Darre Details

One of the reader complaints I’ve seen a few times about 100K is frustration with the amount of detail allotted to the barony of Darr, since it’s one of only a handful of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms we get to see (beyond Sky, which isn’t so much a kingdom as a self-incorporated city-state of its own, a la the District of Columbia or Singapore) in the first book of the Inheritance Trilogy. In particular people seem to be fascinated by Darr because it’s a matriarchy and a warrior society — which is why I’m fascinated by it too, quite frankly.

Most authors’ worldbuilding is “icebergian”; readers get to see only maybe 10% of what the author actually comes up with, unless the author decides to load the book down with unnecessary infodumps and appendices. I did toss in some infodumps and appendices, because it’s epic fantasy and that’s how us epic fantasy writers roll, but since 100K wasn’t about Darr, naturally I didn’t spend a lot of time on it. Believe me, though, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how a society like that could work. So I figured I’d share the other 90% for people to chew on.

First, a few facts about the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in general that may not have shown in the first novel (numbering for ease of discussion):

  1. Darr is not the only matriarchy in this world. There are several — mostly in High North.
  2. The kingdoms of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms are all “complete” countries, same as the countries in our world — i.e., few of them have monocultures or monoeconomies. (Darr, for example, consists of several tribes which once had separate territories — but as Yeine says early in the story, those old divisions no longer matter.) Most nations encompass several racial or ethnic groups, with one dominating; the Amn veer from this principle in that they are the dominant race of most nations on the Senm continent. Certain kingdoms might be “known for” certain products worldwide, and certain cultures might place more emphasis on certain activities than others, but all of them have some farming, some manufacture, some textiles, etc. Prior to the Gods’ War when the kingdoms were smaller, they could be monocultural and have localized economies, but things have changed greatly in the last 2000 years. Multiculturalism and global economics are now the order of the day.
  3. Like our world, people in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms have used contraception — in the same variety and to the same varying degrees of success — pretty much since humans realized sex caused babies. Two main differences from our world, however: a) prior to the Gods’ War, godlings (and for a while, demons) lived among humankind and could sometimes be prevailed-upon for magical assistance, and b) not all of the kingdoms were patriarchial, so knowledge and use of contraception was never restricted or forbidden in those lands. As certain ancient methods of contraception were both effective (used properly and consistently) and available even to technologically primitive societies (the first evidence of condom use in our world was in ancient Egypt, at least a thousand years BC), people in these matriarchies were generally able to control how many children they had, and when.
  4. The development of scrivening, which happened about 200 years after the Gods’ War, led to the widespread use of contraceptive sigils among people (the sigils can be used by women or men, though naturally women were the most frequent users) of the upper class in every kingdom. These were applied by scriveners for a substantial fee. They functioned much like the Arameri’s blood sigils — permanent until a scrivener removes them. They are 100% effective.
  5. Predictably, people who could not afford a scrivener’s services began illegally using simple scrivening techniques — bootleg sigils, basically. This practice continues in the present; the Order of Itempas looks the other way for a small fee. Herbalist healers, called bonebenders in this world, can do very basic accelerated wound/bone healing, poison neutralization, abortion and midwifery, etc., and they can apply temporary contraceptive sigils which work as long as they remain visible (about a month). Most middle-class people can afford this; poorer people are still stuck with the less-reliable older methods unless they take the risk of applying the sigil themselves. Many do, but misapplied sigils can result in permanent sterilization (or worse), so few people take this chance.

And now some things I’ve considered that are specific to the Darre people:

  1. The Darre have a spiritual, though not cultural, analogue in our world: the Amazighs of northern Africa, who were likely matriarchial before their conversion to Islam centuries ago. (They are still matrilineal, and retain some of the old customs today intermingled with the newer Islamic stuff — for example, Amazigh men wear veils, not women.) I say “likely” because much of what’s known about Amazigh history is from oral tradition, which historians tend to discount. Nevertheless, Amazigh tales are littered with ferocious female warriors leading armies into battle, “cleanup crews” of women who would sing bloodthirsty songs while slitting the throats of fallen enemies, and so on. In coming up with the Darre, I just did a “what if” — what if a similar society had continued to develop without externally-imposed patriarchial pressures?
  2. War (prior to the Gods’ War) was actually quite rare for the Darre. They weren’t really interested in expanding territory. However, raiding of other lands for resources and captives was common — which sometimes triggered reprisal raids and feuds, and could escalate to full-on war.
  3. This is implied in a single line of the first book, but same-sex relationships are common in Darr. This is one of many cultural adaptations to minimize unwanted children (a la the ancient Greeks and male homosexuality), and to account for the gender imbalance during wartime. There’s not really a cultural construction for “strict” homosexuality; even those who prefer their own gender tend to marry and have children for the good of the family, or pride. However, Darre culture tends to venerate such relationships between women; those between men are ignored. (I imagine they have some name for the practice of homosexuality, but I haven’t figured out what that would be.)
  4. I thought this was understood, but just in case it wasn’t — not all Darre are warriors. Not all the Vikings were warriors either, though their culture encouraged it; somebody had to grow stuff and make stuff. When not off raiding and fighting, Darre women hunt, farm, and so on.
  5. Some of the farming in Darr is “farming” of the rainforest; the Darre have a special class of herbalist (called wisewomen) whose job it is to keep track of/harvest/replace wild fruit trees, stands of herbs, medicinal creatures and plants, etc. During wartime, the wisewomen act as snipers, sappers, and guerillas within the forests.
  6. Darre usually live in extended families, with several generations sharing one house, and related families living near each other in clan compounds. Nuclear families are rare. (This applies to Yeine’s family too; she, her parents, her grandmother, and several of her uncles all lived in a part of Sar-enna-nem.)
  7. Even before the development of scrivening, Darr was famous for its contraceptive “magic” (which wasn’t magic at all back then, just wisewoman herbalism and rituals designed to encourage the correct practice of the rhythm method). Since they’ve gotten their hands on scrivening techniques, few Darre women have children unexpectedly.
  8. Despite this, Darre culture encourages childbearing, particularly at certain times. (For example: girls going through the womanhood ritual; if they turn up pregnant as a result, this is seen as a blessing.) Having lots of children is a mark of femininity for Darre women — much like how men are traditionally seen as virile for fathering lots of children in patriarchial societies.
  9. Female children are more valued than boys, obviously. At times in Darre history, they have practiced infanticide of males. (In present times the Arameri abolished this… but I imagine it still happens sometimes. Probably not often, however; men are too useful to just kill off.)
  10. If a war is brewing, all young Darre women — warriors and non-warriors, married or not — will generally try to get pregnant and carry a child to term before they go off to fight. They have a name for this deliberate baby boom: the “war crop”. Warriors continue to exercise and practice combat skills throughout the pregnancy, as much as possible. After delivery and the first nursing, warriors turn their children over to the non-warrior women in the family, who act as wet nurses. The children are turned over to men for raising once weaned. A responsible warrior always leaves a replacement — or two — behind when she goes off to war.
  11. Warriors who are mothers hold higher status and are eligible for higher ranks than warriors who are not. Some command roles are reserved entirely for mothers, on the theory that they will make more responsible/less risky decisions so they can survive and get back to their children.
  12. Darre men are expected to give their lives protecting the family’s children. Men who fail in this duty are sometimes kicked out of the family by divorce or disowning; shame usually drives them into exile.
  13. Unmarried Darre men compete in festivals to earn honors and show off their father-potential to prospective brides. (Haven’t thought about what these festivals include. Some sort of physical test, along with tests of cleverness and skill? Dance, maybe, as that’s a concept I’ve played with before.) During the festivals they’re permitted to go home with a woman for a one-night “trial marriage” (mooching from another Earth culture here, the Wodaabe). Pregnancies that result from this are also considered a blessing, and usually are a sign that a man is a “good catch”.
  14. In the old (pre-Gods-War) days, to marry, a Darren woman paid a “husband price” to the family of her prospective husband (unless she stole or seduced him, which could trigger a feud). Especially desirable men cost so much that frequently a group of 3-4 related women would pool their resources to buy him, then share him, raising all the children together. Husbands were expected to be absolutely faithful to their wife/wives; infidelity was grounds for instant divorce and the man’s family had to give back the husband price. Less-desirable Darre men could still fetch a (low) husband price, but it was more lucrative for them to remain with their maternal family and rent themselves out by the night to interested women, bringing in some income. (They could work, too, even in those days, but only if they remained unmarried.) Poorer Darre women rented or stole men to father their children, since they couldn’t buy one. All of this was abolished by the Arameri, note; nowadays women just pay for the wedding, and men get jobs to support themselves.
  15. Male prostitution is still rampant in Darr, however. Especially handsome men frequently have wealthy sugar mamas. (Not all that different from our world.)
  16. Although the womanhood rites of the old days have changed, most Darre men still get circumcized at around age 15. I would like to hope this is done humanely, but I imagine it isn’t always. The Arameri don’t like it, but haven’t abolished it as yet.
  17. Sex (by an adult) with an uncircumcized male or pre-menarche female is considered the most heinous of crimes in Darr, punishable by death. It’s also pretty much the only thing the Darre consider to be rape; although they’re required to punish accusations of rape according to Amn standards (sex without consent), by their standards a woman who can be overpowered by a man is weak and deserving of ridicule — though men who do this usually find themselves divorced, exiled, unable to marry, etc., because they’ve proven themselves to be poor father-material. Men cannot be raped, in Darre eyes, even by another man.
  18. Any child born to a married woman is considered her husband’s child, whether this is biologically true or not.
  19. I think this was clear in book 1, but in case it wasn’t: the position of ennu, while hereditary, is largely a figurehead. The Darre are actually ruled by the Warrior Council, which consists of women and a few men (before Arameri rule, only women) who are nominated and voted in by the populace at large. These are generally women past menopause, and men who are fathers of adult children. The ennu’s job is to be young and strong and represent what the ideal Darre are supposed to be. Any decisions they make can be — and frequently are — overturned by the council. Probably the ennu was an actual ruler long ago (long before the Gods’ War), but I guess they figured out that letting a moody teenage girl run the place without guidance was a bad idea. Nobody tell George.

Let’s see… I think that’s everything. Feel free to discuss!

14 thoughts on “Darre Details”

  1. I’d been assuming the level of detail about Darr in book 1 meant we were going to get a lot more of a world-building payoff in books 2 and 3. I hope this post means we still do! :)

    How feasible would the ‘war crop’ actually be in High North… I guess people would always be looking at least a year ahead for signs of war. And would there be baby booms after false alarms (even demographic strains if that meant a war didn’t happen therefore warriors didn’t die)?

  2. hampshireflyer,

    There will be some more worldbuilding in 2 and 3. I’m just not interested in writing a travelogue of all Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (maybe if this goes bestseller =P), so in general we only get to see a few locations in each book. I’d rather go in-depth into a few societies than shallowly into many — and personally I prefer the former as a means of learning how the world as a whole works.

    The “war crop” is something that would happen only when the signs of war appeared well in advance, yes — as they usually do, in our world. In fact I imagine that in certain parts of their history — High North’s version of the warring states period, maybe — Darre women would quickly crank out babies in their teens, before they got far into their warrior careers, Just In Case.

  3. That’s pretty interesting… the Darre remind me of the drow elves in the forgotten realms universe, just not completely psychotic XD.

    Would the worship of gods have anything to do with having and raising babies back before the gods war? And how about now, since they’re forced to worship only Itempas? Well, “now” in the frame of the 100k kingdoms, since things change at the end of it. Would the gods approve of the way the Darre, or any civilization handled things like babies, or would it all be unimportant to them?

  4. Hi Orlando. I haven’t spent a lot of time developing pre-Gods’-War history for this world, but basically society was “prehistoric” at the time — tribes of nomadic hunters and small farming cultures mostly, and a few city-states/loose polities a la early Rome or Teotihuacan. The Darre were such a city-state. Most tribes had a godling who “adopted” a particular people and advised them, but generally did not interfere in daily life, and would not get involved in the event of a war, etc. (Because if they did the other tribe’s godling would get involved, and then there would be two big smoking craters where both tribes used to be. Counterproductive.)

    The Darre worshipped all the gods. They may not have had a godling of their own; I haven’t thought about it. In any case, the gods didn’t care what they did with their babies — or if they cared, they didn’t do anything about it.

  5. Nora, what happened during Yeine’s coming-of-age ritual? I couldn’t figure it out.

    I just finished your first book and loved it. Can’t wait for the next one!

  6. Hi Jen,

    Basically, Yeine went into the woods and survived on her own for a month, then came back and had to fight the biggest, toughest male warrior in her tribe in a public ritual. Neither was fighting to kill or even badly injure the other; the purpose of the ritual was to introduce a woman to adult sexuality, including procreation, and to force her to show her strength in front of the tribe. No one expected her to win; she was simply supposed to show “strength” by losing and then essentially being raped. (Though the Darre don’t think of it as rape, since it’s voluntary, and since their age of consent differs from that of the Amn.) However, Yeine deliberately didn’t fight as hard as she could have, instead pretending to yield to her opponent. Once he’d broken her hymen (but before he ejaculated), she stabbed him in the head with a knife she’d kept hidden up to that point.

    She wasn’t supposed to kill him. The fact that she did so proved her fundamentally un-Darre in her thinking; in the eyes of the council, a proper Darre would a) never pretend to be defeated, thus failing to display her physical prowess to its fullest, and b) allow the sexual act to conclude naturally so she could at least have a better chance of getting a child out of it. Yeine’s action made it clear she controlled the encounter, but at the cost of violating the ritual’s fundamental purpose. She didn’t care about becoming a proper woman, showing her strength, or nurturing/generating life; she cared about power. i.e., she thinks like an Arameri, not like a Darre.

  7. Holy crap. That’s a hell of a coming of age ritual! I think that’s worth a short story somewhere, to be honest…

    In other news, this helps answer some of the questions that were in the back of my mind which I mentioned over on FB. :) Thanks…

  8. Hi Gord!

    I don’t think I’d want to write a short story about this ritual, honestly. I think the Darre are very alien in some ways, and this is one of them. For them, nearly all heterosexual sexuality is a power negotiation, and their rituals, etc., are intended to make this explicit. It’s not all that different from what Western society has done in a symbolic sense — e.g., the dowry that once came to husbands from the wife’s family upon marriage (which may have been a kind of payoff to encourage the husband not to kill her before she “became useful” by making babies — according to some historians, anyway); today’s “purity balls”, which are intended to put women’s sexuality under either a father’s or a husband’s control; etc. The Darre just don’t bother doing this kind of thing symbolically. Frankly, the Darre society isn’t one I’d want to live in, and in many ways the Arameri were right to put a stop to their more barbaric behavior.

  9. Hey, it’s your call… short stories might be a fun way to wander around this world, anyway, but I suspect you have other plans. :)

    That reference to purity balls made me actually shiver.

    And I was thinking about this fact — that the Darre don’t seem on the whole more likeable than the Arameri — in context of a story of my own (a rare fantasy piece I started trying to write, oh, I guess about a year and a half ago now), which involves a colonialist takover of a patriarchal society by a matriarchal one. (To paint it in very broad and simplistic terms; and also simply, it’s not clear to me which society is more horrifying.)

    Here’s a weird question, which may also involve spoilers for later books, since the ending of the first in the trilogy kind of may factor into it, but… is there a society you’ve designed for the world of 100K in which you would like to live?

  10. For Gord (as, interestingly, the ability to reply directly to comments seems to vanish after 5 layers… weird),

    Yes. I never intended for the society of the Darre to be better than the society of the Amn (the pinnacle of which is Arameri society, since they’ve kind of got their own world going up there in Sky); I wanted both societies to seem real, plain and simple. I’m of the opinion that every culture has its wonderful practices and its “what the hell is wrong with you people” stuff, with outsiders tending to notice the latter more than the former. So since the story is told from Yeine’s perspective, the “WTH” gets applied to the Amn more than to the Darre.

    That said, I do tend to think of the Amn as worse in comparison, because at least the Darre never tried to impose their culture on the whole planet. They might have, if they’d had the power to do so (though probably not — that kind of “homogeneity or die” attitude is unique to the worship of Itempas; the Darre worshipped the whole pantheon). But they didn’t. And there’s a particular evil inherent in imperialism that I wanted to explore in this case.

  11. Ha, I suspect the threaded comments gave up because after five comments, the responses would be a long line of single words in a column! :)

    Your comment makes me curious whether you think the Darre just never got around to imposing themselves on the rest of the world (the way, say, the Arabs didn’t particularly do until after Islam, or Rome didn’t do till, well, it got around to it), or it’s an alien urge to their society, or whether they have any such (however unrealistic) aspirations since their own colonization?

    I ask because, living in Korea, I’ve occasionally heard a few Koreans — usually individuals who are resentful of the time spent learning a foreign language, and who are deluided into thinking reunification with North Korea would somehow magically turn Korea into a world superpower — imply that should reunification come, soon enough “everyone else” would have to “start studying Korean and learning Korean customs,” and so on. (For the record, their classmates usually laugh them down, or at least give them a reality check, but it seems a persistent fantasy among extreme conservatives, especially in the poorer part of the country I used to live it. I heard it just enough, and saw things online like maps projecting Korea’s imagined historical or future colonization of Asia or the world, to perceive it as a kind of anxious cultural trope or something.)

    And the thing I’m not quite sure about is whether this is a kind of internalized colonial aspiration — something that developed after the experience of being colonized — or whether such an urge is inherent in any society, but especially a “civilized” (in the sense of urbanized, centralized) societies in which homogenization and us-them definitions become necessary to hold the system together.

    Which is another interesting thing. Apparently, from recent readings I’ve done including a book by B.R. Myers, Koreans didn’t particularly think of themselves as a “race” until after the Japanese invaded and started propagandizing them as such. Before then, identity seems to have been primarily family/community-based, as well as in terms of being subject to the Korean monarch or so-called Korean emperor. It seems to me when one thinks in terms of family or community, then us-them is the next town over, and the subjugation of others is a more local phenomenon. So I wonder, indeed, how much of Darre’s (and other kingdoms in this world) self-conception as a nation is related to the fact they were colonized by the Amn. I’m guessing the Amnish were the first large-scale global colonialists? If not, that changes the question of course…

    Ha, not to pester you about worldbuilding. It’s just weird to me how modern history in East Asia seems like it could be pertinent to this kind of stuff… because the colonization and its effects are so much more traceable here right now. Hmmmm.

    I agree — every culture has both wonderful and horrifying practices, the latter of which are more commonly noticeable to outsiders. Ha, the expat blogosphere in Korea is, finally, a litany of examples of this. But without both, depictions of fictional cultures (and of real ones as well) usually feel thin, fake, and unreliable.

  12. Ooh, Darre sounds like a pretty awesome place to me. :D Whenever I’ve thought about a truly matriarchal society, it usually stopped short of subjugating men as thoroughly as men have subjugated women in the majority of civilizations throughout history, but honestly, it’s really refreshing (and somehow–somewhat sadistically, perhaps–satisfying). That’s one thing I’ve really been loving about your book so far (about halfway through it now after 2 days, which is quite fast for a slow reader like me ^^) is that you TRULY put things in favor of women, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done so thoroughly or boldly in any other book I’ve read. (what is this universal reverence of men that even feminist SFF writers can’t seem to get over?) Like, in other books, you might find a strong heroine like Yeine and a bada$$ “legendary woman” like Kinneth who was 100% the heir to the ruthless king/able to win his respect. But if you hear that there are 2 male gods and one female one, and one got killed fighting the alpha over the third god, 100% of the time, it would’ve been Intempas vs Nahadoth over Enefa. Even female authors seem to love this situation, having the woman be the one helplessly outside the struggle over her. But I really, REALLY appreciated that you made Naha the coveted one and Enefa one of the two who were fighting over him. That dignifies her so much somehow, to be the rival of the alpha rather than the one he’s fighting for, and I just LOVED that!!

    Speaking of things I have LOVED so far–Naha is SUCH a sizzlingly hot character! *__* I love everything you did with his portrayal, from the terrifying/mad first impression to Yeine’s sudden realization that he was the most desirable thing in the world (makes sense, since he’s the god of Night, when all that romantic stuff goes down~), to his role as the playful, seductive third-party in the gods’ little threesome, that the other two would desire and fight for, but who, I’m sure, really can’t be pinned down for long (since it’s his nature to change).

    Well, enough babble–I can’t stop thinking about the book even while I’m stuck and work and am just itching to go read more at lunch. Thank you so much for one of the most engrossing, exciting books I’ve read in AGES!

    P.S. Thank you for this post about the Darre–I am definitely one of those readers that was intrigued by the little bits and pieces you hear of their society, and this post has gone a long way into sating that curiosity. ^^

  13. Thank you for this post! I started “Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” at lunch yesterday and then devoured it chunks with awesomesauce when I got home. What’s another night of sub-par sleep in the face of a great book?

    Anyway, I really like that the Darre feel like a real society and doesn’t shy away from unpleasant details that would naturally flow from thinking one sex is inherently more valuable and more worthy to shape their own fate than the other. Harsh details like the initiation ritual and the racial backlash against Yeine’s mother made Yeine’s isolation in Sky even more complete for me because it underscored how every society in a way rejects people that do not exemplify the culturally ‘right’ characteristics of that society. She may have been happier at home but I got the idea that she did not strictly feel she ‘belonged’ there 100% either.

    Reading your recap of what actually happened during Yeine’s ritual gave me a horrifying thought, did her grandmother deliberately arrange for Yeine to publicly ‘lose’ not only to somehow prove her merit but because of a personal hatred? Reading the novel, I got the feeling that her grandmother severely resented Yeine’s mother and all the complications she brought to her son’s life and Yeine herself by extension. The few scenes they have together showcase a tense relationship. Of course I could be reading too much into things, the rape in the context of the ritual is horrifying to me with my ‘outsider’ perspective but to a member of Darre society it would probably seem normal or like a good political gamble.

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