Hobind Cultural Overview
(Note: below, Tallfellow words are introduced in italics and the stress on each word is marked by an accent mark to aid pronunciation. However, the stress on these words is not generally marked in actual writing.)
Tallfellow, known to Tallfellow-speakers as Mambéhoblind (lit. “lip of the people”), is spoken by halflings who live in the fantasy world of Dombellus. Specifically, they live on the continent of Azalia among the temperate hills, fields and forests of Elmbúmbi, the Patchwork. This is a landlocked region bordered by the nation of Azalia (Asálira) to the south, the heavily forested region of Eldric (Éldrogengi) to the east, the Orisi Mountains (Wérngendal Orísi) to the west, and the state of East Bellakor (Górlewa) to the north.
The native word for a Tallfellow-speaking halfling is hóbind, which also just means “person”. Éhobind (that being the plural of hobind) are simple folk with few ambitions and thus little large-scale organization. Most live in small communities called ésawer (sg. sáwer), which are basically extended families. A hobind goes through three basic life stages: molárus, childhood, during which a child is raised collectively by the entire sawer, and especially the members of their own bágwend (household); mowéber, during which they leave their sawer to migrate to a new one, considered a coming-of-age ritual that is expected of all ehobind regardless of gender; and mobágwend, the final stage of a hobind's life when they find a new sawer to their liking, settle down and typically stay in that sawer for the rest of their life.
Eventually, a hobind in the mobagwend stage will be old enough to become a fáhend (elder), at which point they will join the fáhendwa (council of elders) and govern the rest of their sawer jointly with the other efahend. (The exact age at which this occurs is determined by an individual sawer's fahendwa depending on that community's needs and the fahendwa's preferences and goals.) In some communities, the fahendwa live in a special house reserved for their use; in others, they remain in their original homes but congregate frequently in some other convenient area.
Elders and Government
The actual method by which a fahendwa governs is specific to that fahendwa. Usually, the elders try to give each member of the council an equal voice, with no one being left out, but in a larger sawer this is sometimes problematic. It is common for the elders to elect a single elder, considered the wisest or most experienced, to be the deciding vote in difficult decisions where the members cannot agree; this elder is called the ómrandil, sometimes translated as “mayor”. An omrandil is not the permanent or absolute leader of a community, contrary to common human misconceptions, and the position often only exists in times of crisis. Some communities may elect multiple éromrandil with each dedicated to a specific task important to the community, i.e. one is the authority on driving away bandits while another focuses on food production. Some communities refuse ever to appoint an omrandil at all, fearing it will corrupt their fahendwa by elevating some members above others, as indeed sometimes occurs.
Hobind elders have the duty of telling stories to younger folk in the sawer to pass on knowledge and traditions and encourage good behavior. This is especially important both for preparing children for the moweber journey and for passing on skills and strategies for maintaining the sawer to adult ehobind. This is commonly done during meals, especially at suppertime. If there is no elder in a given bagwend, someone from the fahendwa will usually be assigned to that house to ensure they are provided with a storyteller for their meals, and will be compensated with a share of the food.
An elder in a community may be designated as lófwehand, a timekeeper. Such an individual stays awake during the night and sleeps during the day. This practice has a number of important benefits for the community: the elder can keep watch for hostile creatures or beings during the night; observe the stars in the sky closely for ritual purposes; perform spells or mystic rituals to ward danger away from the community; and cook meals to be eaten during the day, should the community currently be under attack - see Conflict, below.
Elofwehand who have outright magical abilities (in the form of training as a druid, cleric, wizard, etc.) are particularly prized in this role, and young ehobind with such skills often have little difficulty locating a sawer to join, since they will likely prove a superb lofwehand in old age. Arrogant mystics may be treated with suspicion, however, since some of the worst horror stories of cruel and authoritarian elders involve those with magical powers; thus, such mages are expected to cultivate humility.
A bagwend is not much like a traditional Western family structure, more like a group of friends and roommates who live together by mutual consent; it refers to everyone who shares a single house. There need not be a “married” couple anywhere in the bagwend, marriage being a concept alien to ehobind, and there is no notion of “loyalty” in such relationships, as hobind culture lacks a concept of blood descent that would make such a thing relevant. Members of a bagwend (who call each other sonámband, housemate) engage in romantic and/or sexual activity freely with each other and, to a lesser extent, with others in the sawer (referred to as bagénglind, neighbor). As an important exception, it is taboo to do so with anyone who was originally a member of the sawer you were born in (such a person is called your sórund). This will then naturally include your birth parents, siblings, and possibly other blood relatives of theirs should they have made the moweber journey together; in this way inbreeding is avoided. Esawer often frown on intimate relationships with those outside the sawer, as well, and some also on those outside one's bagwend, but these prohibitions and values vary widely from sawer to sawer.
Some ehobind live in cities of significant size, such as Babandélglib, the largest city in the Patchwork. Such a city can contain many esawer, making its common translation of “village” more dubious. Young ehobind making their moweber journey in such a city can technically fulfill the requirements simply by moving to a new neighborhood in the city, though this is discouraged; such an untraditional young hobind is derisively called a mówembrim, which replaces the root éber, “road”, in moweber, with the root for “neighborhood”, embrím. In any case, although the dialect of Tallfellow I focus on, and the one used most widely in the Patchwork, is that spoken in Babandelglib, the majority of the hobind population does not live in such an environment. However, because it is common for emoweber to visit Babandelglib, its linguistic influence is strong, and the Babandelglib dialect is widely spoken.
Hobind dwellings are commonly dug directly out of the hills that dot the Patchwork, with wooden walls, floors and ceilings to lessen the risk of collapse and keep out burrowing pests, and are designed for privacy, comfort and safety. They contain huge cellars, often as large as the entire remainder of the house, which are primarily used to store food for that particular bagwend; a typical home has enough that if danger threatens the sawer, each bagwend can simply retreat into their home and wait it out for weeks or even months until the enemy gives up and leaves. Many ehobind attempt to feed attackers as well, to see if they can turn them into friends with the quality of their cooking; this can be quite effective against bandits.
Each home also contains an indoor kitchen that is used jointly by the bagwend and generally made of stone and earth only; they contain a clay oven and cookfire that vent through a small chimney and are well equipped with metal pots and pans, knives and silverware, and the like. Often the sawer also has communal cookfires and ovens outdoors that can be used for large-scale cooking. A hobind in the sawer spends most of their time building and maintaining these elaborate homes; growing or gathering food and other necessities for the sawer; and cooking and eating meals, which can occur at nearly every hour of the day. (Indeed, the Tallfellow word with a meaning closest to “hour” is mómbwa, “next-meal”.) Maintenance of a home is ultimately the responsibility of every member of the sawer, not just the home's bagwend, and such activities are overseen by the fahendwa, who have the responsibility of making sure all homes in the sawer are intact and stocked with food.
The Patchwork is a very fertile region, but a hobind eats a very large quantity of food each day, and so their sawer usually relies not only on growing crops and raising animals, but also on fishing, hunting, gathering roots and berries, and whatever else is available. Every bagwend in the sawer is expected to provide food in some way, depending on their skills, and then the fahendwa ensure the result is distributed as equitably as possible. So one bagwend may focus on growing crops while another makes expeditions into a nearby forest to forage or hunt, and another raises animals for meat, eggs or milk. Ehobind grow wheat, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, and tobacco among numerous other crops, and they most commonly raise cows, chickens, goats and pigeons for food, as well as sheep for wool and ponies and dogs for riding; a given sawer is unlikely to have all of these animals but it will surely have at least a few of them. They use very sophisticated farming techniques, inherited from the Zelev Empire (to which they were once subjects), and are well acquainted with concepts like crop rotation, relying on elders for guidance on how to use resources with maximum efficiency.
It is common for elders, with their increased knowledge and their lessened ability for hard labor in the fields or wilderness, to be in charge of crafting tools to be used in these pursuits, using materials gathered by younger members of the sawer. Elders of both genders are often tasked with making clothes, cooking utensils, weapons, and other useful implements. But they also receive assistance from those in their bagwend and others in the village who express interest in the craft, as a means of passing on those skills to the next generation.
Hunters, thanks to their higher level of comfort with travel in the wild and their typically greater ability at self-defense, are often the ones tasked with travel to neighboring communities in search of resources. They trade with other halfling villages, as well as human or dwarven ones, if those are located nearby. They exchange a variety of goods for these supplies, including coin, furs, meat, and whatever their sawer's specialty might be.
Hobind art forms are most commonly food-related; the word for artist, róbi, also means cook, and each sawer prides itself on the unique dishes it has invented using whatever combination of food sources it relies on. Of course, there are common threads, with hobind dishes tending to be heavy on tomatoes (rárfum), potatoes (épum), mushrooms (máro), cheese (nowún), and sauces (mábin) made with milk (mómbi) or mashed berries (rálbwa). Pigeon (réganing) is the meat most commonly eaten, though in general ehobind do not favor meat as much as many human cultures and prefer to rely on their animals for more renewable byproducts. Both wheat (fáfum) and acorn flour (mwábul) are used to make bread (bórm).
Ehobind are also skilled at weaving, and have an elaborate sort of lace pattern (wérbi) used especially on sleeves for fine clothing meant to evoke sunlight filtering through the trees onto a forest floor. Clothing is generally made of wool and designed primarily for warmth and comfort, often dyed in shades of brown or green. A sawer with no access to sheep may trade with others nearby to obtain some, or may substitute animal hides or the like.
Music is also well known to ehobind; this can be exclusively vocal, accompanied by instruments or played on instruments alone. Hobind music is based around a drone which produces a single, rhythmically repeating tone (grówem) that occasionally changes in pitch, traditionally produced by a drone singer (grówembind) or a stringed instrument; other singers or players (éberembind) then supplement this with one or more melodies (bérem) sung over the drone, with both the drone and the melody typically restricted to a major pentatonic scale. In more elaborate forms, two separate pentatonic scales are used, approximately a major second apart. Several instruments are commonly used; the grótorn is a guitar-like instrument with five strings tuned to the major pentatonic scale, with the tonic note in the center. Most lack frets and are generally played only on open strings, most commonly used to provide a drone. The ten-stringed sélngra is essentially two large égrotorn attached together, tuned a major second apart from each other; this zither-like instrument is typically placed on a low table while it is being played, and is the only hobind instrument that is commonly used unaccompanied by other instruments or voices, as it is big enough to make playing a drone and melody at the same time quite feasible; many eselngra do feature frets so as to allow more complex melodies to be produced more easily. Finally, the emóbi is a flute-like wind instrument fashioned from a hollow reed, with four finger-holes. It is often quite large and is usually played standing. It is suitable only for melodies and is treated much like a voice part.
Though certainly not unknown to hobind-kind, other forms of art are rarely practiced outside of large cities. Painting and drawing are not commonly seen, and ehobind in remote villages often cannot read or write at all if they have never been to a city where this art is practiced, such as Babandélglib or Howeró. Sculptures of wood are sometimes incorporated into hobind homes, but in general hobind woodworking, smithing and stonecarving is focused on house-building and the production of tools and kitchen supplies, rather than artistic expression. Stoneworking is particularly rudimentary, being almost entirely focused on the design and construction of kitchens; in fact the word for stoneworker, wírpopind, literally means “kitchen-person”. A sawer located somewhere with little access to stone may not use it at all, resorting instead to clay for their kitchen designs.
As previously suggested, ehobind avoid conflict by hiding in their homes, or wherever they happen to be, whenever they can, using violence only as a last resort; being the smallest and physically weakest of the mortal races, direct confrontation with predators or the tall folk rarely ends well for their kind, and they have learned to avoid it whenever they can, instead turning to stealth and trickery as their means of handling problems.
Ehobind trapped in their homes by hostile outsiders employ many strategies to protect themselves and continue living in a relatively comfortable manner. Windows are shut, sometimes with shutters that blend into the rest of the mound in which the house is constructed, and fires are generally lit only during the night, when smoke from chimneys is not so visible a sign of activity and an open chimney. Special cooking forms are employed during this time, known as wóndwem, stealth cooking. These involve preparing cold dishes as well as cooking meals during the night and eating them during the day; the meals chosen are typically stews that can simmer through the night or baked goods that take a long time to finish, and the timekeepers of a village, being awake during the night anyway, are tasked with maintaining these if not handling all the cooking on their own; in fact, this may be how the timekeeper position originated, it being more convenient to have elders who were already effectively nocturnal for such emergencies. A desperate sawer may send out a wóndwilerdil (stealth-food-gatherer) to replenish food supplies in the case of an extended siege; these are usually volunteers from the sawer's stock of hunters.
Those young ehobind making their moweber journey are commonly better equipped and more skilled at combat than other ehobind, armed not only with kitchen knives and slings but also sometimes with weapons of human or elven make, swords and bows and the like, with which to protect themselves on the long road. As the emoweber go from sawer to sawer looking for a place to settle, they learn of whatever is troubling that particular town and may even have a personal interest in solving its problems, if they are looking to join that sawer.
As a result, there is a long tradition of éholumrandodil, or érandodil for short, usually translated as “adventurers”. These are ehobind on their moweber journey who are particularly skilled at arms and travel about driving off beasts and monsters, deposing corrupt elders, aiding communities faced with dwindling resources, and so forth, in exchange for good food, temporary lodgings, and coin. The erandodil are often a sawer's only refuge if their fahendwa is cruel and exploitative or they are plagued by an enemy too persistent to be dealt with in the usual way, and so young ehobind are plied by their elders with exciting tales of these adventurers and encouraged to follow in their footsteps when they leave on their own journeys. The city of Babandelglib even maintains an “Adventurer's Guild” (Délmablin Holumrandódlil) specifically to train and equip budding erandodil, to which ehobind interested in this pursuit often travel to prepare themselves.
Although there are gods of both mortals and fey who are known by the wise to exist, and who thus are worshipped throughout Dombellus in one aspect or another, in the distant past ehobind did not worship any of them, the idea of "worship" for a god being incompatible with their discomfort with hierarchical authority in their own society. Instead, they revered the natural world and the life that exists within it, holding each other being in it - sapient or not - to be sacred and worthy in its existence. A hobind religious leader may be a druid (álefirn), although not all have the magical powers commonly associated with that title. A spiritual hobind is expected to respect even animals that must be killed and eaten to provide food, these most being commonly pigeons and fish. At meals containing any meat, a prayer is sometimes said for the animals killed to produce it, led by an elder.
However, while they have mostly maintained these traditions in one form or another into the present day, ehobind have been heavily influenced by the religions of other cultures since their absorption into the Zelev Empire in ancient times. The most commonly worshipped gods today are Azalla (Asálla), the mortal goddess of civilization and knowledge, and Soltus (Sóldos), mortal god of the sun and travel. Azalla's portfolio fits the modern-day hobind's concern for a safe and comfortable home quite well, while Soltus's is appealing to a culture with a tradition of extensive travel in youth. Neither of these, however, is a part of the traditional hobind religious world, and Azalla in particular tends not to be worshipped extensively outside large cities such as Babandelglib and communities dominated by human or dwarven cultures.
Ehobind typically bury their dead, often in their sawer's garden and nearly always somewhere in the sawer. Whenever any member of the community dies, the entire sawer assembles at the burial ground to hear a lengthy eulogy (sneltwír) given by each member of the fahendwa. It is traditional to dedicate a meal to the deceased on the following day, often in a communal feast (wédeso) dedicated to that particular member's favorite foods or using any ingredients or techniques that were their specialties in life. The exact spot of burial is not marked or considered important, but a craftshobind may create clothes, tools, art, instruments, or even a home using imagery that is intended to commemorate a dead member of their sawer in lieu of a gravestone.
Note that, especially in isolated communities, those who permanently leave the sawer are often commemorated in much the same way as those who die. A sneltwir and/or wedeso may be held for children who have left on their moweber journey, or sometimes even for those who have been expelled from the sawer, just the same as for those who have died.