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Re: OT: Chinese zither

From:Isidora Zamora <isidora@...>
Date:Sunday, September 21, 2003, 22:30
At 10:37 PM 9/20/03 -0700, you wrote:
>--- Isidora Zamora <isidora@...> wrote: > > > The idea of them refusing to undress a body > > after death was one that came > > to me sort of off the cuff as I was writing > > some stuff on them one day, and > > I may yet change it. > >No need!
After the extended hypothetical explanation that I wrote out for it yesterday, I don't think now that there's any need to change it. I think that the custom is now adequately explained as a cultural relic from a specific period in their history.
> > But one reasonable > > explanation for the custom may be > > that in warfare it has always been *absolutely* > > forbidden to strip a dead > > enemy naked. [...] > > > After a few generations of this, > > they began to fail to > > distingush between the treatment of their own > > dead and that of their enemy, > > and so didn't feel right about removing the > > clothing from their own dead, > > even to reclothe them, even if there was > > clothing to be spared. > >Question is, why did they feel compelled to leave >an enemy so clothed? Or did I miss something?
You didn't miss anything. I never said why, but there is a very good reason. They consider it to be nothing less than a divine command. In their late pre-history/very early history, they were visited by someone whom they believed to be either one of the gods or their mesenger. This being instructed them on many points, and thus they name him Tovleis, "The Instructor." Unfortunately, he did not tell them about how the world began, so they have no creation myth, or how it would end, although he did tell them about certain things that would happen in the future. There is an awful lot of mythological content that any other culture would have but the Cwendaso do not because Tovleis did not tell them about those things. He didn't even tell them the names of the gods or which ones to worship. He did tell them that not all of the gods were good, and that they should therefore be very careful about which gods they chose to worship. Much of what he told them had to do with how they should behave as "civilized people." One of the things that civilized people do is not to allow any dead body to be defiled (and some specifics were given as to what constituted defilement. One of those specifics was not to leave a body lying naked.) Another thing that civilized people do not do in war is to attack non-combatants. (And that does mean "non-combatants" to them, not "women and children." Any woman or child who attacks them is certainly fair game and likely as not to end up dead, but they don't get into such situations with regularity as it is rare for them to be found attacking a village, since civilized people go to war only to defend themselves, as they have been taught.) They would consider it murder to kill an enemy who surrenders or who has been captured. (Any ideas on how Cwendaso might deal with prisoners of war? I know how the Trehelish dealt with prisoners: they didn't take them in the first place -- or they sacrificed them to their god. Actually, the modern Trehelish are in general much nicer people than this war makes them sound, but they are somewhat more brutal than the surrounding cultures, exept possibly for one related culture to the south of them, about which people I know very little.)
> > I think that the culture never really got back > > to normal again after that episode. > >Some interesting shifts in culture, there!
Quite profound shifts, really. (Though I think that the general lack of grave goods can be attributed as much to their practice of reinterring the bones at a later date as it can to the war. When the bones are interred in the bone barrow, they are not placed separately into an ossuary, but are stacked --carefully, of course -- together with everyone else's bones. Usually the body is divided up, with all the skulls going into the same rooms of the barrow, usually the two closest to the entrance and working backwards if necessary, while the other bones are neatly piled starting in the terminal room of the barrow and eventually filling up the entire barrow back to front if the barrow is in use long enough. In such circumstances, what are you going to do with the grave goods?) Some time this summer, when I was reading _The Fellowship of the Ring_ to my children and wanted them to understand what a barrow was, I located this site. There are a number of barrows on it, and most of the sites on this site have a series of full spherical VR panoramic photos of them. You will probably have to download a browser plug-in to view them with, but it's worth it. It's like standing there and being able to look in any direction. (BTW, I think that most modern Cwendaso barrows are not megalithic like most of the ones on this site are, but built up of a multitude of medium-sized stones laid together and then covered with earth.) It turns out not to have been only the Cwendaso who underwent a permanant culture change due to these wars. The Trehelish (their opponants, who won the war) did as well. Somehow, (I haven't figured out how just yet), the Trehelish went from being ruled by a multitude of little warlords to becoming a centralized, representative democracy shortly after the wars were over. Their women also came out of 150 years of war with the right to vote, though it wasn't by the same proccess that the Cwendaso women earned this right, since the Trehelish women didn't become trained warriors as the Cwendaso women did. (I think that with nearly all the men away fighting battles for such an extended period, the women may have just taken control of things at home and started running things because there was no one else to do it, and then they refused to stop having a say in things after the men came back.)
> > So how does that sound for a plausible excuse > > for why they treat their dead > > in what any other culture would consider a > > rather shocking manner? (I'm > > actually interested to know whether it sounds > > reasonable.) > >I don't think it's unreasonable. So much warfare >is bound to create stresses in a people's culture >and practices are certain to change.
After writing it, I think that it is not an unreasonable reaction. I certainly learned a lot about my conculture in writing that yesterday. I already knew about the century and a half of war that drove them into the mountains and how very brutal it was. I already knew that their women voted as well as the men, and I already knew that tomboy behavior was tolerated. And, of course, I had already written that about not undressing the dead. But it wasn't until I wrote that post yesterday that I connected all of these things with the war they had suffered. It all seems to piece together very nicely, I think.
>The Bolghadaine (the most xenophobic of all >Daine) are still severely affected by the horrors >of the war of the kindreds, perhaps a hundred >thousand years ago. The demons that haunt the >darkness of their imaginations have yellow hair >and use fire as a weapon - the instigators of >that ancient war were yellow haired Daine who >torched their servant races by the tens of >thousands.
Do you have anything online about the Daine? And, by the way, did you get the URL that I sent you a few days ago?
>The Daine of Westmarche still practice a similar >burial method. Having lived cramped in barrios >and underground for many years, they couldn't >bury their dead in the usual fashion (which >anciently was to expose the bodies up on raised >platforms out in the wilds). They took to letting >the rats and similar work their magic on the >flesh, and then gathered the bones into small >niches in chambers burrowed under the streets and >buildings of the city.
Very much a difference in culture. Exposure of a body is taboo, and so is allowing animals to get at them. That is why they stand guard over a battlefield that they have won -- to keep off the scavengers until someone comes to claim the bodies for proper burial (or cremation in the case of the Trehelish.) The alternative is to bury the securely bodies on the battlefield. Securely means deep enough that an animal can't come by and dig it up. The doors of Cwendaso barrow are sealed tightly when not in active use precisely so that no animal can enter. But I can see how rats would be a good solution for the Daine if their preferred method is exposure.
> > The > > former is pretty yucky, since the bodies of the > > dead are placed in it for > > burial and they lie there and rot. > >Quite. Rats no longer do the work, but they have >a place away from town where bodies are allowed >to rot away.
Yes, barrows are not located in the town but on the outskirts, not for fear of the dead because Cwendaso have no fear whatsoever of the dead (unlike Trehelish, who are almost uniformly scared out of their minds by the thought of ghosts. After the conquest, the Trehelish have been left with this little bit of a problem of their new land being dotted here and there with these huge Cwendaso barrows. Serves them right, maybe.), but simply because the barrows are quite large and would get in the way were they placed in the center of a village, and because of the rotting flesh. My husband commented last night that he almost hesitated to ask what any of this had to do with the Chinese zither. I told him that the thread was listed as being off topic, wasn't it? Isidora Isidora