Sohldar ethnographical questionnaire

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Sohldar Ethnographical Questionnaire

Dr. Zahar’s Ethnographical Questionnaire was compiled by David Zahir to help in the description of concultures, and can be found in the files section of the Conculture group at Yahoo. I'll be filling it out intermittently.


Questions of Place

Describe the geography of where your society calls home.

Sohldar, the land of the Sohlshan, is located around the great lake known as the White Sohl, its tributary rivers Helender and Yahandar, and the river Linender which drains the White Sohl into the ocean, known as the Black Sohl. The Helender has its source in the Kejbrispeng mountains to the north, near the city of Kidil or Tidil. Between the Kejbrispeng mountains and the White Sohl lies the Doskoh or Green Plain, which is the main area of agriculture and settlement in Sohldar. Where the Helender flows into the White Sohl lies Sohlel, the greatest of the three cities of Sohldar. To the east lies Frohkehl, a desert plateau. West of the White Sohl the Linender river first flows through a rocky landscape before it reaches the coastal plain Xozdarkoh and empties itself into the Black Sohl under the walls of the city of Linel.

Describe the climate your society deals with. How severe are their seasons?

The climate is rather hot and dry, although there is a cooler, rainy season when the Helender flows over and the Yahandar, which is dry at the height of the hot season, runs full with water. Most of the rainfall is over the Kejbrispeng, and the water is then relayed to the Doskoh by the Helender. It is the precipitation over the Kejbrispeng and the Frohkehl, transported to the White Sohl by the rivers, which makes the region, which would otherwise be a desert, amenable to agriculture (similar to ancient Egypt in our world).

The Xozdarkoh plain along the coast the soil is less fertile, so that the Lindeshan import their grain from the Doskoh area, but they keep their own sheep and cattle and have an important fishing economy.

What kinds of natural disasters has this society gotten used to?

Mostly earthquakes and the Helender river occasionally changing its course. The bedrock of Sohldar is of volcanic origin, but there were no active volcanoes in recorded history.

What are the most commonly-grown foods?

Grain, vegetables and fruit.

What are the most commonly-eaten meats?

Mutton and fowl. Fish along the coast.

What foods are considered exotic or expensive?

Beef. The higher up in society you are, the more beef you eat, while at the bottom of society you usually eat none at all.

What forms of alcohol are common? Rare?

Wine and beer are common. Wine is rare among the lower classes. Distilled spirits are unknown.

Is there usually enough food and water for the population?


What is this place's most abundant resource?

Grain, vegetables, fruit, sheep (and thus wool), linen.

What is its most valuable resource?

Diamonds. They are exported to foreign sea-faring peoples at Linel.

What resource is it most lacking?

How do people travel from one place to another?

On foot, horseback or horse-drawn carriages. Ox-carts are not unknown but usually not used for person transports.

Are the borders secure? In what way?

Semi-secure, in that the land is surrounded by mountains, ocean and desert. The Sohlshan themselves invaded from the north at the beginning of recorded history, and there has been one notable later invasion.

How many people live here?

Betweeen one and two million.

Where in this place to they congregate?

The cities; mainly Sohlel.

What part of this place do they avoid? Why?

The uninhabited area between the central plain and the coastal plain. It is haunted by outlaws and wild beasts.

What are the most common domesticated animals here? And what are they domesticated for?

Sheep, used for food, clothing and leather. Goats, used for milk and leather. Fowl, used for eggs and food. Cows used for milk, food and leather. Dogs, used for guarding and herding. Cats, used for mousing. Horses used for transportation and racing.

What are the most common wild animals?

Several wild bests are mentioned in the literature. Lions were both feared and admired.

Which animals are likely to be pets? Which ones won't be?

Cats and dogs and the occasional lamb. Some upper-class people keep singing birds. It would be odd to keep e.g. snakes as pets.

Questions of Time

How far back does this society's written history go?

Maybe two thousand years.

How far back do its people believe it goes?

Since creation.

What is the worst disaster they believe they've faced?

A year-long solar eclipse in mythological history. The Invasion.

What was the best thing that every happened to them?

Finding the land.

What in their past makes them feel ashamed?

Not being able to repel the Invaders.

What in their past makes them proud?

Founding the Empire and establishing peace among the Sohlshan.

What are they afraid of happening again?

An invasion

What are they hoping will happen? Do they think it likely?


What do they assume the future will hold?

The present state of affairs continuing forever.

How has this society changed? Do its current members realize this?

From a pastoral society to an agriculturall society to a semi-urbanized society. Class distinctions and differences in wealth have increased in the process. The current members are not aware of this; they think the current state of affairs has applied since shortly after creation.

What are the most popular stories about the past?

About the gods, spirits and heroes between creation and the founding of the Empire.

Who in the past is the greatest hero? The worst villain?

The king who founded the Empire is the greatest hero.

Do people think the present better or worse than the past?


Do people believe the future will be better or worse than the present or past?

This is a matter of debate. Theologians are divided between Optimists and Pessimists. Many nobles are concerned how a future invasion may be prevented or repelled. There is a practical problem in having a standing army that usually has nothing to do.

Questions of Sex and Family

How many spouses may a man or woman have?

A man may have as many spouses or lovers as he can afford, while a woman may have only one husband. Ruling queens have been known to flout the rule on women not having many lovers. Commoners usually have only one wife, and only the highest nobles or riches citizens have more than one.

Who decides on a marriage?

People usually marry between the ages of 15 and 20, and then their parents decide, although the wishes of the spouses-to-be are usually listened to among the lower classes. A man over the age of 25 may decide on his own marriages, and so may in practice a widow over that age.

A marriage is more of a legal contract than of a religious matter, although sex and especially child-bearing have religious overtones. When a marriage is arranged a bride-price is usually payed by the groom or his family.

Can a marriage end in divorce? How?

A man may freely divorce a wife, although he has to see a lawyer about it. In theory the husband should return the bride-price, though the actual sum may be smaller, due to stipulations in the marriage contract, or if the wife is keen on getting divorced. A woman usually has to seek divorce through her close male relatives, although cases where a grown woman has gone to court to seek divorce due to physical maltreatment by the husband are not unheard of.

Who usually takes custody of children if a marriage ends for some reason?

Usually the father takes custody, though the opposite is not unheard of, in which case it is regulated by the divorce contract. In practice if a wife has born only daughters a father may be keen on getting rid of them along with the mother.

How is adultery defined? What (if any) is the punishment? Who decides?

Adultery is defined as a married woman having sex with someone else than her husband. Men may have lovers, though excessive and protracted neglect of a wife is seen as proper reason for a woman to seek divorce through her brothers. A husband may divorce an adulterous wife, in which case any yet unborn children come under her custody. A husband may bring a wife's lover to court and have him fined and/or flogged.

How are families named?

Only very noble families have actual family names.

What happens to orphans?

They should be taken care of by their father's family. Sometimes it is the mother's family instead, if they have a higher social status, or if they are more willing.

How are boy and girl children treated differently?

Are premarital relations allowed?

In theory they are allowed for men but not for women. There are prostitutes, and in practice nobody exercises any control over widows or divorcées -- even comparatively young ones.

How does your society define incest? Rape? How do people react to these?

Incest is sex between close relatives, including inlaws. Cousin marriges occur among high nobles and royals, but are frowned upon. Rape is the taking of someone by violence, and is punishable. Rape of a virgin may even be punished by death, though that would require that she is noble and the rapist is not. Rape within marriage is another matter, though it is generally frowned upon and is seen as just cause for divorce. There may be a problem of proving it if the matter is taken to court. Paedophilia is punishable but nobles get away with it; among commoners the perpetrator will get beaten up sooner or later.

What, if anything, is considered a good marriage gift?

Money, precious metals or stones, cattle, land or goods, all depending on the status of the involved families. When a widow or divorcée remarries the marriage gift may be wholly symbolic, like a ring.

What secret vice is believed to be widely practiced?

Homosexuality among the nobles. Bestiality with sheep among country boys. It is believed that young wives and concubines of older men have sex with each other or servant girls.

What secret vice actually is practiced?

Homosexuality. Bestiality occurs but is not as common as is supposed. As for the young wives and concubines lesbianism is probably not as common as supposed. In practice young wives of rich older men often have male lovers.

What sexual habits are widely believed common among foriegners?

Sodomy with women and bestiality.

How do people react to homosexuality?

It is frowned upon but not punishable. It is more accepted, and supposedly more common, among nobles.

How do the genders dress?

The common dress is squares of fabric wrapped around the body and held in place by belts and brooches. Women's dress is longer than men's. City women and noble women would normally not expose their breasts, although peasant women may do so in certain contexts.

Is prostitution legal? How are prostitutes viewed? Is this accurate?

Female prostitution is legal but frowned upon.

What professions or activities are considered masculine?

Being a warrior and being a miner are the only male-only professions.

What professions or activities are viewed as feminine?

Looking after children and the household.

What inanimate or sexless things are considered male or female?

This is an area that needs more research. The Sun is considered male and the Moon female, but they are also considered animate.

What is the biggest sexual taboo?

Mother-son incest. It leads to both mother and son being executed, whereas father-daughter incest would normally only lead to the father being executed. Father-son incest would probably be very taboo, but it is not even thought of.

Does this society connect the ideas of marriage with love?

In theory, but it is only in the lower classes that marriage is actually based on love.

What does this society mean by the word "virgin" and how important it it?

It means an unpenetrated female, and it is very important at a woman's first marriage.

Questions of Manners

Who speaks first at a formal gathering?

The most noble, eldest and most influential person, which qualities should ideally coincide.

What kinds of gifts are considered in extremely bad taste?

How do younger adults address their elders?

With honorific terms. Adressing an old person as "father" or "mother" when they are not your actual parent is considered condescending.

What colors are associated with power? With virtue? With death?

If two men get into a fight, how is this supposed to be resolved?

Among young men it would lead to actual fighting. Nobles may duel with swords if grave matters of honor are involved. Normally more sober men are expected to intervene.

If two women get into a fight, how should that be resolved?

Women are not expected to fight physically. As with men intervention is expected.

When is it rude to laugh at something funny?

In the presence of an elder or a person nobler than yourself, or during a ceremony.

What kinds of questions cannot be asked in public? In private? At all?

Questions about sex are avoided in public and in polite company.

How do people demonstrate grief?

Crying is expected.

What does this society do with their corpses?

They are burned and the ashes buried.

What kinds of jewelry do people where? And when?

Necklaces, rings, chains fingerrings and earrings of precious metals, sometimes with precious stones. They are worn all the time but more at joyous ceremonies and festivities. Women are expected to were more jewelry than men, and nobles more than commoners. Brooches are used to pin clothes together, and are usually of precious material among nobles. Noble women often were jewelled head-dress, as do kings.

Who inheirits property? Titles? Position?

Sons, or in their absence brothers or brother's sons or unmarried/divorced daughters inherit property. It is usual for a wife to remain in possession of her husbands property until she dies. Titles and positions are in theory all bestowed rather than inherited, though ones basic social status as noble or common is inherited from the father at birth. In those rare cases where a noble woman has married a common man the children are considered noble; normally the man will have been ennobeled by the king before the marriage.

What happens to those suffering from extreme mental illness?

They will be looked after by their relatives. If they have no relatives who are able to look after them they become beggars.

What are the most popular games? How important are they?

Various boardgames, ballgames and forms of play and sport exist. The only organized sports are chariot-racing and wrestling, which are very popular.

What parts of the body are routinely covered?

The genitals, the backside, and among noble women or women otherwise concerned about their virtue the breasts. Adult peasant women routinely go with their breasts bare while working in the fields or while feeding their babies.

How private are bodily functions like bathing or defecating?

Defecating and urinating are private. Men may urinate rather more openly than women. Bathing is not considered private, though most women wouldn't, unlike men or children, bathe entirely naked.

How do people react to physical deformity?

It depends on the nature of the deformity.

When and how does someone go from child to adult?

Usually between age fifteen and age twenty, by marrying. Philosophers however argue that a person is fully mature only at age twenty-five. This is also the age when a priest is considered fully qualified to perform rites.

Questions of Faith

Is there a formal clergy? How are they organized?

Yes there is. They are organized into different ranks based on experience and seniority.

What do people believe happens to them after death? How, if at all, can they influence this?

The Sohlshan believe in rebirt. They believe that if the body isn't cremated after death rebirth will not happen untill the body has decomposed. Most religiously uneducated people believe that they will be reborn as people, but with their social position determined by their actions in this life. There are speculations about rebirth as higher or lower beings among certain clergy and certain sects.

What happens to those who disagree with the majority on questions of religion?

They are frowned upon but left alone as long as they do not protest against the religious habits of the majority.

Are there any particular places considered special or holy? What are they like?

There are holy trees, holy stones and holy caves. There are also temples to the celestial deities. The White Sohl is considered holy in its entirety.

What are the most popular rituals or festivals?

The festivals of the solistices.

What do people want from the god or gods? How do they try and get it?

How do their religious practices differ from their neighbours?

What is the most commonly broken religious rule?

What is the least-violated religious rule?

What factions exist within the dominant religious institutions? How do they compete?

Are there monastic groups? What do they do and how are they organized? How do you join one?

How are those who follow different faiths treated?

What relationship do religious and political leaders have?

What superstitions are common? What kinds of supernatural events/beings do people fear?

Questions of Government

Who decides whether someone has broken a law? How?

What kinds of punishments are meted out? By whom? Why?

How are new laws created or old ones changed?

Is there some form of clemency or pardon? What is involved?

Who has the right to give orders, and why?

What titles do various officials have?

How are the rules different for officials as opposed to the common person?

How do government officials dress?

Is the law written down? Who interprets it?

Once accused, what recourse does someone have?

Is torture allowed? What kinds?

How are people executed?

Who cannot rise to positions of leadership?

Is bribery allowed? Under what circumstances?

What makes someone a bad ruler in this society? What can be done about it?

What are the most common or dangerous forms of criminal?

Questions of War

Who declares war?

The King. In practice the Sohlshan haven't started a war since the establishment of the empire, with the exception of the war of liberation from the Invaders. It was started by a minor noble, but he was made king of Sohlel after he conquered the city.

Who has the power to declare conditions of peace?

The king, but in practice the commander in the field would be the one actually negotiating the terms.

What happens to prisoners taken in battle?

What form of warfare does this society use?

Who are the Elite warriors? What distinguishes them?

How does someone get command of troops?

Where do the loyalties of military units lie?

Are there professional soldiers? Do they make up the bulk of the military?

Has this society ever attacked another? Do they want to? What would make them do so?

Who are their enemies? Who's winning?

What do soldiers do when there's no war?

Harass the peasants. ☺

Questions of Education

Does this society have its own language? Its own writing?

How common is literacy? How is literacy viewed?

What form and value are books?

Who teaches others? How do they teach?

Who decides who learns to read or write?(f) Who teaches professions, like carpenter or scribe?

Are foreigners ever brought in to teach new skills? Who does that?

How do this society's doctors try to treat wounds and sickness?

Which medical assumtions of this society are wrong?

Questions of Art

What are the favorite artforms?

What are the least-favorite?

How respected are artists?

Do artists require official or unofficial protection?

What kinds of trouble are artists in particular likely to find themselves in?

How might a very successful artist live?

What forms of theatre does your society have?

How naturalistic or stylized is your society's art?

What shapes are most common in your society's arts, like embroidery or architecture?

Which artforms get the most and least respect?

What form does censorship take?

Who may not be an artist?

What qualities equal "beauty" in this society?

What makes a man or woman especially beautiful?

How do people react to tattoos? Piercings? Facial hair? Make-up?

Questions of sex and marriage

Is sex confined to marriage?

Or, is it supposed to be? What constitutes aberrant behavior?

Is there anything about this culture or religion in that culture that specifically addresses sexual conduct?

Are there laws about it? What about prostitution?

How old should someone be in your culture to be having sex?

What is considered too great a difference in age for a couple?

Do relationships allow multiple partners?

Should sex be a one-to-one experience? Or are groups allowed?

And, of course, what about homosexuality? Is it frowned on? Encouraged?

Questions of death and burial

What is their understanding of death and dying?

Do they cremate their dead? Or, how are dead bodies disposed of?

Is the family responsible for the body?

What part do the priests play?

Are there cemeteries at all?

Or, does everyone have a crypt in back with all the relatives in it?

Do people visit the dead? If so, how often and why?

Questions of suicide

What do people in this culture think about suicide?

Is it the greatest sin one can commit? Or is it a sin at all?

Is it the great and last comfort of a tormented soul?

Is it worse than murder?