Tolosian Ethnographic Questionnaire

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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.


Questions of Place

Describe the geography of where your society calls home.

Tolos is a group of islands situated in the Southern Hemisphere, North of the Falklands, in an alternative Earth. There are five major islands : Teǧgolo, Takolo, Kočche, Teǧgotu and Koǰja ; and five groups of minor islands : the Chotolos, the Zotolos, the Timi, Tolotes and Toloso.

The islands are named after their most important geographical feature : Teǧgolo (canyon) presents a canyon which divides the island in two parts, north and south ; Takolo (geyser) has a group of sacred geysers and hot water baths ; Kočche (mountain), as the third most recent island, has high mountains which are old volcanoes (no longer active) ; Teǧgotu (caldeira) had a volcano too, but it collapsed, forming a caldeira which a sacred area ; Koǰja (volcano) has an active volcano.

For the minor islands, Chotolos (three islands) is a group of three isles, Zotolos (eight islands) has eight little isles, Timi (cat’s pawn) is a group of six isles affecting the form of a cat’s pawn.

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

The climate is comparable to that of Ushuaïa on South, a little less cold on the North. Seasons are not really marked because of the oceanic influence. Snow is common most of the year, and there are eternal snow on the top of the mountains in Kočche.

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

Snowfall is as common for Tolosians as it is/was for Vikings or Inuits. Tsunamis are rare, but storms are not. The great volcano of Koǰja is active, but it is not really destructive as the geology of the island create a natural lava canal to the sea. No one can live on the southern side of the island, but at least it doesn’t destroy the cities of the northern side.

What are the most commonly-grown foods?

The most commonly-grown foods are cereals (corn, wheat, spelt wheat, engrain ; less commonly barley, oats, rye, buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice), starches (peanuts, beans, broad beans, lupin, soy beans, potatoes, nasturtiums, Jerusalem artichokes) and vegetables (calabashes, physalis, marrows, courgettes, pumpkins, patty ban, capsicum, tomatoes and sweet pepper).

What are the most commonly-eaten meats?

The traditional meal is a cereal paste (a bread which is baked but not risen) with a piece of fish or more rarely meat. The meal is accompanied by a sauce of vegetables and starches.

What foods are considered exotic or expensive?

The most expensive foods are the one which needs the more heat, like tomatoes or capsicum. Meat is not as common as fish because the islands host a limited amount of game animals. Sheep are the only animals reared for meat.

What forms of alcohol are common? Rare?

The most common form of alcohol are pulque and mezcal, its distilled form. Wine is rarer.

Is there usually enough food and water for the population?

Yes. The population isn't growing much and the islands are rich. Food and water produced in excess in good years are stocked in the cities'granaries for the difficult years.

What is this place's most abundant resource?

Wood is probably the most common resource.

What is its most valuable resource?


What resource is it most lacking?

Rocks other than volcanic ones are non-existent.

How do people travel from one place to another?

By foot for short distances, by boat for longer travels. Guanacos are used to carry heavy merchandises and sometimes chariots if the road allows it.

Are the borders secure? In what way?

The islands are surrounded by a strong water current. Tolosians can't fight against the tide so they can't go far away the islands (but since they don't see another emerged land, they think these islands are the only lands on the planet). People from everywhere else in the world can't fight against the tide either, and cannot discover the islands. The Tolosian geographical zone is known to be terribly dangerous for boats, so only a few people actually try to navigate there.

How many people live here?

The population vary between 300,000 and 400,000.

Where in this place to they congregate?

Cities can be found on every island, the bigger ones being Om on Teǧgolo (the oldest city) and Liea on Kočche (build on an ancient marsh). The population is essentially found on the major islands and on the northern coast of these.

What part of this place do they avoid? Why?

Takolo and the caldeira of Teǧgotu are sacred areas and therefore avoided by the population most of the time. Only priests and to a certain extent sick persons can penetrate into these areas.

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

Guanacos are domesticated to carry heavy loads, for their fur and for their meat. Sheep are domesticated for their meat and their wool, goats mostly for their milk. Birds of preys can be domesticated for hunting, crows for a religious purpose.

What are the most common wild animals?

Pumas, tuco-tucos and Falkland Islands wolves are common.

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

Cats are the most common pets. Wolves are most used for hunting but can be pets as well.

Questions of Time

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

How far back do its people believe it goes?

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

What was the best thing that every happened to them?

What in their past makes them feel ashamed?

What in their past makes them proud?

What are they afraid of happening again?

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

What do they assume the future will hold?

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

What are the most popular stories about the past?

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

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?

Since the goal of every Tolosian is to make life better by their work to increase their eado, they will find the present better than the past (it's been improved) and worse than the future (they have to work to improve it).

Questions of Sex and Family

How many spouses may a man or woman have?

There is only one spouse and one husband, but each one of them can bring as many men or women they want. Those additional people will be included in the family as concubines. They have the same rites as the husband or the wife, and their children are treated the same way than the "legal" children. However, they come in second in case of heritage.

Though this fact is accepted in the society, multiple couples are not so common. Most couples are two, sometimes three when the third member is ever a man who can keep company to the spouse when the husband is away (fisher, carrier) or a woman who can carry a baby or feed it if the spouse cannot.

The additional members always require the primary couple to agree on their arrival. If they disagree, they can't enter in the family.

Who decides on a marriage?

The two persons who are going to marry. Family members can give advices or ideas, but cannot decide.

Marriages can be out of love, but also out of complicity between two persons who want to increase their prestige by marrying (generally those couples have concubines). There is no distinction made between the two.

Can a marriage end in divorce? How?

A marriage can end in divorce on the request of either of its member. The person who want the divorce come to their partner's family to announce the decision, and the rest of the family can try to change their mind. If it doesn't work, they acknowledge the situation, generally by giving a "divorce party" which celebrates the return of their son or daughter to the family. This happens in the two families.

If the couple had concubines and one of them is willing to stay with their son or daughter, they are likely to celebrate the new marriage almost instantly.

There's an exception to this free rule of divorce : a divorce cannot be declared if a woman is pregnant.

Due to the liberty of the marriage's customs, divorces are quite rare.

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

Children from the divorced are generally raised by, in order of frequency : the mother, the father, the concubines if any, the family of the mother, the family of the father. It's a private issue that is determined inside the couple itself or sometimes between the families.

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

Adultery would be defined by the fact of having sex with someone outside of the couple. There is no real punishment for this act, as Tolosian people are quite liberal about their sexual life.

Having a continuous relation with someone without including her/him in the couple will be, however, frowned upon.

How are families named? What happens to orphans?

Families are named generally after their geographical origin or after a famous ancestor. Orphans are raised by the remaining family, generally from the mother.

How are boy and girl children treated differently?

They aren't. Children are going to the same schools and are raised the same, regardless of their gender.

Are premarital relations allowed?

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

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

What secret vice is believed to be widely practiced?

What secret vice actually is practiced?

What sexual habits are widely believed common among foriegners?

How do people react to homosexuality?

How do the genders dress?

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

What professions or activities are considered masculine?

What professions or activities are viewed as feminine?

What inanimate or sexless things are considered male or female?

What is the biggest sexual taboo?

Does this society connect the ideas of marriage with love?

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

Questions of Manners

Who speaks first at a formal gathering?

What kinds of gifts are considered in extremely bad taste?

How do younger adults address their elders?

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

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

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

When is it rude to laugh at something funny?

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

How do people demonstrate grief?

What does this society do with their corpses?

What kinds of jewelry do people where? And when?

Who inherits property? Titles? Position?

What happens to those suffering from extreme mental illness?

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

What parts of the body are routinely covered?

How private are bodily functions like bathing or defecating?

How do people react to physical deformity?

When and how does someone go from child to adult?

Questions of Faith

Is there a formal clergy? How are they organized?

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

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

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

What are the most popular rituals or festivals?

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?(i) 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?

Who has the power to declare conditions of peace?

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?

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?

Questions of Law, Justice and Police

Is there a civilian police force, or is law enforcement the province of the military?

Is the police force a nationalised one, or are there multiple regional forces?

How "military" are they? Are they usually/ever armed?

What is the extent of their authority? Can they shoot you? Can they use magic? Can they torture or otherwise force a confession? Can they use telepathy?

Are there individuals or groups who are above the law?

Is there a secret police?

What is the role of police informants, if any?