Culture of Ishe

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The Lukpanic city-states reached their height in the late second millenium BP. By this time they were one of the most advanced and urbanised civilisations in the Western sphere, and possibly in the whole of northern Peilaš, considering the general anarchy in the Edastean lands in this period. Their culture was built on the bounty of the sea, and their autonym reflected this – Proto-Lukpanic Lukpani means “facing the sea.” (The Ishe dialect reflex is Lupåne.) They were able navigators and keen traders, establishing outposts as far as the Kipceʔ desert. Each city-state had its own government; Ishe was governed by a council of elders and priests, though their functions mostly related to the organisation of building work and the settling of disputes.

From about -1200 YP, however, the Coastal Western peoples of the east began to migrate into the Lukpanic lands. They do not seem to have had a single name for themselves, although the Lukpanab called them Lunuəsi (I.L. Lunoshe); they were divided into tribes (Ishoʻu ʻOhu zhégádú) of several hundred people, each of which had its own name, and in turn comprised a number of families or septs (Ish. zhúguga). Each tribe was led by a chieftain (pugá) and occupied an area of land several miles across, invariably centred on a village or – in the case of the more powerful tribes – a hill fort surrounded by earthworks. They were frequently engaged in low-level warfare and raids against neighbouring tribes, and when they came into contact with the Lukpanic peoples (whom they called Zúpugózhu, meaning “fishermen”) they raided them as well.

By the beginning of the first millenium BP, the Coastal Western peoples had started to gain the upper hand in their wars against the Lukpanic cities. The Lukpanic peoples were unused to frequent warfare and were unable to maintain large standing armies; they also failed to make effective use of archers and cavalry, or counter those fielded by the Westerners. Several cities were captured outright by the Westerners. However, in time a large proportion of Westerners came to settle in the cities and their hinterlands, adopting Lukpanic ways of farming and fishing. While this seemed at first like an end to the problems for the Lukpanic rulers, it caused another problem – they now had a large number of subjects who kept foreign traditions, followed a foreign and somewhat bloodthirsty religion, often did not speak the local language, and were skilled in the use of weapons.

At the end of the seventh century BP a Western chieftain called Ùgabadá “the Biting” rose to power in the plains north of Ishe, claiming the title pugádú – meaning “great chieftain” or “warlord”. For a while the ruling council paid him off with tribute and promises of fealty, but eventually (in -589 YP) he decided that this was not enough, and that he should take the cities’ wealth by force of arms. Ishe raised an army as quickly as possible and sent it to meet Ùgabadá in battle. The armies were large by the standards of the day – contemporary records claim that each numbered around eight thousand – and the battle would have been bloody had it not been for the fact that the thousands-strong Western contingent in the defending army promptly switched sides. The remaining Lukpanic warriors were taken captive and the army moved onward to Ishe – as its defences had been largely exhausted, it fell within two days. Ùgabadá, supported by the local Westerners, had himself crowned king (the title was ùmu, borrowed from Ishe Lukpanic), and at his coronation he personally slew the leaders of the council and ate their hearts as a symbol of his authority.

The city

The city of Ishe was from ancient times one of the largest and most central Lukpanic cities. The population of the city and its hinterland probably exceeded 70,000 by 500 YP; about two-thirds of the populace were farmers, and a large part of the remainder were engaged in fishing.

The climate of the area is Mediterranean with a moderate amount of rain. (A good terrestrial analogue would be the coast of California or Portugal.) This lends itself well to rainfall agriculture; the staple crop of the Lukpanic peoples was buckwheat (I.L. mulu), supplemented by beans, carrots, onions, figs, and grapes. They kept goats (ŋiula) and cattle (hop) for meat and milk, which they used to make butter (kita), and bees for buckwheat honey. Most of the meat eaten in the ancient period came from the sea, however, and the fishermen would often sail several miles offshore to catch fish from small sailing boats using nets or hand lines. The favoured alcoholic drink was wine (I.L. pupa) from grapes, although mead (bupitu) was also known.

The city itself was built around a small bay on a somewhat hilly south-facing coast. The bay formed a good natural harbour against the prevailing westerlies, and was the base of both the fishing fleet and trade vessels; docks and jetties were built around the bay, and behind them was the port district – a lively but relatively poor area at the bottom of the hills. Further up the slopes were richer districts, and on top of the hills were the public buildings – the royal palace built by Ùgabadá in the early years of his reign, the marketplace, and the temples (with the exception of the temple of Polu, which was sited at the west end of the bay, by the sea).

In Lukpanic times the distribution of wealth, while hardly egalitarian, was generally more even than in other contemporary societies. This seems to have been because there was not a permanent ruling class other than the senior priests, who had relatively few ways of accumulating wealth. There was no tithe system, and building work was mostly done by the residents of the district concerned. The greatest wealth lay with the merchants, who controlled supplies of certain luxury goods, in particular imports from the Wellawi nation in the mountains; unsurprisingly, they were an important part of the council, but they were never numerous enough to gain control.

Under the monarchy, the system changed somewhat. The king took authority over the whole of the city, and took control of the city council and (in theory at least) the temples. A tax system was instituted, whereby each citizen owed a certain amount of either goods or labour to the king each year, most of which went towards maintaining the defences of the city – which were considerably stronger under the monarchy – and maintaining a high standard of living for the king and his favourites.


The religion of fifth-century-BP Ishe was a fusion of the practices of the the with those of the indigenous Lukpanab. Both peoples were originally polytheists, but the Westerners tended towards animism, and generally viewed supernatural beings as divided into guiding spirits (Ish. shàha) and demons (Ish. sèmàshàha – literally “bad spirits”). On the whole they viewed these entities as requiring supplication and sacrifice, especially in blood. (It seems likely that in the time of the Proto-Coastal-Western people, the Western concept of *kʷacu had become conflated entirely with blood.) Individual entities were rarely worshipped for more than a few generations, and each was generally restricted to a single tribe.

The Lukpanic gods were much more permanent, each having an established cult and practices. The most widespread was the sea godess Poalu (I.L. Polu), whose cult was based in the island city of Poalugbum (I.L. Polubum) but was present in all the Lukpanic states. Each city also had its own favoured gods; those most important in Ishe were Dunom (PL *Dunoam), god of crafts, Lajisa (*Ladisa), god of architecture, and Tålelina (*Taliəlina) the Red Lady, goddess of fire. All of these were worshipped with a distinctive set of rituals and sacrifices – the latter mostly consisted of meat, wine, or grain, except in time of catastrophe.

While the population of Ishe was becoming increasingly Coastal Western, the new arrivals often adopted the worship of the local gods, but invariably chose to worship them as they did their own spirits – with offerings exclusively of blood. They particularly favoured Tålelina, whom they viewed as a deity of chaos and destruction (and by association war). When Ùgabadá seized power, he too worshipped the gods and goddesses of Ishe, but also decided that the spirits of his own tribe should also be worshipped in the city. A handful had temples built in their honour, though only Hogúgúdú, an eagle sprit associated with wisdom and healing, gained widespread popularity.

(The names of the abovementioned Lukpanic deities in Ishoʻu ʻOhu became Polu, Zhùnòmo, Lazhísa, and Toalelìna.)

By the fifth century BP each god had a well-established set of rituals and ceremonies, and a preferred method of sacrifices. For most gods, an adult of either sex would be sacrificed on an altar by having their torso cut open with a bronze knife and the heart and liver removed. However, this was not always the case: sacrifices to Polu were weighted down with stones and drowned in the ocean, while those made to Tålelina were burned alive and consisted exclusively of unmarried young men.

Human sacrifices were mostly made at each solstice and equinox as these were considered to be the most cosmically significant points of the year, but again, this was far from universal. A sacrifice to Polu was made at the highest spring tide every month, with the aim of persuading her not to submerge the earth; a number were made to Lajesa at the construction of a new public building, to ensure it would not collapse; and several to Tålelina before a battle, or in the event of a natural disaster. Unsurprising, the consecration of a new temple also required a substantial number of sacrifices. Self-sacrifice was widely practiced; typically someone asking a favour of a god or spirit would pierce their own body with a knife – most commonly the ear, but also at times the torso, tongue and genitals – in order to draw blood for the gods to take, and the most venerable priests were consequently covered in scars. At a coronation, along with the sacrifice of ten men and ten women, the new king was expected to give blood from his tongue and right arm as an offering.

Funerary practices for women and children generally consisted of cremation and a short period of mourning; but for men, especially those had held power or prestige in life, the corpse was butchered, and the heart and liver, along with flesh from the arms and legs, were cooked and eaten. The victims of human sacrifices were often treated in this manner as well, particularly before battles.

Trade and economy

The Coastal Western peoples before extensive contact with the Lukpanab were not particularly interested in trade. They were self-sufficient in most regards and goods that a given tribe did not produce were acquired by raiding nearby areas. They did however trade metal goods, along with some other items such as seashells and amber that were only available in restricted areas.

The Lukpanab, on the other hand, were avid traders, selling goods to neighbouring cities and sending expeditions up and down the coast. Before the arrival of the Westerners, their main trading partners were the Wellawi, inhabiting the mountain regions inland of the Kipceʔ desert. At least one trading outpost was established in the Kipceʔ during this period.

By the -500 YP the Coastal Western peoples had gained control of the Lukpanic coast, leading to a slightly dampened enthusiasm for sea trade. However, at this time the Wañelinlawag Empire was entering an age of prosperity under its Emperor Zamar (whose name was rendered into Ishoʻu ʻOhu as Samáda), and inland trade flourished. A consequence of this was that the eastern parts of the Lukpanic coast rose to prominence, in particular the previously unremarkable town of Pigbaye, which came to hold a virtual monopoly on trade with Wañelín. Ishe retained considerable influence as a maritime power, and became one of Pigbaye's main western trading partners, but it came to rely more on its increased naval and military strength to hold its position as a major city-state.

The Lukpanic cities were already using a market economy of sorts by the time the Western peoples moved into their lands. Barter was the norm in the early Lukpanic period, but as time went on the need for a widely accepted and durable currency became apparent, and of the goods available, two gained widespread use. The first was seashells – they were already a desirable but valuable commodity, and certain types (I.L. ibiub) found along the coast northwest of the Lukpanic cities became popular. The other was copper ingots (pasagae), produced originally by Lukpanic smelters as an intermediate between copper ores and bronze production, but recognised as a compact and useful currency. At first these varied in size and quality, but in the early 5th century BP the monarchs of Ishe started to regulate these, ordering that approved ingots be stamped with the royal mark – the beginnings of a system of coinage.


In most respects the Lukpanab were more advanced than the Westerners who conquered them, and the conquest did not introduce any substantial changes to the technology of the Lukpanic cities.


The Westerners traditionally lived in tribal villages built from wood, replaced in some areas by dry stone or adobe. These would comprise a number of longhouses (generally from ten to thirty) each occupied by a single extended family or sept, centred on the longhouse of the chief's family. The whole would be surrounded by a simple earth rampart and ditch, and sometimes a wooden palisade; as mentioned above, some tribes would occupy and fortify hilltops. When the Westerners started to move into the Lukpanic lands, this general organisation was retained, but tribes tended to split up into smaller villages, and built smaller houses.

The Lukpanab built mostly in brick, with larger buildings built from cut stone. A characteristic of their architecture was that urban houses – which were frequently of two or more storeys – tended to merge into each other, so that a hallway or staircase might be shared between houses, or the roof of one might be the porch of the house next door. Their cities were not particularly well-fortified, having grown in the absence of any serious external threat. At its height around -750 YP, Ishe was surrounded by a rammed-earth wall (I.L. elum) reinforced with wood; there were efforts made in the following 150 years to strengthen this wall with stone, but it still proved ineffectual against the Coastal invaders.

After the conquest the city's buildings saw few changes, apart from the construction of a large stone palace for the king and the addition of some new temples. However, the city wall was rebuilt in cut stone using corvee labour. (It didn't make it any easier that the large stone blocks had to be quarried inland and transported to the city on rollers.) When completed, in c. -520 YP, the wall extended for a distance of 4 km around the landward side of Ishe, stood three metres high, and was wide enough for three men to walk along the top.


The Westerners were not noted for their ability with boats; they did make small boats and rafts for use on lakes and rivers, but lacked the skill to build seagoing craft.

The Lukpanab were in contrast competent sailors, building ships (I.L. nema) that could sail for hundreds of miles along the coast to trade and explore. The prototypical Lukpanic vessel was a galley with a single bank of oars for calm weather and a single large, square sail for the open sea. Larger ships were built full-decked, with a hold for cargo; they carried distinguishing marks or glyphs on their sails to identify the vessel or its owner. Smaller vessels consisted of small sailing or rowing boats, used for fishing. Small distances, particularly on rivers, were travelled by canoe (ichimum).

Navigation was crude, relying on sightings of the sun and stars, and consequently the Lukpanab never ventured far from the coast. A sea crossing of more than a day or so out of land was considered long and (with reason) dangerous.


The origins of metalworking among both the Western and Lukpanic peoples are obscure, but by the time of the first extensive contact between the two groups both had basic metallurgy up to the level of bronze working (I.L. vilep; Ish. zígáka).

The Lukpanab also knew of lead and silver (I.L. såvoep), which were mined along with tin (chila) and copper (pasa); gold (etakap), which they found in small quantities in and around rivers; and meteoric iron, which was highly prized but very scarce.

There were few revolutionary changes made in the field of metallurgy during the period -1500 to -500. However, the general standard of metalworking increased gradually, and two significant advances are worth mentioning: the development of lost-wax casting in the late 2nd millennium BP, and the invention of metal nails (I.L. lapike) around -800 YP, which allowed new advances in shipbuilding.


In war, the Lukpanic peoples found themselves at a definite disadvantage compared to the Westerners. Serious conflict was rare in the Lukpanic cities; it seems that none of them originally had standing armies, and in the rare event of war between cities or of raids from nearby peoples, citizens would simply arm themselves with clubs (I.L. ŋau) and spears (dåŋu). Armour was almost unknown.

The Westerners' trump cards were their skilful archers and their experience with the horse. (It should be noted that they did not have cavalry in the strict sense, as the contemporary Habeo and Meshi did; they lacked stirrups and – originally – saddles, and were not able to ride horses effectively in battle. Nevertheless their warriors gained a great increase in mobility.) With these two developments they were able to strike quickly and decisively at opponents and then retreat beyond the range of counterattack. The Lukpanic peoples never really succeeded in countering Western tactics and eventually all of their mainland cities succumbed; Ishe lasted longer than most because by the time they reached it the Westerners had already settled down somewhat due to over 400 years of contact with the Lukpanab.

After the conquest, the kings of Ishe turned a substantial proportion of the city's resources to military purposes. Metalcrafting was driven by the demand for improved swords, which were made using different proportions of tin to create sharper blades. Early siege weapons also appeared in the form of catapults (Ish. pádòzù).

An army of Ishe around -450 YP would consist of about equal numbers of archers and spearmen in leather armour, supported by mounted warriors equipped with swords and javelins, also wearing leather armour. Commanders and the elite would wield swords and wear bronze armour of either scale or plate.

Literacy and numeracy

Before extensive contact with the Lukpanic cities, the Westerners made no permanent records, except in the form of petroglyphs (which appear to have been mostly for ritual purposes). The Lukpanab on the other hand did have a written number system by the late second millenium BP; the Lukpanic interest in trade led to a need for some form of accounting, which was achieved by the use of tally marks based on groups of five. It was supplemented by some basic ideograms – for instance indicating grapes or Isi – but these did not reach the level of a true writing system.