The Samari are a culture of shepherds and horsemen, wandering the steppes and striving to preserve their people in the aftermath of war and deicide. Their Archon, the great otter spirit Preica, is a casualty of the war with the Dominion, and their way of life died with him--without the influence of Preica to promote growth, the steppes are barren once more. The great capital city of Tikong lies in ruins, crushed by the boot of the Dominion and the fires of rebellion, and the fields have withered and died.
Modern Samar has two somewhat distinct parts: the pastoral areas, separated geographically from the Dominion's influence by the vast steppes, and the border settlements, fighting a guerrilla war with the Dominion to avenge their dead god and the way of life he brought them. As a result of this split, the modern Samari are a rapidly changing society, torn in several different directions.
Many of the Samari wish to return to the pastoral ways, forget the death of Preica and live simply in the steppes once more. Others wish to adopt the powers of spirits on a wider scale by using the knowledge of spirits to make their own lives better, rebuilding their cities without the power of Preica. The most radical among the Samari seek to eradicate the Dominion in its entirety, attacking military and civilians alike without distinction, using a variety of brutal and unethical tactics to accomplish their goals.
- History and Religion
The Samari have long been the inhabitants of the western steppes, keeping primarily to small, fairly mobile settlements that followed the movements of herds of sheep and goats. Their folk traditions spoke of a garden, hidden within the steppes and guarded by an ancient god who would reveal himself if or when the Samari had wandered long enough for its liking. The tradition dates back before the spirit world was introduced, and the more modern variations often say that such a place came into being when the spirits first began appearing. The Samari have searched endlessly for such a place, but most believed it was little more than a legend. Around 1954, however, a small tribe wandering in the eastern regions of the steppe came upon a small and fertile oasis by a riverside. They settled down to rest for the night, and set up their tents along the shore.
The apocryphal story tells of how the first Samari to bathe in the river that night, a young hunter, was nearly drowned as the river-weeds swirled together, rushing up in a fountain of white foam that loomed taller than three men. The reeds and foam swirled shapelessly for a moment before taking the form of a powerful river-otter. Preica then addressed the awe-struck tribe peacefully, stating that this was his domain, and they were welcome to stay if they were willing to tend it and live in harmony with him. The nomads took this as a sign that their search for the garden of legend was over, and that they had found their deity.
The city sprang up quickly around the oasis, and the spirit was more than happy to lend his power over the waters to those who wished to cultivate the land. Within several centuries, the city of Tikong was a sprawling patchwork of well-irrigated fields, and the inner city hosted colleges, art-houses, theaters and small collectives of craftsmen. Agriculture became more and more central to the eastern Samari society. Futher to the west, the steppe-culture still prevailed, but the Samari as a whole found that they had free reign to congregate together, spending time in study and craftsmanship.
- War and Deicide
As the city grew, it began to draw the notice of the Dominion nations to the east. A growing nation with a powerful Archon at its head, Samar seemed an obvious candidate to join the Dominion. In the year 2374, a Dominion envoy paraded with pomp and circumstance into the capital city. The retinue carried chests full of precious metals and gemstones, and were flanked on both sides by a Dominion honor guard bearing the banners of The Silhouette of Stars. Most impressive, however, were the pair of massive Scions that strode into the city at the retinue's head. The envoy was welcomed into the main square of Tikong, where he requested a grand meeting with the elders of each of the Samari tribes, along with the Archon Preica himself. The Dominion diplomats offered the Samari a choice: Join the holy, powerful, and wealty nations of the Dominion and gain the fruits of such powerful company, or accept that they would be swept aside and trampled under the Dominion's obvious military superiority. The Samari council of elders met with Preica, and deliberated for two days before deciding to reject the offer. They delivered their statement to the envoy, claiming their own Archon as the only true authority, and directed the Dominion diplomat to leave immediately.
The Dominion, true to their word, returned within a year with an army. They were met at the border by an ambush force of Samari mounted archers. The Samari, badly outnumbered and outgunned, relied on skirmishing tactics to harass and annoy their enemies, hampering their advance through the vast steppes and raiding Dominion supply convoys whenever they could. While their efforts did slow the enemy's advance, the Dominion army was too massive to be repelled, and they inevitably left devastation in their wake. Preica's influence was little help when faced with such a powerful spiritual force, as well. Before long, numerous Samari settlements had fallen, and Tikong was on the horizon.
The citizens and elders of the city conferred with Preica for guidance. After seeing the Dominion's force on their doorstep, they decided they had little choice but to surrender to occupation. A Dominion-sponsored governor from Bhakhtar was installed, and Dominion forces were quartered and fed by the unwilling Samari. Preica himself was confined to the river, and forbidden to spread his influence any further. The Samari were, as far as appearances were concerned, well and truly conquered. However, an insurgent campaign against the conquerors began in earnest. Lone guards were found in alleyways with throats slit, the emblem of Preica carved or painted nearby. Martial law became the norm, and strict curfews were enforced. The insurgency of Tikong culminated in the public assassinatin of the Dominion governor in the year AS 2432.
With the governor's assassination, the Dominion forces began to lose control of the population and many lashed out violently to regain their hold. The Samari began to riot in response, and open fighting broke out once more in Samar as looters with improvised weaponry swarmed over the vastly outnumbered soldiers and tore them to pieces. Many of the Dominion soldiers in Tikong were killed in their sleep, as were any Samari who were seen as sympathizers to the Dominion conquerors. As night fell, more than half of the city was burning. The following day, the rest of the Dominion army, replete with Scions of war, returned from skirmishing in the countryside and attacked wholesale, slaughtering any followers of Preica they could find and imprisoning any they didn't kill outright. As his followers fell to the sword and the flames, Preica's power waned, leaving him crippled and vulnerable. The following day, the Silhouette of Stars himself trapped Preica in the river flowing through the city, and the Archon of Samar was executed by dozens of the Silhouette's Scions.
The burning of Tikong and the death of Preica sparked the fire within the people Samar once more, and a holy war began under the common name of the Sangkram Tished, or Holy War. Zealous Samari in towns under Dominion control began using more and more radical methods of opposition, spilling Dominion blood wherever possible. They began to practice forbidden arts, binding spirits to themselves and dealing with spirits that western Samar refused to even speak of. The most radical even going so far as to allow themselves to become chimeras in Dominion-held cities, wreaking massive property damage and killing dozens before they could be put down. These practices fuel the growing separation between western and eastern Samar, and are a continuing source of headaches for the Dominion occupation force to this day.
- Magic: The Spirit-Journey and the Servants of Preica
The Samari tradition holds that spirits are guides and mentors, and the western, 'old' Samari believe that only the most dedicated and perceptive among the Samari have the ability to successfully go out into the wilderness on a spirit-journey, taken at their coming of age. Alone and without supplies in the steppe, the seeker would mix a variety of herbs to allow themselves to see into the spirit world, and would demonstrate their capabilities and dedication to the spirits around them in hopes of securing a pact with a helpful one. Those who return with a familiar by their side are greeted as an equal to any elder member in the tribe, while those who return empty-handed must wait five years before they may try once more.
The eastern Samari, however, are a rapidly modernizing group. Their understanding and attitudes towards spirits has grown to closely mirror that of the Dominion, although the majority still believe that Preica was by far the Archon most worthy of worship, and bear a grudge for his death and the deaths of their kin. The western Samari have no compunctions against binding, pacting, or even devouring and becoming twisted, malformed masses of angry spirit and flesh, as long as it means they may spill Dominion blood. While radicals prefer to bind or devour spirits affiliated with the Dominion, they are not terribly picky.
- Modern Samari Culture
Western or 'Old' Samari culture is a mix of nomadic and pastoral traditions, based around moving settlements of extended families living in groups called chihks ("shee-ks"), from the Samari for "ride." A chihk may contain as few as five or as many as a hundred extended families moving together. Marriages between different familial branches make such distinctions difficult at times, and tracking family relations to prevent inbreeding is the task of the chihk's elders and records-keepers. The larger chihks may consist of several hundred individuals, and nearly half again as many horses or other pack and riding animals. The adults among the chihk are expected to fulfill any role necessary, but often bargain with another for a desired role--a Samari who prefers cooking may trade their herding or guard duty to a comrade who prefers the open steppe, for example.
Each chihk follows a traditional migration pattern, heading north for the warmer summers and south for warmth during the winters. The chihk's flock, which consists mostly of sheep and goats, is driven ahead by a number of outriders, shepherds, and large trained wolf-hounds and the occasional trained hunting hawk. The chihk is most commonly protected by legendary Samari horse-bowmen and squads of lightly armored lancers, who circle, dip and hover around targets rather than charging directly. Samari combat tactics rely heavily on skirmishing, hit-and-run efforts, utilizing their mobility to confuse and harass opponents.
Chihk clothing is primarily functional, made up of long and sturdy layers (measuring roughly 12'x1.5", or 3.5m by 0.5m). These strips are made of drab quilted fabric, and are worn over a snug undergarment. Many creative or honored Samari may work intricate or colored designs into their outer garments, but most leave them dull or drab so that they may act as camouflage if necessary. Armor is primarily hardened or reinforced leather, worn under the quilt-strips, and covers the torso, shoulders, forearms, and sections on the upper and lower legs. Such armor is often burned or pressed in intricate patterns by the wearer, and occasionally Samari leather-workers incorporate copper or steel rivets if such luxuries are available. Armor made of metal is uncommon and scorned to some degree, as the Samari believe it tends to hamper quick movement on horseback.
Old Samari commerce is primarily based around barter and the exchange of labor or goods, although some non-standard currencies may exist within a chihk. Most such currencies use semi-precious stones, often carved or in the form of jewelry. Within the largest chihks, one or two craftsmen may specialize in creating and appraising such valuables.
Each chihk has an intricate and unique history and legend, often passed on through ritual performance. Such performances are accompanied musically by the spectators, who use a mix of overlapping throat-singing and animal-hide drums to create a thrumming, cacophanous effect that reverberates across the steppes. Most performances tell of the birth of the Samari people in ancient times, and then run through a variety of events that vary by chihk, tradition, season, and the performers' own interpretations, with the most modern telling the story of the death of Preica. The most common origin myths say that the Samari sprang from the rocks as unformed figures, and were carved into the shapes of men by either a hawk-god or a wolf-god, who tasked them with the guardianship of the flocks and the search for a garden in which they could rest. Some stories also include a lesser god, often related to the creator-deity, who then taught the Samari how to ride and craft bows. Such traditions label the spirits presently in the world as the elder deity's servants, whether or not the spirits know or admit such things.
Currently, much of Old Samar remains unoccupied due to factors of geography, and the simple fact that the Dominion's resources are stretched thin enough in the area as it is. However, many of the younger or more adventurous Samari are leaving their chihks to see more of the world outside the steppe. Bringing something useful back to the chihk from such a journey is a mark of honor among the Samari.
Occupied Samar is composed primarily of the smaller cities surrounding the ruins of Tikong, as well as those who have moved back into the charred bones of the old city. The settlements are tightly controlled by the Dominion, with tensions only increasing as the civil war draws more and more of the Dominion's resources away from the area.
The largest occupied settlements in the area are:
- Samout, a northern trade town on the shore of the north seas. Samout had sporadic contact with Otticia before the Dominion invasion, but now serves as a major port for seaborne Dominion supplies.
- Chrolong is a city roughly 100km northeast of the ruins of Tikong, situated in a shallow valley that still manages some agriculture. The fields draws occasional pilgrims from West Samar, and such religious practices encourage shrines to Preica in hidden places.
- Kanleng is not quite a city, but resembles a sprawling bazaar, with amphitheaters and communal lodgings available as well. Kanleng was a place where varying chihks could count on meeting others for trade, socializing, marriages and history-performances, was most recently conquered by the Dominion. As a hub of trade and culture for Samar, it is a particularly festering loss and a hotbed of violence as a result.
With the city of Tikong burned or charred, the Dominion's eyes have turned elsewhere, leaving the bones of the city ripe for scavengers, human or otherwise, to pick through. The occasional fire spirit wanders the empty shells of the mudbrick huts, and smugglers' bolt-holes dot the landscape. Rumors speak of even shadier groups within, and those with friends high up in the ranks of the rebels may hear whispers of those who would try to revive Preica, that the Samari may rise up with him at their head once more.
The Samari often refer to themselves as 'the golden-skinned people,' and the name is quite accurate--their skin is typically tough and bronzed, although city dwellers tend to be slightly paler and less leathery. Older Samari men frequently grow long, ornate beards, studded with small carved beads of bone or semi-precious stone. Women wear their hair long or short, but almost universally pull it back into tight braids when on a ride. Many Western Samari wear armor constantly, removing it only to sleep, especially when the chihk is on the move.
Western Samari fashion is highly functional, consisting of strips of quilted fabric wrapped around the body, with more or less worn according to the weather. These thick strips are worn over a form-fitting undergarment, and any armor the Samari might be wearing. Such armor is primarily hardened leather, often worked with intricate designs.
Eastern Samari usually incorporates tough, hardened leather as an accent feature, but otherwise consists primarily of lighter textiles. Loosely draped diaphanous fabrics are frequently in style, as are wide bracelets of worked metal.
- Language and Names
Pheas is the primary language of the Western Samari, and varies widely from dialect to dialect, sometimes even within a chihk. Easter Samar has developed a creole of Pheas and Faloran over the course of the occupation, combining Samari and Bhakhtaran influences and mixing varying amounts of each depending on the needs of the time. Most Eastern Samari are moderately fluent in Faloran, but Western Samar generally finds the Faloran language unnecessary.
Naming conventions vary by chihk or city, but the most common includes an honorific at the beginning, if applicable, followed by an individual name, and a surname derived from their chihk or family branch. Male and female names carry no overt distinguishing characteristics. Adult names are traditionally given after a Samari's coming-of-age ceremony, to replace their child-name. Child-names are often used into adulthood among close friends as a sign of affection.
(The names on this page were generated using Google's translations of relevant Khmer words. For example, 'city' was used for Tikong. The base Khmer words have been simplified or shortened for easier pronunciation and comprehension. Nouns tend to make good names, especially words with agent suffixes [-er, -ist, etc.])