Relatively little is known about the prehistory of the region that would become the territory of the ʔuuleo prior to the arrival of western language speakers. The rugged, heavily forested terrain rendered the region unattractive to the agricultural peoples living farther south and isolated it from much cultural contact, and none of the earliest written records from the Lukpanic Coast make unambiguous reference to the area.
These same factors of terrain have made archaeological investigation of the region difficult at best, but evidence to date seems to indicate that the region was sparsely populated by semi-sedentary communities practicing mesolithic or early neolithic subsistence strategies. These communities seem to have relied primarily on hunting and fishing, and known pre-ʔuuleo sites contain no unambiguous traces of pottery or domesticated animal bone. However, charred food remains at one relatively well-preserved site indicate that beans and buckwheat were already being consumed in the region on an unknown scale. Several attempts have been made to affiliate the inhabitants with known archaeological cultures (and the paleo-linguistic groups they are sometimes thought to represent), but the dearth of sites and the apparent dissimilarity of those that have been investigated has allowed little more than speculation.
It is unclear precisely when and why western language speakers entered the region, or how numerous these "invaders" actually were, but cultural, linguistic, and archaeological evidence indicates that they were originally horse-riding sheep and goat herders from the Peilaš steppe who spoke a Steppe dialect closely related to Satnímʔa. Animal husbandry, horsemanship, and bronze metallurgy spread rapidly through the region, and the archaeological record indicates a subsequent period of accelerating population growth lasting several centuries.
Traditionally, this has been regarded as evidence for the replacement of the region's original inhabitants through several large waves of settlers from the steppe, but many historians now believe it more likely that there was actually relatively little population movement involved. Their theory posits that one relatively small group of Western speakers, likely displaced by pasture depletion and/or intertribal warfare, crossed the mountains and settled in the region, bringing with them a new suite of technologies and cultural practices. Their language became the medium through which these traits diffused, and the groups that adopted both gained a considerable competitive advantage over any of their neighbors who did not. This theory proceeds to explain the subsequent population growth as the natural result of a transition from a subsistence strategy based primarily on foraging to one based around a system of mixed agriculture, which gradually developed as a response to local environmental conditions.
Community and Subsistence
Much of ʔuuleo culture was oriented around a complex system of transhumance and shifting cultivation. The region they inhabited was a transitional zone between Mediterranean and oceanic climates, and although the weather there is generally mild it does experience frost in the winter and a dry period in the summer. Each ʔuuleo family belonged to an autonomous village community (tịkl), and every year at the beginning of spring (saŋ' ) the community would gather to select and clear a plot of well-drained, seaward hillside (ọb) for buckwheat cultivation.
After clearing the ọb, the able-bodied members of each family took their herds (mokh) to graze in higher pastures (leetah) over the summer (sịk), while the young, elderly, and sick remained behind, foraging and practicing crafts at the village site. At the end of the summer they organized a controlled burn (sịk'aaʔ) of the dry field in preparation for the return of the herders, who arrived in early fall (ʔọŋ) for planting time. The crop was harvested at the onset of winter (lịịp), and after the last frost the cycle began again.
Buckwheat (mul) was the primary staple of most ʔuuleo villages, who prized it for it's short growing season and ability to thrive in cool conditions and a variety of soils. They supplemented their annual harvest and the dairy products they took from their livestock with fishing, hunting, and foraging, benefiting from the relative abundance of wild foods in the surrounding forests.
When an ʔuuleo tịkl cleared a new ọb that was prohibitively far from their existing residence they would simply construct a new one, and as a result ʔuuleo homes (tịk) were typically simple and spartan, and often needed to be partially rebuilt in the spring if they were to be used for more than one winter. Powerful families (lnịk) who controlled stationary resources like mines would typically construct much more elaborate homes (also called lnịk) from the local timber, as well as fortifications (ʔeel' ) ranging from simple earthworks to walls of cut and quarried stone. These fortified sites became attractive as centers of trade and shelters for displaced families, and many gradually grew into truly permanent towns (ọbr).
Gender was the primary basis for the division of labor among the ʔuuleo, and significant social stigma was associated with individuals who regularly engaged in work traditionally associated with the opposite gender. Male children were generally allowed to assist their mothers in performing traditionally feminine tasks, however, until they formally came of age.
During the spring, members of both sexes were involved in forest clearance and the construction and maintenance of the family tịk. Both sexes likewise participated in the sịk'aaʔ and in the fall planting.
Over the summer, the primary duty of the men of the tịkl was to watch the herd, preventing the livestock from straying and protecting them from predators and raids. Elderly or otherwise infirm men who remained at the ọb would instead fish and trap game to the extent that they were able. Women and children who were capable of accompanying their male relatives in the higher pastures would milk the livestock and manufacture dairy products such as yogurt (consumed as a beverage), butter (usually clarified to increase its longevity), and cheese (salted and crumbly). They were also responsible for shearing the sheep and scouring the wool toward the end of the season. Women remaining at home practiced a variety of crafts, as well as foraging for useful wild plants.
During the fall and winter, men would hunt and fish, and were responsible for butchering meat, preparing hides and furs, and slaughtering livestock who had reached the end of their productive lifespan. They also manufactured many of the tools used in these endeavors, although most communities relied on trade to obtain metal goods. Women would spin, dye, and weave wool, and mend and tailor clothing for their families. They were also in charge of domestic crafts such as pottery and basket-weaving, and did the cooking for their household.
Men were tasked with bringing in the annual harvest, while women would hull and grind the buckwheat in order to produce flour for making cakes, noodles, and porridge.
In the ọbr, the division of labor tended to be more complex, with individuals taking on more specialized roles. One example of this is that, while many ọbr households owned livestock, they mostly relied on a class of specialized herders living outside the settlement proper to care for their animals through much of the year. These herders were afforded a great deal of respect and usually generously rewarded with a portion of the livestock's produce and of the products of the livestock owners' own labor in the ọbr.
Notably, the ọbr were the site of almost all metal working in ʔuuleo territory, as the presence of valuable metal deposits was the factor that most commonly motivated the establishment of a permanent settlement to begin with. The rugged hills of the region were rich in ores, including copper, gold, and, most notably, tin, which was both essential to the local bronze industry and the cornerstone of trade between the ʔuuleo and the city-states of the Lukpanic coast. All stages of metal production, from mining to too manufacturing, were practiced exclusively by men.
Social status was, by and large, a fluid and mostly informal quality dependent on an individual's wealth, reputation, and charisma. Although the families of a tịkl generally worked side by side throughout the year, crops and livestock were considered to be the property of the individual family. In addition to gaining economic benefits in the form of tradable wool and foodstuffs, families with more livestock were usually esteemed over those with fewer, as a large herd reflected well on the herders' ability to defend and care for their property.
Those families without any livestock at all were objects of pity at best, and frequently the targets of ridicule. When the herds were taken to the leetah in the summer, they remained behind in the village with the elderly and infirm. Although this was a source of shame for such families, it did afford them more time to hunt, fish, forage, and practice crafts like pottery and beadmaking. The products of these activities could usually be traded to more prosperous families in exchange for wool and dairy products, but nevertheless a family without a herd usually struggled to get by.
Although livestock ownership was the most basic source of status in ʔuuleo society, a man's standing within his community could change considerably over the course of his live based on his accomplishments and reputation. Since higher-status individuals acted as leaders during times of crisis and conflict, those with personal charisma or who demonstrated qualities seen as desirable in a leader might find themselves elevated above individuals from wealthier families. Skill in hunting and battle were particularly lauded, as were those traits most associated with possessing ʔụk, including courage, assertiveness, physical strength, and a willingness to enact violent retribution against those who have wronged oneself, one's family, or one's community. Ownership of slaves could be a particularly powerful source of prestige, as capturing a slave demonstrated one's prowess in battle, and keeping that slave demonstrated one's ability to dominate and control less powerful men.
In the ọbr, the same general rules of status applied, and livestock were to some extent more valuable to a household as sources of prestige than as producers of economically valuable goods. As labor became more specialized, however, less traditional forms of wealth became more significant as markers of status and success. Laborers involved in metal production, and particularly miners, were traditionally viewed as particularly lowly, and such work was often carried out by slaves when the option was available. The craftsmen who manufactured finished metal goods, however, were often highly respected and influential figures, displaying their status by carrying finely-wrought weapons and adorning themselves and their wives in valuable metal ornaments.
As women were, for the most part, not allowed to take on leadership roles, they weren't considered to be part of a community's hierarchy of social status. Women respected and took advice from those older and wiser than them, but men generally viewed all women other than their wives and immediate family members as being more or less the same. That being said, it was not uncommon for men in leadership positions to take advice from their mothers or wives, at least when it came to affairs that were not the exclusive domain of men, and thus a woman might wield influence within her community through her relationship with a man of high status.
Cosmology and Religion
Saŋ', Vọʔ, and ʔụk
The ʔuuleo believed that all living things possessed souls (saŋ'), which imbued them with animation and personality. Saŋ' were thought of as being composed of vọʔ, a rarefied substance that could permeate matter and cause it to move and change. Vọʔ was often compared to the wind or to ocean currents, which are invisible and intangible, yet capable of moving great ships. Indeed, these forces were believed to be the work of an incalculable multitude of minor Saŋ' present in the water and the air.
Just as a large man can overpower a small one, saŋ' could be more or less powerful, depending on the amount of vọʔ they possessed. The saŋ' of plants were the weakest, bestowing the power to grow and change shape but not to move under their own power. Animals possessed more powerful saŋ', allowing them to move, while the strongest were generally only found in humans, and granted them the ability to think and speak. However, just as the body of a man denied food grows thinner and lighter, vọʔ tended to gradually dwindle away under the strain of animating a body, and had to be regularly replenished. The little spirits of plants could subsist on the saŋ' present in the air and water, but animals and people needed to consume other living things in order to maintain their vọʔ.
In addition to vọʔ, the souls of human men and predatory animals possessed an additional substance or quality known as ʔụk, often translated as "power" or "strength". As opposed to the nourishing and invigorating properties of vọʔ, ʔụk bestowed the power to kill and the authority to command. Charismatic leaders and successful warriors and hunters were believed to have been gifted with more ʔụk than ordinary men, and were treated with respect and fear in equal measure. It was believed that such men could sometimes bring harm to people or livestock without even being aware of it, if they were to regard them with jealousy or anger. Accusations of this sort of witchcraft were sometimes made when unexpected tragedies befell a member of the tịkl, and they were taken very seriously by chiefs and priests alike.
Women and prey animals, on the other hand, lacked ʔụk, and were therefore believed to be naturally incapable of killing or of assuming leadership roles. The position of Women in ʔuuleo society was therefore in some ways similar to that of livestock, and it was regarded as common sense that they had to be protected and guided by men. Nevertheless, ʔuuleo leaders often turned to their wives and mothers for advice, as women were generally thought to be cleverer than men.
In the event that a woman (or a being similarly lacking in ʔụk) were to take a life or otherwise attempt to assume a traditionally masculine role, it was generally regarded as the work of a ghost or evil spirit (seemhŋ). Seemhŋ were believed to be the souls of men who had been utterly depleted of vọʔ, usually as the result of dying from starvation or disease, or because their bodies were eaten after they died. Seemhŋ were wicked and destructive beings, believed to be responsible for disease, insanity, and all manner of accidental injuries. It was said that there were ways that a woman might attract the attention of a seemhŋ, and allow it to enter her and grant her its ʔụk. Such women could then transgress what were considered their natural roles, though they were not always condemned for it. A few ʔuuleo myths described women warriors and chiefs, portraying them as strange and otherworldly, but also as powerful assets to their communities and scourges upon their foes.
Birth and Death
The Seasons of the World
Religious Practices and Specialists
The religious practices of the ʔuuleo were oriented around the veneration of ancestor spirits (sakr), who were believed to be able to influence the fortunes of their descendants and, sometimes, of whole communities. Interactions between the living and the deceased were primarily mediated by priests (sọlp), men who were identified during childhood and inducted into their role soon after coming of age. Sọlp were often those who exhibited unusual behavior as children, such as experiencing hallucinations, seizures, or particularly vivid dreams, or who survived a serious early-childhood illness, particularly a high fever. After being selected, these youths underwent a period of training and initiation meant to prepare them to open their bodies to the sakr.
During ceremonies, the role of the sọlp was to enter an altered state of consciousness, usually through a combination of intoxication and ecstatic dancing, during which they were believed to embody a particular sakr. Through the sọlp, a family could make offerings to their honored dead (usually food eaten by the sọlp), ask them for council, and receive blessings to strengthen them in the time to come. Such ceremonies traditionally took place shortly after the winter harvest, with the sọlp of the tịkl going from house to house to offer their services to each family.
Certain important sakr were regarded as the ancestors of whole tịkl, or even of the ʔuuleo in general. These larger-than-life figures were thought of in much the same way that other cultures might regard their gods, and were venerated by in large, communal ceremonies at specific times of the year. Such ceremonies would often bring together people from many allied tịkl, and were occasions for trade, marriages, negotiations over territory, various games and competitions, and general revelry. Occasionally they might even mark the induction of a new tịkl into selpleo, an alliance most commonly sealed with a large group wedding. Only the eldest sọlp in attendance was permitted to represent the sakr at these ceremonies.
In addition to representing the sakr at annual ceremonies, the sọlp kept the oral history of their tịkl, officiated marriages and presided over men's coming-of-age ceremonies. In the former case, each family to be joined by a marriage would generally consult a local sọlp in order to gain his assurance that their ancestors approved of the match. In the latter, the sọlp would embody an important sakr of a boy's family, in order to grant him the gift of ʔụk that would make him a man.
Although the sọlp were the primary spiritual leaders of an ʔuuleo tịkl, the healer (siip'r) was an equally ubiquitous type of religious specialist. Siip'r were always women, and all women were expected to learn at least a little of the healer's art from their mothers. When an illness or injury did not seem to be responding to the care provided by the woman of the household, however, a professional had to be called in. Siip'r were most commonly elderly women who had never had children, since bearing and nursing children was believed to deplete their surplus vọʔ. These women used a variety of methods, including the application of herbs and other medicines, prayers to the sakr, and the laying on of hands, in order to channel life-giving vọʔ that might counter the condition afflicting their patient. Oftentimes they would recommend that an animal be slaughtered on behalf of the patient, who would then be fed particular parts of the carcass, depending on the nature of the affliction.
The autonym ʔuuleo may be directly translated as "wolf people" or "wolf tribe(s)," which at first blush appears to be a strange name for a society of shepherds to give themselves. Indeed, while wolves held a special place in the mythology of the ʔuuleo, with ancestors often appearing to the protagonists of traditional stories in the form of talking wolves, the flesh-and-blood animals were regarded as a nuisance at best, and villagers seem to have had no compunctions about eradicating wolf packs that had attacked their herds.
It appears that the name may have originally been a pejorative moniker applied to the ʔuuleo by unfriendly neighbors and disgruntled trading partners. Contemporary records from the Lukpanic Coast frequently remark that the territory of the ʔuuleo was widely reputed to be infested with wolves of unusual size and ferocity, and often add the observation that the native people were equally brutish and disagreeable. Over time, it seems, the ʔuuleo came to take pride in the fact that outsiders regarded them as such ferocious folk, and they appropriated the title for their own use.