The Ammat Archipelago

Perhaps you folks would like to read the actual five pages I wrote about the Ammatan. I’m cool with that. Here you go. 🙂 Mind that this comes straight from my notes. I didn’t bother to polish it up because I want you guys to see exactly how this looks when I do it for myself.

The Ammat Archipelago

 Placenames: Ba’al Tilin, Asa Lar, Bentu Han, Karket Oso, Bua Pak.
Neighbors: (not applicable)
Geographical features: The Ammat Archipelago is a collection of tens of thousands of islands, shielded by barrier reefs on both the east and west. There are many volcanoes throughout the region; the islands are mountainous, and the channels between the islands are very calm, shallow, and narrow. The Archipelago is a couple thousand miles long, but only a few hundred wide.
Biome: Varies – tropical island rainforests towards the equator, scrubland and tundra in the far north.
Physical description: Extremely tall. Long, narrow features. Deeply tan skin (olive or darker), dark smooth hair, yellow or orange eyes.
Social type: Hunter-gatherers, living in small, semi-nomadic tribes. Each tribe has a home island, but they move around on it periodically and often travel to other islands in the area.
Family Unit: Each tribe, made up of 30 or 40 people, considers itself a single family. Marriages are, therefore, exogamous. A child has a mother and father, but all other men and women of the tribe are considered its aunts and uncles, even its actual grandparents.

 Buildings: Built directly on the beach, huts made of local shrubbery and deadwood – generally a delicate framework thatched with broad leaves. In the rockier north, they occasionally live in caves during winter storms, although this is considered unhealthy. Throughout the archipelago, proximity to the shore is considered the most important thing in choosing a place to settle. When traveling (or in other circumstances described below), the Ammatan may build a temporary house, using the hull of their coracle boats as a roof, held up at the edges with sticks or rocks. They will hang leaves from the edges or drape vines all over the hut for privacy.
Weapons: Shark-toothed or stone-headed arrows, harpoons, stone-headed hatchets, slingshots.
Hygiene & Health: The Ammatan don’t pay much attention to it, but considering they’re all in and out of the sea three or four times a day, they don’t really need to. The only time they do deliberately wash is if they are ill, due to the belief that illness is caused by foul smells.
Travel/Transportation: Coracles of reed or whalebone covered in sharkskin. Foot travel.
Food: Seafood, native animals of the island, roots, fallen fruit. Common spices are the pulp of a ginger-like root that grows in the dunes or the juices of fruits. For holy days and special occasions, they will get a particularly large animal or fish (a pig or a dolphin) and roast it whole, filled with fragrant roots and fruit.
Food customs: People generally eat when they are hungry – there are no set meal times. Children learn to roast fish on sticks basically as soon as they’re old enough to hold the stick. People eat with the people they are working with, or with their friends. Or whoever happens to be nearby. If someone approaches you to talk while you are eating, it is rude not to offer them a bite or a taste of your food, but you are not obligated to split it evenly with them. It is equally rude to take more than a mouthful, or to ask for a second bite before it’s offered. There are no customs as to positions when eating – people sit on the sand or lounge as they find comfortable, or walk about with food if they are busy. For big occasions involving the above mentioned roasts, people will gather together when it is ready and eat in one big group, although they wander in and out of the gathering at will.
Music: Informal. Instruments are made mostly of shells. In the north, they prefer wind instruments – whistles and ocarinas made of clamshell sealed with clay. In the equatorial regions, they have trumpets and flutes made of narrow, spire-shaped shells, as well as percussive instruments like maracas made of fishbone and lap-sized drums (covered in either animal skin or fishskin). In the south, they have steel-pan drums, but made of a giant clamshell. It is played on the convex side by ringing it with the jaw of a basking fish or by slapping with an open palm. Songs are not considered music, but rather a subset of storytelling. Music is entirely improvisational and sort of evolves naturally when people are gathered in a group, and consists primarily of call-and-response rhythms rather than tunes.
Manners: Within a tribe, there are hardly any. Children have no rules of behavior, as they are considered to be little more than animals – pranks and teasing of adults are not punished, nor paid much attention to. Adults are relaxed around the other adults of their tribe; when meeting a member of another tribe, one must exchange a gift with them, even if it’s a surprise meeting. If caught without ANYTHING to give as a gift, even a token, it is considered politer to wholly ignore someone’s very existence than it is to accept a gift without one in return. It is also incredibly rude to reject a gift during an exchange: whatever is offered must be taken. (A favorite topic of Ammatan humorous stories is two people getting caught without gifts to give each other – they are sometimes forced to exchange clothing, hair, or other awkward things, although on Asa Lar, the version goes that the two people are shamans and exchange their genitalia). Adults who are unmannerly are mocked as being “childish”.

 Taboos: Nudity – although children can run around stark nekkid all the damn day, it is unacceptable for an adult to go about without at least a loincloth, even when swimming. Although sex is talked and joked about freely, in practice it is much more private. If they share a hut with other adults, couples will go a distance away from the camp. If not, then they use their hut; children, of course, don’t count. As a note, it is far more shameful for a man to get caught naked than it is for a woman – you can see more, you know. It is also considered taboo to eat birds, since the Ammatan birds are all scavengers and considered unclean.
Clothing: Knee- or calf-length wrap-around skirts of seawich or seaflax, often dyed blue or green. In the north, they also wear the pelts of animals, which are scraggly and thin. They rarely wear shoes unless they’re walking over rocky terrain or when traveling; shoes are sandals made of woven rushes or fishskin leather. In the very far north, they have crude fur boots in the winter.
Jewelry/Ornamentation: Lots of shell jewelry – the most prized kind is strands of teeeeeny shells threaded together and bundled into ropes of many, many strands. Metal is very rare, and therefore very much valued as well. Anklets and bracelets of larger shells or fishbone beads are also considered pretty for women, as they make a pleasant sound when she moves and draw attention to her ankles and wrists. Clothing is ornamented with tassels or strips of narrow weaving in colorful, geometric patterns.

Treatment of Guests: Guests are treated with extreme politeness and warmth – there is a lot of travel between islands and tribes, so they are accustomed to seeing strangers. Other tribes are treated much like one would treat a next-door neighbor that one didn’t know very well. Trade is not so much formalized as it is a collection of neighbors paddling across the channel to “gift away” some of their excess, much as someone might take a bag of cookies to their neighbor just because. This incites an intentional gift-exchange. Individual or small groups of guests build their own make-shift huts using their lightweight coracles as roofs. If they stay any longer than a week or so, they will begin to receive invitations to move into one of the thatched huts of the villagers. Individuals are accepted into the tribe as default members of the “family” after a few weeks, whenever the tribe starts feeling like they’ve been around “for a long time.” When these new family members leave, if they do, this is regarded as a major blow to the tribe and has a similar emotional impact as a death.
Names/References: If two people meet, perhaps two fishermen casting their nets in the same lagoon, when they exchange gifts they will often introduce themselves not by their own given names, but by the name of their tribes. Amongst the tribe, people often have descriptive names that may change several times throughout their lives (eg: “Small Fish”, “Tip-Over”, “Seal’s Testicles”, “Burn Foot”). These names usually come from embarrassing, awkward, or memorable moments in the person’s life – Small Fish perhaps began to be called that because he once had a bad day fishing and only brought home one fish, which to boot was the smallest anyone had ever seen. Children also often announce names that they’ve come up with for themselves, which are acceptable monikers until they find themselves with another nickname.
Greetings and Gestures: The Ammatan don’t have any particular gestures of greeting. Mothers and children, or lovers, will sometimes express affection by pressing their cheek against the other person’s cheek, but that is a very intimate thing to do – too intimate even for good friends.
Social class: There are children and there are adults. There are no rankings amongst the adults – older adults are considered equal to a newly-made adult, and so decisions are made by coming to a general consensus. Change, therefore, happens extremely slowly, if at all. If there is a true stalemate, the decision falls to the shaman of the island (who is not part of the tribe – see the Religion section).

Births: When a woman is close to going into labor, the tribe will build a makeshift coracle-hut on the beach, half submerged in the water. Most of the tribe will remain a polite distance away, but her particular friends will remain just outside the hut to fetch her anything she might need. The new baby is immediately washed in the seawater. As days pass and each member of the tribe comes within greeting distance of the child for the first time, they present it with a greeting-gift and then pretend to be hugely offended that the child has nothing for them in return. The baby is then deemed to be truly a child (read that as an insult.)
Child raising: All the children are looked after by all the adults, although there are a few adults who take this responsibility on themselves especially. Children are basically considered to be animals, so the “babysitter” would be considered to be along the same lines as a shepherd, if the Ammatan had sheep. Children sleep in their parents’ hut.
Passage into Adulthood: Pretty informal. The only ritual that accompanies this is that the child must accrue a collection of greeting-gifts, one for each member of the tribe who gave them a gift when they were born. The child becomes an adult when all the gifts have been given – unlike casual greeting-gifts, these must be of some value, and thoughtfully chosen for the person they’re gifted to. Older children who are about to begin gifting go far afield to find beautiful rare shells, pebbles, and pieces of coral to make into jewelry. Particularly large or exotic fish are also acceptable, as are weapons they have crafted, ambergris they have collected, or items of clothing they have woven. Any method of acquiring these items is acceptable, although making them is considered better than getting them in trade, as it shows the child has developed a variety of useful skills appropriate for an adult. Adults often continue to live with their parents, although they are permitted to build their own hut. Young men most commonly move just outside their parents’ hut, leaving their possessions in the hut and fashioning a coracle-hut some yards away to sleep in. It is possible to be “demoted” into childhood, but only for grievous foolishness.
Courtship: It is considered unwise to marry within one’s own tribe, as it does not form any alliances between tribes in case of wartime. Young men begin venturing out in their boats to visit other tribes two or three years after they’ve been acknowledged as adults; this is the primary way that news and messages are carried through the Archipelago. If a young man brings particularly nice greeting-gifts, parents will encourage their adult daughters to flirt with him, mostly by plying a craft they are particularly skilled at in a public place where the young man might see. (See Gender roles for appropriate crafts) Men and women are permitted to speak freely, and unmarried men and women often gather in groups to work or eat. If there is a woman he takes a shine to, the young man will build himself a proper hut within the camp of her tribe, taking care to make it as impressive and pleasing as he possibly can – he might laden the roof with flowers, or weave attractive patterns in the walls with rushes, or he might hang strings of polished shells from the door. If their union is supported, members of the tribe will help with its construction, although as the hut must traditionally be built by the man “alone”, this is done surreptitiously in the dead of night. The young man might find a few bundles of rushes or a pile of mother-of-pearl shells next to the unfinished hut when he returns to it in the morning, or he might find more thatch on the roof than he had time to put on it. When the hut is finished, he will loudly announce that he is returning to his home tribe to collect his possessions and to tell his family goodbye.
Marriage: While the man is gone, the woman will move her stuff into the hut. When he returns, he will feign surprise that she is in his hut, but she will say she was simply looking after it for him. They will then exchange four gifts each. One of the most romantic gifts a man can give, traditionally, is a pair of moonfish (these are very rare, but it is an extremely good omen for the whole tribe if the man brings them).
Divorce: One of them moves out of the hut. The man then generally returns to his home tribe.
Death: Before dying, the person gives away significant items of their personal belongings – weapons, their coracle, musical instruments, etc. The person also indicates their favorite minor items – clothing, jewelry – which they want to be buried with. The people who receive items make symbolic fake ones in return (a flute made out of a tiny shell instead of a large one, a bow made of twigs, etc), which will also be sent with the corpse. The symbolic items can also be carved out of wood, as the person will be entering the spirit world and wood is very valuable and sacred to the spirits. If the death is sudden, the major items are given to the best guesses – an axe will be given to someone good at making axes who was close to the deceased, since that person will be able to make them the best axe for the spirit world. As the person draws closer to death, they are moved into a hut that is half-submerged at the shore, just as the hut they were born in. When they die, they are immediately washed. As soon as possible, they are put in a boat and taken to the barrier reef by an escort of ten or so. The villagers load the corpse’s boat with packets of tokens, particularly flowers, chips of wood they have collected from the forest, and discs of polished shell. At low tide, the corpse is laid out on the seaward side of the reef and piled with tokens for the afterlife. The survivors, back at the camp, divide the rest of the person’s possessions and give them to the escort when they return.

Gender roles: Men – fishing. Women – hunting. Men generally do not go inland, and women generally do not go out to sea (unless the whole clan is traveling). Men are considered better musicians, and women are considered better storytellers. Both men and women are responsible for children, but women have more “ownership” of children than men do.
Standards of beauty: Women often paint a single thin line of paint down the middle of their forehead and down the bridge of their nose to make their faces look longer. They also glue brightly colored fish scales on their skin near the corners of their eyes, on their cheekbones, or on their shoulders and breasts. Men paint streaks of paint across their backs, shoulder to shoulder, to make themselves look broader and stronger.
Sexuality: Children are usually exposed to sexual behavior at a young age – comes of living in a one-room hut with your parents. Sexual play and behavior is not discouraged as long as it is done properly in private. There are no proscriptions against homosexual behavior, and the Ammatan don’t really have labels for that kind of thing, but people are considered a little weird if they don’t at least have a couple children in the course of their life. People (especially men) who bend gender norms are a great discovery for the tribe – they are considered extremely holy and the only people who are capable of speaking to the spirit world as shamans.
Aberrant behavior: Mostly classified as “childish” – including that due to mental illness or handicap, as well as more common things such as breaking a law, although the Ammatan don’t have set laws, just a squishy sense of right and wrong.
Handling thereof: Adults who do not exhibit a mental illness until later in life can be demoted to children, as can those who consistently flout the social order. In particularly serious cases (such as murder), the person can be exiled, possibly with an obvious scar to mark them. Children born with obvious deficiencies or defects are drowned (considered part of the “washing” birth ritual).

Virtues: Fairness, Industriousness, Skill
Sins: Greed, Laziness, keeping secrets, hiding things, theft
Arguments: People have friendly arguments over “big fish” stories. The clan argues about where they will move for the next season.
Philosophical questions: They don’t really go in much for philosophy. There’s the spirit world and the real world, and the only thing important is the real world.
Law & Arbiters thereof: The victim of a crime gets to choose the punishment, usually advised or encouraged by other adults of the tribe. If the victim won’t give a punishment, or if the punishment is disproportionate to the crime, the island shaman will be summoned to give the victim options of appropriate punishments, from which the victim will choose.
Education: People learn by watching and experimenting with things they like, beginning as children.
Trade and Currency: OMG. Have I not talked about the gifting enough already, Jesus Christ. No currency.

Perceptions: The Ammatan don’t have separate words for “blue” or “green” – they put both of them under the class of “water-colored”. They know that leaves and grass are green because the water colors them – they will explain this by pointing out that when it hasn’t rained for a long time, things start turning brown. They also know that their people have yellow and orange (fire-colored) eyes because they have fire inside them, which is what makes their skin warm.
Religious type: Shamanistic. They believe in a collection of gods and spirits, but they don’t have names or descriptions. Gods are just particularly powerful spirits, and both are mischievous and greedy. The shamans leave food for them in caves and on the tops of the islands. Shamans never have children, and live deep inland, far from the water.
View of non-believers: They think that foreigners who have gods with names are spoiling the spirits too much – spirits are like children/animals and shouldn’t be indulged too much or they’ll get fussy. All foreigners, therefore, are people who clearly don’t think things through.
What they think the neighboring galaxy is: A bunch of stars. They don’t pay much attention to it. When it gets highest in the sky, there are more storms and the weather is warmer. No big deal. Spirits don’t live in the sky, lol.

Magic system: When a man becomes a shaman, he has to make friends with/tame a spirit, for which he then makes an idol out of wood or stone, which it lives in. This idol will take him into the spirit world whenever he needs. The shaman stays on the island on which he becomes a shaman, because spirits are tied to the land and cannot cross the water. If the shaman crosses the water, he loses the bond with his spirit and has to start over – if he survives. A shaman with a very good relationship with his spirit can get lots of other spirits together to do weird and interesting things.

3 thoughts on “The Ammat Archipelago

  1. Aspiring Author says:

    Hi! I’m sorry to be a bother, but I was wondering: what exactly do you mean by social type? I’m using this very helpful guide to try and build cultures for my world and was wondering if you could help me and clarify that point.

    • No bother at all! “Social type” is here referring to the culture’s anthropological categorization — hunter-gatherers (pretty much what it says on the tin) vs pastoralists (people that keep farms and usually animals) vs nomads (people who keep animals but no farms, usually wandering from place to place). The Wikipedia pages are a good place to start if you want to learn more, but if you can get your hands on a used anthropology textbook, that’s even better 🙂 I hope that helped!

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