means a lot.

28 May, 2021 16:08

Lovely article :)   The designs of the ceremonial robes and the mask look perfect! I like the ethereal vibes I get from the cover image. The whole concept of the costume and how it slowly developed with historical events seems well thought out. It all mixes quite well and creates a sense of authenticity. I especially liked how the dancers disappear both visually and spiritually into the performance. It must be mesmerizing to look at.


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29 May, 2021 08:57

Thank you! I really appreciate your comment, and I'm glad you liked it :)

29 May, 2021 01:12

This sounds (and looks) beautiful, but also a bit scary!

Too low they build who build beneath the stars - Edward Young
29 May, 2021 08:57

Thank you! It means a lot.