The Meshi were a nomadic people in central Peilaš, who in Ndak times lived mostly along the middle Eigə and one of its major northern tributaries (which was named after them; cf. Ad. Mexi), in the regions west of Lasomo. They spoke a language belonging to the Eigə Valley branch of the Eigə-Isthmus family.
At the end of the second millennium BP, when nomadic peoples on horseback had gained a military advantage due to the invention of the stirrup and the saddle, the Meshi set out to create one of the largest empires in the history of Peilaš. They conquered almost all of the Eigə valley, ruling the Ndok, the Buruyans, and even large parts of Kasca and what was later to become the southern part of Huyfárah. Traces of Meshi culture can be found throughout this vast region, in the form of physical artifacts such as artwork and inscriptions as well as in the form of loanwords (most numerous in Ndok Aisô) and placenames (for instance, the name Buruya contains the Meshi term buru "encampment; fortification"). However, the empire was short-lived; it disintegrated around 900 BP, and the Meshi retreated back into their homeland, where they were gradually assimilated by Habeo tribes in the course of the following centuries.
The Meshi of pre-Ndak times left few material traces. They had no towns or writing, and did not practice large-scale agriculture. Despite this, the development of their language provides some clues as to their early history.
Proto-Meshi shares some common sound changes with Proto-Miwan (/*ts *dz/ > /t d/ in onsets, /*aj *aw/ > /*e *o/ and /*o/ > /u/) and there are a number of loans between the two.
The change of /kw gw/ > /fw zw/ is however characteristically Meshi and turns out to be important in dating the Miw-Meshi split. A few early loans from Proto-Habeo and Gezoro show the change (PHab. Taʔuqʷuʔe "Thabīa" > *Tawkwuy > Tawfwe, Gez. gwaːmɔ "fortress" > zwama) and it is present in at least one loan into Miwan (*za-fwinta > FMiw. zafwiːta). This demonstrates that the Meshi had contact with all three of these groups in the same period.
Based on this evidence we can safely say that before the Ndak expansion the Meshi occupied a stretch of the southern Eigə valley from southern Lasomo perhaps as far west as the confluence of the Mexi with the Eigə. They were probably semi-nomadic and sustained themselves by a mix of hunting, gathering, fishing, small-scale cultivation, and (increasingly) pastoralism.
The turn of the second millennium BP was a period of conflict. The Ndak migrated south into Lasomo ca. 2200 BP and spent the next three hundred years waging a series of wars against the Ngauro, Talo, Gezoro, Faraghin, and briefly the Hitatc. In the west, the lowlands were culturally and linguistically assimilated into the Ndak empire, as was the Rathedān to a lesser extent.
This definitively cut off the Meshi from the Miw. In response they moved north into the Mexi valley in the low Xoron and resisted any further encroachment. They still maintained contact with neighbouring peoples including the Ndak, Habeo, and Antagg; some Meshi lived within the empire's borders and served in the imperial cavalry.
The Meshi economy shifted towards pastoralism in this period, partly to adapt to the drier terrain and partly due to developments in husbandry. The majority of the people were nomadic although they had some permanent villages (sanu) and strongholds (buru).
Ndak descriptions of the Meshi are not extensive. As rulers of a prosperous agricultural empire, they had little interest in such a 'primitive' people. The Meshi lacked political unity, cities, writing, and nearly everything else the Ndak valued besides horses.
However, the Ndak - not known for squeamishness - were particularly shocked by their religious rituals. As well as practicing human sacrifice, the Meshi subjected their young men (and to a lesser extent women) to elaborate initiation rites intended to inure them to pain and mark their passage to adulthood with permanent scarification.
As the second millennium wore on the Antagg state collapsed, the Ndak fell into decline, and 'barbarian' nations gained ground at their expense. Similar societal disturbances across Akana suggest that this was exacerbated by climatic change.
Meshi culture gradually became more warlike in response to these social and ecological pressures. This was particularly marked from the 15th century BP with the Hitatc Empire's brief expansion into the Xoron and the subsequent rise of the Habeo nomad confederation. The Meshi disdained the idea of joining the Habeo even as equals, instead seeing them as rivals to test themselves against, and for three hundred years there was increasingly frequent conflict between the two peoples.
By the early 13th century BP the Habeo had developed (or adopted) the saddle, which allowed them to fight much more effectively from horseback. The Meshi quickly copied this advance and around 1100 BP further improved it with the invention of stirrups - which gave them a decisive edge. They beat back the Habeo over the course of a generation and forced them into a truce.
With their traditional enemies defeated, the low Xoron under their control, and their drive to prove themselves in war undimmed, the Meshi needed new objectives. They pushed east into the Bwimbai valley and quickly subjugated the Mohudza - another mostly pastoral people - cementing their position of dominance among the nomads. Then they turned their attention south to the settled nations of the Eigə.
The last centralised Ndak states had collapsed generations before, and the city-states and petty kingdoms that succeeded them were in no position to mount a defence. Lasomo had just barely pulled back from the brink of anarchy; Kasca had not. The Meshi swept down from the northwest, demanding surrender from each city they encountered and treating any resistance as a grievous insult. In a few decades they conquered most of the Bwimbai, Eigə, and Milīr valleys and the southern parts of Huyfárah.
Meshi chieftains established themselves as replacements or superiors of local rulers throughout their empire. Their centre of power shifted in part to Lasomo (particularly Ngahêxôldod) and Buruya, which they established as a trading post and stronghold.
Collapse and later history
While the Meshi readily accepted the submission of other peoples, their society did not adapt well to ruling a much larger agricultural population. To maintain control, they were obliged to either settle in one place or to rely on local client rulers, neither of which suited them. At the same time the traditions of initiation and testing in battle that reinforced their identity became harder to maintain and distanced them from their subjects.
The empire therefore lacked stability, and friction grew not just between Meshi rulers and subjects but also between 'purist' (Meshi beyu) and 'civilised' (Meshi zwama). The latter were regularly accused of decadence (badachi).
The invasion of Kasca in the late tenth century BP exposed these weaknesses in the empire and indirectly brought about its downfall.
A large number of Meshi from the purist faction joined the campaign under the banner of chief Kayri. At first they made good progress, securing the northwestern fringe and the Vuzëi before circling round to the south to capture Påwe. However they ran into difficulties after this point. Securing enough boats to enter the delta proper exhausted the resources of the locals and the patience of the Meshi, leading to ongoing outbreaks of violence. Kayri and a force of Meshi warriors made the crossing to Momuva'e and captured it but found it disappointingly poor compared to the cities of Lasomo. Further advances gave steadily diminishing returns: the Meshi's cherished horses were of little use in the swampland, and the delta dwellers were impoverished, at best sullenly accepted conquest and at worst hardly understood what it meant.
In short, the riches and glory the Meshi had expected did not materialise.
After years of fruitless campaigning the horde turned back to Lasomo. Kayri, hungry for a real fight, claimed that the city of Akôdaig had broken its terms of surrender and needed punishment. To his disgust he was met by a combined army of Ndok and 'civilised' Meshi. Kayri was eventually killed following a series of raids and battles, but the unity of the Meshi had been irreparably broken. Internecine conflict, subject revolts, and counter-invasions by the Habeo, Faraghin, and Hitatc tore the empire apart even more quickly than it had risen.
By 900 BP the Meshi had lost too much prestige to dominate their neighbours, and no longer had a monopoly on the military advantage of the stirrup. They retreated to the Mexi valley, where they remained as a distinct ethnicity subject by turns to the Mohudza, Damak, and Habeo before being incorporated into the Empire of Athalē.
Like many of the Eigə-Isthmus peoples the Meshi had a decentralised, tribal society.
The basic unit of organisation was the clan or patrilineage (kaws), which claimed descent from a usually legendary ancestor (mifwan). These followed the Omaha system of kinship. Some noteworthy features were:
- Terms were most descriptive for people in someone's own patrilineage.
- A man called his children min (son) and zak (daughter), which also applied to a brother's children.
- A woman called her children anar (child of a clan woman), which also applied to a sister's children or a father's sister's children.
Chieftains were titled jil and each held sway over a tribe or group of clans (kikaw). Socially, they were always men, but in exceptional circumstances a woman could take on the role by undergoing the male initiation rite, taking a wife, and assuming paternity of her wife's children; this was the only circumstance in which extramarital sex was permitted to a woman.
All tribes together made up the Meshi nation (aswun Meshi). Even in the empire, there was never a single unquestioned leader, a factor that certainly contributed to its instability. Instead the chieftains formed an oligarchy from which campaign leaders or generals (jil kana) emerged or were chosen.
Spirituality and honour
Meshi religion was polytheistic with elements of animism. They believed in gods (nak) and lesser spirits (kayr) that controlled the powers of nature, the fortunes of humanity, and the afterlife.
Initiation rites (beshis for men, beset for women) were a core part of Meshi faith and identity. The details varied by tribe and era but they were always tests of endurance and pain tolerance, more exacting for men than for women, and left distinctive scars. Completing the rite was considered a sign of divine favour and worth (zasachi chi Meshi), and no Meshi man was permitted to marry or become a warrior until he had been initiated. A very few people undertook the initiation twice - which was considered a truly heroic feat.
Personal honour (zus) was also crucial in Meshi society. Courage in battle (nyazachi zwip gwun), justice (zanachi zasa), hospitality (fwulachi tan) and skilful riding (zazar zwip ashe) could all increase honour; weakness (munachi), cowardice, infidelity (of a woman) and especially failure to respond to an insult would lose honour.
The worst insult possible was swu, "worthless". If anyone - man or woman - was accused of this and did not retaliate it would be considered true.
The Meshi conducted warfare (kana) mainly to pursue disputes over honour, resources, territory, or other matters. Conflict between Meshi individuals or tribes was partly ritualised, with small numbers of combatants and often prearranged terms of victory. Even against other peoples they did not aim to slaughter as many opponents as possible but to kill, maim, or humiliate particular targets - usually leaders or personal enemies.
They took a fairly consistent approach during their wars of conquest. They would first call on the enemy leaders to surrender. If the offer was rejected, they would kill anyone involved in the negotiations before giving battle, with the two main aims of killing enemy commanders and breaking the morale of the line troops. Their greatly superior speed and mobility meant that they could engage the enemy piecemeal, often defeating much larger armies in this manner. A city or region that did surrender would become the possession of a Meshi chief and required to pay tribute (nape), while those that refused were pillaged without mercy (bwur zwip wesaw).
Oral and written tradition
Stories, legends and myths were transmitted by bards (kene) in the form of narrative poems or songs (tum), which were distinguished from improvised or celebratory songs (li). However, the Meshi made no distinction between legend and history and saw significant lives and events as potential new legends. To have one's deeds immortalised in story cemented this and was believed to strengthen the spirit (zhin) in life and death.
The Meshi adopted the inscriptional form of the Ndak logosyllabary to write their language and maintained a tradition of scribes or memorialists (kenwa). Their use of writing was narrower than the Ndak's - they were concerned almost entirely with commemorating notable deeds and events. The great majority of surviving Meshi texts are from stone monuments (awkwai, a Ndak loan) dedicated to battles, conquests, foundations, and especially to dead heroes. Shorter inscriptions appear on movable goods such as weapons, horse tack, and jewellery.