Formal, organized government, of a type that the average Terran would recognize as such, is a relative newcomer to Sah'aar. Throughout most of their early history, living as nomadic hunters, most Sah'aarans recognized no more structured society than their own immediate family. The eventual creation of governmental organizations exactly parallels the increasing acceptance of animal ranching as a viable lifestyle, and the consequent growth of permanent settlements.
On Sah'salaan Continent, generally perceived as the cradle of Sah'aaran society, the most prevalent early form of government was the clan, small- to medium-sized groups of genetically-related families, ruled autocratically by "elders," usually female. As settlements grew into towns, and towns into cities, the complex interconnections of the clans became unmanageable, giving rise to monarchies--or, more specifically, Matriarchies. Approximately eight hundred years ago, a fortuitous bonding brought together the two largest monarchies of Sah'salaan Continent, forming the Ehm'rralla Matriarchy. This endured for more than five hundred years, eventually spreading to encompass the entire continent, and a number of surrounding island-states. Increasing modernization, and growing calls both for democracy and males' rights, eventually brought down Sah'aar's many Matriarchies. The Ehm'rralla endured longer than most, but eventually collapsed, due largely to the untimely death of the last clear heir to the throne.
Following a period of unrest, lasting almost fifty years, the Ehm'rralla Matriarch was replaced by a wholly-democratic state, the Sah'sanraan Confederacy. After a promising beginning, however, the Confederacy floundered under the weight of civil corruption and fiscal mismanagement, culminating in the infamous "Undercity" debacle. (See the novel "The Darkness Beneath.") Increasing globalization, and the beginnnings of colonies on Sah'aar's moons and in its asteroid belt, brought about calls for a world-wide, centralized government. The arrival of an exploration vessel from the embryonic Terran/Centaurii Alliance in 2240 (Terran Standard calendar) made the development of such a system inevitable: a stable, democratic global government is a prerequisite for entry into the Alliance.
is a constitutional democracy, with elements borrowed from similiar societies on Terra and elsewhere. Suffrage is universal, and the minimum voting age is 17. The seat of government is in the city of Sah'salaan, on the continent of the same name, the ancient heart of both the Ehm'rralla Matriarchy and the Sah'sanraan Confederacy. There are three major branches.
or "Waymeet," to literally translate the Sah'aaran word, is a single-house body, and consists of five members from each of Sah'aar's fifty Districts, elected to a single ten-year term.
or "Hunt-Leader," a term dating back to the days of the earliest Clans--is elected by popular vote to a single twelve-year term, and cannot again run for any elective office. In addition to exercising the usual executive powers, including that of the veto, the President is also Sah'aar's official liason to the Alliance, with direct control over the Diplomatic Corps.
are represented at the Global level by an Appellate Court in each District, and a Supreme Court (literally, "The Place of Final Challenge"), with the power to review the constitutionality of laws passed by the Waymeet and by the local District Assemblies. In keeping with Alliance law, the death penalty does not exist on Sah'aar.
are largely handled, as they are on all Alliance worlds, by the Combined Forces. However, the Sah'aarans do maintain an all-volunteer militia, which is most commonly mobilized in times of natural disaster or other widespread emergency.
for better or worse, is as prevalent on Sah'aar as on any Alliance world, despite the Sah'aarans' preference for simplicity. At the Global level there are a bewildering number of agencies and bureaus, and more on the District level. Peridocially, a President or Waymeet member will attempt to reduce what the Terrans term "red tape," but is seldom more than modestly successful.
is handled on the District level, and also on the City level. Each District has an Assembly and a Governor; how these are elected, and the length of their terms, varies considerably from region to region--a holdover from before the inception of the global government. Larger cities, such as Sah'salaan, have Mayors and Councils, the former either elected, or appointed by the latter. One very important function handled at the District level is that of the
Crime is relatively rare on Sah'aar, and crimes of violence virtually unknown. Thus, most District Police forces are fairly small, and generally combine crime-fighting with search-and-rescue operations. An exception to this is the Sah'salaan District, largely because of the densely-urban nature of the capital city; the presence of large numbers of non-Sah'aarans living, or visiting, there; and the frequency of demonstrations and protest marches. The Sah'salaan District employs twice as many full-time officers as any other police force on the planet.
The illustration at right depicts a (left-handed) female officer in the Sah'salaan District Police, wearing the standard hot-weather uniform. The male version is similar, but with slightly longer sleeves and legs.
Sah'aaran civilization is generally thought to be some ten to twelve thousand years old, and to date from the development, in the area around the capital city of Sah'salaan, of large-scale animal ranching. Previous to that, the vast majority made their living as nomadic hunters. Well-matched in their ability to bring down prey, the males and females were able to fend for themselves--and even today, many Sah'aarans have a definite, and usually quite unconscious, solitary streak. Bonding, of course, brought males and females together; but until comparatively recently, the so-called "nuclear" family was the largest social unit known on Sah'aar.
The advent of ranching changed that, and led to the formation of larger and larger groupings, usually based around a "clan," a collection of individuals with traceable--though increasingly distant, as time went by--genetic connections. With the formation of towns, cities, Matriarchies and Confederacies (see "Government") the clan structure gradually began to disintegrate, but has never wholly disappeared. It is undeniable, however, that to this day the majority of Sah'aarans feel most comfortable in the presence of their immediate families. They dislike crowds, and endure large cities as necessary evils; they prefer to surround themselves with open space.
The invention of animal husbandry led inevitably to increasing specialization in society, and a consequent gradual loss of hunting skill among the general population. As discussed below, however, the Sah'aarans have never forgotten their carnivorous roots. Many of their customs and beliefs have their origin in the hunt, as does their folk-wisdom. Other species frequently find Sah'aaran "wise sayings" disturbingly bloody-minded.
Sah'aarans are well-accomplished in art and literature, with hunting and bonding being by far the most common themes. Many Terrans find Sah'aaran music rather monotonous, based as it is almost entirely upon woodwind, plucked strings and soft percussion. But--as with the Sah'aaran spoken language (see below)--the subtle nuances of their music lie outside the range of human hearing.
One interesting aspect of Sah'aaran psychology is their almost pathological dislike of places or procedures that strike them as cold or impersonal. The surest way to drive a Sah'aaran insane would be to imprison him in a blank-walled room; any space they occupy for more than a few hours must be "personalized"--if only with a single photograph of one's kits. Sah'aarans also strongly dislike contracts or written agreements; they prefer doing business on the proverbial handshake. To insist upon a signature is an insult, implying a lack of trust.
For most of their history the Sah'aarans have been peaceful, with wars, or even serious disagreements between communities, being extremely rare. Nothing in their history compares to the Terran "World Wars"--a subject most Sah'aarans would view with horror. Nor--with some small-scale exceptions--has slavery every existed on Sah'aar: it is rendered all but impossible by bonding.
In an earlier age, several dozen languages, most of them mutually incomprehensible, were spoken on Sah'aar. But in modern times, the "globalization" of Sah'aaran culture has winnowed that number to one, an amalgam of tongues based largely on the dominant language of Sah'salaan Continent. This language is not easily translated, being highly symbolic, and extremely dependent on fine nuances of pronunciation. It can be neither spoken nor understood by most other species, including Terran Humans, because much of it lies outside their range of hearing. Most Sah'aarans, however, learn to speak Terran (the lingua franca of the Alliance) at an early age, and can switch back and forth between tongues effortlessly, though some--through lack of practice--speak Terran in a rather "stilted" or "mannered" fashion, which strikes some listeners as charmingly old-fashioned, and others as arrogant or cold.
The written Sah'aaran language is even more symbolic than the spoken, consisting of a large number of pictographic or hieroglyphic characters. Many Sah'aarans have great difficulty learning to write the Terran language, finding it even more confusing than Terran base-10 mathematics.
The one aspect of the Sah'aaran language that has made the transition (albeit uncomfortably) to Terran is that of personal names. As an indication perhaps of their strongly individualistic nature, Sah'aarans traditionally do not use "family" names, patronyms or surnames. Instead, each individual bears a single identifier, chosen by his or her parents, and announced at a "naming ceremony"--a gathering of family and friends--one to two weeks after birth.
In the dominant planetary language, names follow a definite, traditional pattern of prefix and suffix. For males, the prefix is "Sah," properly pronounced as a sharp hissing exhalation. For females, the prefix is "Ehm," pronounced almost as a "cough" in the back of the throat. The suffix can take almost any form, and may be derived from the name of an ancestor, a word-part with some particular meaning, or simply a pleasing combination of sounds. Other naming systems have largely died out. Nicknames are not generally used, though are sometimes given to Sah'aarans by their more informal human friends.
It is impossible to overstate the extent to which claws define Sah'aaran society. The reasons why are not difficult to understand. Sah'aarans evolved as hunting carnivores, and are well aware of the importance of strong, sharp, properly-maintained claws to their success as hunters. As they themselves say, "speed and stealth may get you close to your prey--but claws fill your belly. "
Even in modern times, when few will ever experience hunting, claws continue to have an almost mystical, quasi-religious hold upon the Sah'aaran mind. The care of one's claws is a matter of extreme pride, and is highly individualized; kits are taught the basics in early childhood, and, as they mature and their claws harden, develop styles to satisfy their own personal esthetics. A simple, rough-and-ready sharpening could be achieved on a "scratching post," or even a treetrunk; but a proper job requires a file, a tool which no Sah'aaran is ever without. During times of inactivity, boredom or stress, a Sah'aaran will automatically bring out his or her file for a quick touch-up, a sight so common as to be unremarkable. Nor is it considered impolite or socially unacceptable to do so.
Sah'aarans regard their claws as a gift from the Goddess (see "Religion") and the ultimate key to their success as a species. As such, to deprive a Sah'aaran of his or her claws would be not simply a sin, but an unthinkable, despicable crime, a violation comparable to rape. Even to contemplate such an act would make many Sah'aarans physically ill; to actually do so--or to suffer having it done to one's self--would be, for many, impossible to endure: the shame of being either the perpetrator or victim could potentially lead to suicide. The cutting of claws is never tolerated, not even as a punishment for errant kits, and examples are few. Which is fortunate, because damaged cuticles can cause the claw to refuse to grow back, or to do so in a deformed or weakened state--a risk no Sah'aaran would willingly take.
Sah'aarans do of course recognize the awesome responsibility of bearing such deadly weapons. It could well be said that the ubiquity of needle-sharp claws helps maintain order on Sah'aar, on the theory that "an armed society is a polite society." But in fact, each and every Sah'aaran is taught from birth never to use his or her claws in anger against any sentient being. (In pre-Alliance times, of course, that would have been "...against any other Sah'aaran.") This lesson is repeated over and over, all through a Sah'aaran's childhood, until it becomes quite literally second nature. Even an implied threat is an unthinkable faux pas; if one is obliged to exhibit one's claws--for medical reasons, perhaps--one shows the back of one's hands. As a result, incidents of injury or death caused by claws are vanishingly rare. If, however, a Sah'aaran is threatened, and the alternative is death or serious injury, he will use his claws with deadly efficiency.
...It should be noted, however, that the preceding discussion applies primarily the claws attached to the ends of the fingers. The toe-claws, though important for traction, and requiring occasional care, are much more prone to accidental breakage, are not commonly used in hunting, and thus are regarded as merely useful appendages, and not afforded any particular mystical significance.
The common greeting between two Sah'aarans who are acquainted, but not related, occurs thusly: the two will clasp hands at eye-level, and slowly and carefully express their claws just enough to prick the backs of the others' hands. This pose is held in silence for a few seconds; then the participants release their grip and step back. Those who have seen this ceremony generally term it "elegant" and "fascinating."
Throughout Sah'aaran history, many religions have existed: monotheistic, pantheistic, animistic, naturalistic, even shamanistic. But, as with many aspects of Sah'aar's modern culture, it is the dominant religion of Sah'salaan Continent that has spread worldwide, largely--though not entirely--supplanting other belief-systems during the last several centuries of its 5,000-year history. Strongly monotheistic, this religion is based upon the worship of
an idealized female figure, both Earth Mother and Divine Avenger, who strives continually against the Dark Ones, demonic inhabitants of the Dark Domains: a freezing-cold, endless plain to which the souls of sinners are transported, to wander for eternity seeking food. As in many religions, the Goddess offers the virtuous an afterlife of eternal bliss and freedom from want.
Unlike certain Terran religions, the Sah'aaran Goddess faith does not prohibit "graven images;" in fact they are quite necessary. To worship the Goddess is an entirely individual affair, free of dogma, priests, ecclesiastical law, or even much in the way of scripture beyond the basics of mythology. Most Sah'aaran homes, and many business and public buildings, are equipped with shrines. Depending on the owner's wealth, and the space available, these can range from a sizable room to a simple screened alcove. Portable "traveling" shrines are also common. All shrines, whatever their size, have two elements in common: candles, which are lit during one's prayers; and a figurine of the Goddess, which can range from doll-sized to half again "life" size. The figurines are generally cast of bronze, and are extensively gold-leafed and enameled. The Goddess is commonly depicted in a seated position, gazing at the supplicant, her right hand lifted in a palm-up gesture, offering sympathy or succor; and the left raised in a threatening position, with hugely-exaggerated claws. To Sah'aarans, these gestures represent the irreducible duality of their natures.
Except when instructing youngsters in the proper etiquette, a Sah'aaran will pray in solitude. He or she will first disrobe, removing all clothing and jewelry except collars and bonding-bands, thus showing the Goddess that he or she has nothing to hide. Having lit candles, he or she will kneel before the Goddess, looking Her in the eye, with his or her tail flat and still on the floor behind. The contents of one's prayers--whatever sins are confessed, whatever favors are requested or acknowledged--are entirely personal, and never shared. What one gains from the experience is also a highly private matter.
Unlike many religions, the Goddess faith has no dogma, nor any priests or heirarchy. The central tenets are laid out as part of a creation myth, passed verbally from parent to child; and there are recognized standards for the placement of a shrine within a home, and the proper etiquette to be observed when entering therein. Beyond that, the worshipper is on his or her own; there is no one "official" interpretation of the Goddess faith--nor would the Sah'aarans permit one to be formulated. In this, as in many other things, we see a reflection of their essential individuality.
In the Alliance era, adherence to the Goddess faith has declined somewhat, though no non-Sah'aaran religion has ever been able to gain a foothold. However, polls indicate that some 86% of the adult population still identifies themselves as believers, and 77% still enter a shrine regularly.
is a fact of modern Sah'aaran society--but such is not always the case. To a present-day Sah'aaran, social, legal and wage equality would seem about as controversial as breathing. But even as they chuckle smugly over the Terrans' legacy of endemic sexism, they must themselves acknowledge the long periods in Sah'aaran history during which much of society was dominated by a single gender: the female.
The reasons why this occurred are complex, but it is generally accepted that the spread of the Goddess faith, and its attendant "earth-mother" imagery, fostered the growth of female-dominated Clans and--eventually--hereditary Matriarchies. It became habitual to think of males as inherently frivolous creatures, incapable of focusing their minds on the minutiae of government. Under some early Matriarchs, the sole exception to the general Sah'aaran avoidance of slavery occurred, when males--gelded to prevent them from bonding--were kept as servants. Fortunately this practice was neither widespread nor long-lived.
As late as three hundred years ago, more than 90% of the Sah'aaran population was ruled by one Matriarch or another. In mid-west Sah'salaan Continent, the power of the Matriarchy was finally broken by the rise of the fully-democratic Sah'sanraan Confederacy, which was eventually subsumed into the present-day global government. Now, of course, under Alliance law--which supersedes certain areas of local planetary law--any sort of sexual discrimination is illegal.
Though solitary by nature, and preferring peace and quiet to pomp and circumstance, Sah'aarans do nonetheless observe a certain number of holidays. Many of these are strictly regional, and celebrate such historically-important events as the change of the seasons, the return of migrating herds, the beginning of a particular hunting or fishing season, or the birth of an important leader or Matriarch. Such events are usually commemorated with small, low-key gatherings. Wars being virtually unknown on Sah'aar, and a matter of shame rather than pride, battles are seldom if ever deemed worthy of recognition.
Just two civil holidays are observed on a global scale. The first--which is also recognized as the beginning of the New Year--celebrates the creation of Sah'aar's global democratic government. The second, which takes place on April 16 by the Terran Standard calendar, recognizes Sah'aar's entry into the Terran/Centaurii Alliance.
Because of the highly-individualized nature of the Goddess faith, purely religious holidays are few, and are celebrated in private. For the most part, they are associated with various miracles supposedly performed by the Goddess, or reported sightings of Her. One curious observance from Sah'salaan has its origins both in religion and in the unique climate of that huge continent. As previously noted, the plains of central Sah'salaan are extremely arid, receiving their yearly rainfall in a single, drenching two-week monsoon, the so-called "Interval." As the dominant faith spread across Sah'salaan, the rain came to be viewed as the "Tears of the Goddess," wept in sorrow for the parched land and its dying flora and fauna, and promising renewal. Over time it became a common practice to open one's innermost soul to the cleansing, redeeming qualities of these "Tears," by the simple method of disrobing, as if entering a shrine (see "Religion," above), venturing outdoors, kneeling, and allowing one's self to be soaked by the falling rain. Given the common Sah'aaran abhorrence of water, this would indeed be a supreme act of penance, and a severe test of one's faith. It is also the one and only time when it is socially acceptable for a Sah'aaran to weep, mingling his or her personal sorrow with that of the Goddess. This rite is still widely practiced, usually in a small, roofless portable pavilion or gazebo, erected solely for that purpose, and equipped with a tiny figurine of the Goddess. Fortunately the Sah'salaan monsoon rains are warm; one is unlikely to become dangerously hypothermic during the brief ritual. (Thanks to Mr. Bill Redfern for bringing this unique and fascinating practice to my attention.)
Sah'aarans have a strong yearning for privacy, a desire which, in these modern times, only the fortunate few are wealthy enough to indulge.
Many Sah'aarans, like most Terrans, live in apartments in or near a major city, often in buildings half a kilometer tall or higher. In sharp contrast to Terra, however--where centralized, high-rise living is quite desirable--most Sah'aarans consider such conditions marginally habitable at best.
By preference, Sah'aarans dwell in individual family houses, gathered together in small enclaves of no more than a dozen such dwellings, surrounded with plenty of open space and so situated as to be practically invisible to each other. On Sah'salaan Continent, where such groupings are widespread across the savanna, the dominant architectural style is round, or, more accurately, O-shaped. The outside of such a house will be quite plain, broken only by the entry door, usually with a vestibule or airlock to keep out the fierce First-Summer heat. A wide hallway entirely encircled the house, with the various rooms opening off its inner side. In the center will be an enclosed garden, as large and elaborate as local conditions--and funds--allow.
The rooms within a Sah'aaran house would be instantly recognizable to most Terrans: bedrooms, lavatories, kitchens, sitting rooms, libraries and offices. One universal addition is the shrine, traditionally windowless and with an outer vestibule in which to disrobe.
This form of house has spread to most parts of Sah'aar, with minor modificiations for local climate and preferences. More modest dwellings often dispense with the circular footprint, but will usually retain the concept of an open space at the center. Two-story dwellings are all but unknown, as are staircases: where such things are needed, Sah'aarans prefer inclined, spiral ramps.
Whatever its size or shape, a Sah'aaran house will be filled with as much art as the owner can afford. Floors are generally carpeted, a luxury for habitually-bare feet. Indoor plants are also very much in evidence, and--in hotter climates such as Sah'salaan--small tinkling fountains are also very popular. Color-schemes, both inside and out, are usually muted, with earth-tones predominating.
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