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Zabak'Taârr (za-bak-TAHR | /zabakˈtaɑr/)

"Rite of the Warrior," an Orcish coming of age

As seen in
The clan leader studied him with those intense blue eyes again. “Something you said a couple of weeks back finally registered with me. You said that you came to Elatha for the first time just before the attack on our beach. Do I remember this correctly?”   “Yes, you do, sir.” What had he missed?   Dorin and Olaf exchanged a glance. “So where did you do your Zabak'taârr then, lad?” the zabû'kùzà asked.   Zabak'taârr? What in the Void was that? He thought quickly. Zabak was related to zabu, which meant “holy, sacred, or taboo.” He seemed to recall that it translated to “rite” or “ceremony,” but he wasn’t a hundred percent certain of that.   Taârr, he knew, was “warrior.” Were they speaking about some kind of rite of passage? “I haven’t, my lords,” he admitted.
To Know Your Enemy by Diane Morrison
  A Zabak'taârr ᛎᚨᛒᚨᚲ'ᛏᚨᚫᛨ is a rite of passage that every Orc male is expected to undertake. Translating literally as "rite of the warrior," the Zabak'taârr is an ordeal intended to initiate a boy into the adult male community. It is typically undertaken when a boy reaches the age of about 16. There are many variations depending on culture, clan or tribe.

History

Most orc tribes have long had a rite of initiation for their young males, before expecting them to undertake all the responsibilities of an adult male in the community. While there is considerable variation, there are certain common threads. The Balorians have added their own cultural twists to it, making use of the herbs and natural landscape of their homeworld Elatha.

Execution

Korin led Shaundar past his quarters, where he gathered up several jars in a leather sack, and down to the beach.   “Strip to your skivvies, Bolvi.” Uncomfortably Shaundar obeyed. “Cleanse yourself in the salt water.” Shaundar started scrubbing dutifully. Korin did the same. Back on the beach, they wiped themselves dry with quick passes of their hands.   “Here, take this.” Korin tossed him one of the jars, which he caught. “Cover yourself in it. You’ll need it for the damn bugs! And don’t forget your bits, Bolvi. Trust me, if you do, you’ll regret it!”   Shaundar opened the jar to find green ochre... Korin was rubbing the green-pigmented mud and oil mixture over his olivine skin. Shaundar followed suit.
To Know Your Enemy by Diane Morrison
  An Initiate is taken to a place of cleansing by their guide (ᚡᚨᚻᛞᚭᚲ "valldõk" in Orcish. ) The participants then paint themselves in ritual body-paint, or don other ritual regalia. The "regalia" is always basic, at the most including a few feathers or pieces of jewelry, because by tradition, the orc males must go forth on their rite naked, or in the most basic of clothing, such as a loincloth. This represents a symbolic rebirth, and the understanding that the Initiate is leaving the everyday realm and coming under the gaze of the gods.  
As the delegation approached, the chanting increased in intensity. Some low drones mingled with the hoarse male voices. It resonated on a primal level. Shaundar wondered if a spell was being cast.   They came to where Shaundar and Korin were standing on the beach, covered in drying ochre. The drumming and chanting abruptly ceased. “You’re in for it now, lad!” roared Dorin, chasing it with a booming laugh. He was seized by his arms and his legs and dragged through the sand.
To Know Your Enemy by Diane Morrison
  The Initiate will be seized by the other adult males of their tribe or clan, and through some form of ritual kidnapping, are taken to the ritual site. This might involve blindfolding the candidate, carrying him, forcing him to the ritual site by spearpoint, or even a symbolic (but physical) beating. This symbolizes that childhood is over, and the responsibilities of adulthood have now come to seize the Initiate, whether he is ready or not.  
The tribal males dumped him at Elka Bloodfist’s feet.... “Welcome, Bolvi,” she said with a smirk. She shook a bone rattle over his head, clutched in her impressively long, red-lacquered claws. “Welcome to the ancient mysteries of our people!” She began to toss crumpled brown lumps of something onto the fire. It plumed acidic grey-green smoke.   Instantly his vision and hearing sharpened. He noticed movement in the foliage, a shade of green from the sunlight that painted the edge of the jungle leaves in a way he had not previously noticed, and the metallic sounds of birds and insects, all of which were strange to him. Beneath the overwhelmingly green scent of the jungle he could smell the sweat on his own body and hers—though hers was not at all unpleasant—and he could swear that he heard both of their hearts beating. His heart rate was more rapid than hers and he tried to make it calm down.
To Know Your Enemy by Diane Morrison
  The Initiate is presented to the women of his clan or tribe, and especially, the Den Mother , the senior tribal or clan priestess of their Goddess of Creation. Among the Balorians, this is always the senior priestess of Cethlenn, the Den Mother.   Usually, the Initiate and his Guide is then exposed to some mind-altering substance intended to heighten his senses. This might take the form of various narcotics, mild hallucinogens, immature Star Mushroom spores, or, on Elatha, Witch's Eye . The purpose is to aid them in their Ordeal, so they will not be exposed to enough of the substance to cause severe intoxication. The purpose is also to make them aware of the spiritual realm, but not to the point that it would become a detriment to survival.  
Korin fell to his knees beside Shaundar. The priestess dipped her fingers into another pot like the ones they had left on the beach, and painted a red ochre symbol onto Korin’s clean- shaven cheekbone. It was the rune for the goddess Cethlenn, Shaundar recalled from training...   “Sit up, Bolvi,” he was directed by a familiar feminine voice. The sound of it, enhanced by whatever they’d thrown into the flames, ran chills of longing over his scalp and down his spine... Y’Anid reddened the tips of her own fingers and drew what felt like the same symbol on his cheekbone.
To Know Your Enemy by Diane Morrison
  The Initiate and the Guide then receive the blessing of the goddess from the officiating priestess. This may be given as a mark or symbol, a protective amulet, or a symbolic gesture such as a kiss.  
Olaf Bloodfist roared, “Hear the wisdom of Elatha!” In his state of heightened awareness, it was loud enough to resonate through his head like a temple bell. He snapped his gaze to the greying Balorian with a start.   The zabû'kùzà closed his single eye and began to recite with a poet’s training in rhythm and meter...
To Know Your Enemy by Diane Morrison
  The presiding shaman or priest then speaks about how Balor , creator god of the orcs, has given this ritual to their people to mold them into better warriors. The words vary, depending on location, tribe, clan, and circumstance.  
“But we have not forgotten the words of He-Who-Watches! So as our ancient ancestors did, we send our sons into the wilderness to prove themselves and their right to be warriors. We send them to face the dangers of Elatha with only their bare hands, as the Founders faced them. And only those who return from a successful hunt may be recognized among us as warriors, and only warriors may carry on their line.”   The Balorian priest leaned over Shaundar ominously. His one blue eye blazed like a star. “The wilderness is fearsome and heartless, Bolvi,” he warned. “It will have no mercy. But I shall. Do you wish me to cleave your head from your shoulders here and now, rather than face death or defeat in the pitiless forest?” He lifted his axe and it hovered above Shaundar’s neck.
To Know Your Enemy by Diane Morrison
  An Ordeal and ritual follows. Different clans, again, handle this in different ways. The challenge might involve being threatened with a weapon, the drawing of blood, or a test or task that is difficult to complete.   Then, after that, a ritual hunt ensues. The Initiate and his Guide head into the wilderness, with either minimal or no weapons or equipment, and the Initiate hunts something to bring back and feed to the tribe. It is considered a great omen if the Initiate kills a dangerous, predatory beast.   Because invasions and attacks by rival tribes and other enemies have been endemic in orcish history, it is also considered acceptable to meet the terms of the ritual hunt to kill enemies of the tribe, although of course, they are (usually) not eaten.  
On the other side of the gateway, it seemed the entire tribe had gathered. The men began to somberly beat drums—standing drums, hand drums, frame drums, snare drums, even drums on huge stands that required a man standing on each side, banging them with belaying pins.   The women began to clap and chant and the men joined in with their deeper baritone and bass voices. The chant was gruff, solemn, and primal. Korin sensed Shaundar’s hesitation and pushed him out through the archway and into the center of the gathering.   Elka and Olaf Bloodfist were both standing before Shaundar. He saluted the priestess and nodded respectfully to the zabû'kùzà. “The hunters have returned!” the Den Mother crowed. “Let us honour them!”   Women of the tribe, many of them priestesses, came forward. With fingers and more ochre, they drew designs on Shaundar and Corin’s half-clad bodies. Some of the patterns traced their battle scars. Others were runic or pictographic.
To Know Your Enemy by Diane Morrison
  Assuming the hunt is successful, the Initiate will be formally welcomed back to the tribe or clan with a symbolic gesture of acknowledgement and a raucous party. If it was unsuccessful, the failed Initiate leaves the tribe, never to return.  
Korin flashed a wide grin in Shaundar’s direction and stood up, leaving the lifeboat to swing. He returned carrying a massive drum. Red wood lined with carvings formed a great seamless bowl, and the skin stretched over the top of it was an unusual bluish shade and exceptionally thick. Yet it created a deep resonance that rung through the ship almost like a bell when struck.   Korin was beaming. “Every man needs a drum.” He placed it at Shaundar’s feet.
To Know Your Enemy by Diane Morrison
  It is traditional for their adult male relatives to present the successful Initiate with a symbolic gift that represents their new status as an adult male of the tribe or clan. This might be a quality weapon, a set of armour, or something culturally significant, like a drum in the Balorian cultures.

Components and tools

A period of cleansing is required, and this usually involves water in some form. Options, depending on location, have included ocean water, lakes, rivers, natural springs, or water poured over the head from a basin or ewer.   Ritual body paint is then applied. Traditionally, this comes from the orc's natural environment as well, such as ochre or natural dyes.   When a boy is presented to the clan or tribe's women, some form of narcotic or hallucinogenic exposure is usually involved. This might take the form of an inhalant, a ritual herbal drink, Star Mushroom spores, or anything available that might enhance a young male's senses.   Weapons may be required, depending on the conditions of the individual rituals.

Observance

The Zabak'taârr is observed when the Initiate chooses to undertake the rite. They are strongly discouraged from doing so until they are 15 or 16 years old, but those who have insisted have been initiated as young as 14. If an orc reaches the age of 20 before he undertakes it, however, he is aggressively encouraged to do so. Those who refuse are shunned by the tribe or clan.   The Balorians believe a Zabak'taârr can only be performed on Elatha. If they come from Elatha, they usually undertake the rite just before their mandatory tour of duty in the Fomorian Navy. If they were not born on Elatha, the rite is done the first time they set foot on the planet.
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orc warrior 4.jpeg

Balorian Warrior by Artbreeder

Primary Related Location
Related Ethnicities

Orc Witch by Parker West

Participants & Key Roles

The Initiate

The boy or boys being initiated into manhood are the key participants in the ritual.  

The Valdok (Guide)

The boy is allowed one adult male guide to assist him in the rite, who must undergo all the same ordeals that the Initiate or Initiates suffer. In some tribes the Initiate chooses him. In other tribes or clans, the valdok volunteers, or is chosen for him.  

The Priest or Shaman

A male priest is required to challenge the Initiate in the Ordeal, and to conduct the appropriate rites of guidance or admonishment.  

The Den Mother

The Den Mother judges the Initiate on behalf of the women of the tribe or clan, and confers (or denies) the blessings of the primary creatrix goddess.

orc shaman.jpeg

Orc Shaman by Artbreeder

 

Jungle Foliage by Prajwal Vedpathak

 

Drum by Lukasz Rawa


Winner: SummerCamp 2021 Ritual/Tradition Category "A coming of age ceremony"


Cover image: Elathan Foliage by Daniel O'Dowd

Comments

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8 Aug, 2021 16:39

Great article here! The prose mixed into the article completely transported me into the ritual. One of the best I've read!

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19 Sep, 2021 00:17

Thank you so much, Kit! To be honest, I was very excited about this prompt, because the Zabak'Taarr ritual is essential to the plot of book 2 in the series, and I needed to write about it anyway. The prose is, of course, from the manuscript. And I'm glad it transported you into the ritual -- that means I've done my job. :) Honoured to have received your prize. Thank you for reading it!

Author of the Wyrd West Chronicles and the Toy Soldier Saga. Mother of Bunnies, Eater of Pickles, Friend of Nerds, First of her Name.
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