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Underrated Cultures

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Telcontar, Apr 13, 2012.

  1. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    Hello, my dear Scribes. I have a question for you: What are your favorite 'underrated' historical cultures of the world? I'm creating a new culture, and I don't feel like going to the old standbys. I also need to do it fairly soon, so I can't waste my scant free time browsing the internet. So tell me: What culture do you think deserves more fame? More impact?

    I will not, of course, be basing this fictional culture on any single source (I always draw from multiple sources) but I want some new sources to play with.

    There is your task. Go!
     
  2. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    I'm not sure if it counts as underated, but everytime somebody bases a culture on Japan they always do it so stereotypically that it becomes cliche. Why can't anybody take the values / culture of Japan without falling into the generic Samurai & Ninja pit?
     
  3. Alex97

    Alex97 Troubadour

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    Never seen much fantsasy based upon native Northen Americans so that would be quite interesting to see.
     
  4. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    By far my favorite cultures to use for fantasy stories are African cultures, most especially Egyptian and Nubian, but sub-Saharan cultures are also nifty.
     
  5. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Oh! Speaking of Native American, I'd love to see something done with the Ainu Culture. Essentially, they are the Native American equivilant for Japan & Russia, only instead of getting stuck in the middle of the desert, they're stuck on Hokaido, the northernmost and most rural Japanese Island.
     
  6. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Poland. I know it sounds really out there, but I love the historical costumes from Poland and really want to make one for myself. It's an interesting history too, and definitely not the typical western European Middle Ages setting.
     
  7. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    Actually, I was reading about a lot of the religions of the world, both ancient and current, and found inspiration with the Alaskan natives. They have a great mythology to build a culture from.
     
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Each region, historically, has had its own dominant players, and they tend to steal the spotlight. In my research, a lot of the surrounding cultures tend to mimic the leaders a lot, especially in later periods.

    Since people are mentioning Native Americans, I'll go with the "Native" Europeans. The Sami people of Norway and Finland herded Reindeer and were pretty isolated from the rest of Europe because of their freezing location. They resemble Native Americans quite a bit.

    I think if you transplanted the culture of modern Belgium into a medieval setting, you might end up with a fun Shire-like tone. I mean, really, who can resist fine beer and chocolate? But they've a cool culture that goes deeper than that. That's probably true for a lot of modern countries - think what you could do with the Amsterdam of Middle Earth? Or see how close you can get a Fantasy city to modern LA.

    Some great places existed in obscure places where cultures wound up meeting. Take Miran, an oasis city in a desert, surrounded by mountains, on the silk road. The ruins show influences from Rome, Buddhism and Islam. There's not a lot of information about them, but can you imagine a setting like that? The story possibilities that place would hold? You've got phenomenal cultural clashes, exotic wealth passing through, and an isolated setting that could be filled with fantastic dangers.

    There's really no end. Just keep clicking on Wikipedia until you find something.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  9. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    Thanks everyone for your input. Keep 'em coming!
     
  10. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Because samurai and ninja are awesome? And if you're going to make something action/battle oriented that involves Japan, there's really nowhere else to go except samurai and ninja unless your setting is WWII. Also, samurai and ninja are awesome.

    Incidentally, I don't think I've ever seen a really cool ninja equivalent represented in "traditional" fantasy due to the usual European setting. I think I want to include ninjas in my world now.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  11. OGone

    OGone Troubadour

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    Meso-American and Polynesian cultures, namely the Ancient Mayans and Hawaiians, are underrated in my opinion.

    The Mayan culture mirrors Ancient Greece in many ways, both were known for astronomy, astrology, architecture, mathematical systems and art; just the Mayans receive a lot less spotlight in mainstream fiction and media.

    I have a few races drawing from Mayan and Hawaiian culture including a black tengu race and "goblins" (actually nothing like goblins, they represent more tarsiers and despite being indigenous are not antagonistic in any way). Sacrificial acts, temples and worshipping of the stars are prominent in their culture and they dwell in rain forests or near volcanic areas and coastlines. Their languages derive from the pictograms used in Mayan culture and words used in the ancient Hawaiian languages.

    I feel these two tribal cultures are underused.
     
  12. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I plan to have "warrior monks/priests" similar to the Shaolin in one of my stories, except they have an African rather than Asian appearance and cultural flavor.

    While we're on the subject of dark-skinned peoples, I think a fantasy civilization based on New Guineans would also be neat.
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  13. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    grrr.... Those black pajama ninja are completely unrealistic! The black pajamas are not steathy at all and were never used in real life. In japanese theater, stage hands wore black and the theater goers were trained to ignore them. The ninja connection comes from those stage hands suddenly going from not being part of the play / invisible to part of the play / visible by "assassinating" one of the actual characters. It was this concept of having someone people were trained to ignore suddenly killing someone that connected it with the ninja, as ninja frequently disguised themselves as gardeners or other member of other proffessions that people ignored to pull off their assassination. The highly visibile almost magical ninja idea is just... wrong. It's just wrong.
     
  14. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

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    I have a real thing for Finnish and the Finno-Ugric peoples. I don't know how underrated it is since a lot of their nature has found its way into modern fantasy (Though usually filtered through Viking and Anglo-Saxon culture), but there's not a conscious recognition of it most of the time. I make a point of using Finnish names from time-to-time (Eino, for those of you who saw my showcase post, is a Finnish name) and I just really like their culture. It's kind of like the Viking/Nordic culture, but somehow (to me) more romantic and fantastic. Also, they have one of the best mythological systems I've ever encountered.

    Also, I have a real soft spot for Semitic cultures of the ancient Middle East. Not only is it the basis for quite a bit of the culture we encounter on a day-to-day basis, some of it is really amazing stuff. Marduk, Tiamat, Molech, etc. are all extremely interesting, as are a lot of their historical figures.

    Classifying all of those people as 'Semitic' might be inaccurate (or akin to saying that Europeans are your favorite underrated culture), but that's what I'll stick with.
     
    Creed and Trick like this.
  15. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Dude, calm down. You're preaching to the choir. I know all of that stuff already. But it doesn't make ninjas any less cool. Like Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe. Best. Ninja. Ever.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012
  16. Fnord

    Fnord Troubadour

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    I always liked Scythians. Robert E. Howard drew from them a bit and most recently some of their culture was adopted for the Dothraki in the Song of Ice and Fire series, though these things were adopted fairly loosely.

    The problem with these "underrated" cultures is the fact that in the grand scheme of things, they ended up being the "losers" of history eventually and their culture and traditions wiped clean from the historic record, especially for those groups who didn't engage in any written forms of history. Nomadic groups like the Scythians were a lot less likely to have permanent dwellings or structures of that nature, so historic accounts from more civilized populations (and sifting through things like burial mounds) are the only real glimpses we get to see a lot of of cultures. Most of it is just trying to fill in the gaps.
     
  17. Jon_Chong

    Jon_Chong Scribe

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    A lot of Asian cultures - and their histories - tend to get ignored in western fantasy. Take China and Japan for example. They've invaded our movies and games and various streams of popculturedom with their kungfu and their katanas but not our books. And what about Koreans? Their kpop is like a virulent disease and their dramas are eveywhere but never has their culture been depicted in books. And then we go south and find that there are hardcore warriors like the old muay thai fighters of Thailand, the witch doctors of Malaysia and Indonesia and their various monsters and none of these are represented at all in fantasy. And we haven't even headed west, to the subcontinent of India and the Middle East, the birthplace of religion and depending on who you talk to, humanity and civilization.
     
  18. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    Do you happen to know the name of a particular tribe of those New Guineans?
     
  19. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I admit New Guinea is a region I've only started to learn about, but as a matter of fact I've used the names of several New Guinean groups as city names for this map. The challenge is that New Guinea has a lot of cultural and linguistic diversity, so while the various societies populating it may share a few cultural characteristics, it's hard to find one tribe that stands out from the rest as particularly useful for worldbuilding.
     
  20. While not exactly underrated, I find that the vikings tend to be... misunderstood, I suppose.

    They're usually depicted as these barbarian dudes wearing bearskins and leather and chainmail, kinda grey and brown all over. But historical accounts seem to indicate they were actually a pretty colorful and sorta vain bunch: They were apparently fond of strong, bright colors and would pick up fashion statements from the various places they visited and they also seem to have liked jewelry and kept themselves reasonably clean. Ahmad ibn Rustah reports that: "they carry clean clothes and the men adorn themselves with bracelets and gold. They treat their slaves well and also they carry exquisite clothes, because they put great effort in trade." They were also rather concerned with personal hygiene and hair care, at least going by the sheer amount of grooming tools they left behind - razors, tweezers, ear spoons and a crazy amount of combs. Ahmad ibn Fadlan also claimed that the rus vikings were "tattooed from fingernails to neck" with dark blue or dark green patters that resembled trees.

    Like, are you picturing these guys? Have you ever seen vikings portrayed like that?

    They are also made out as these grim, brutal warrior people who were obsessed with battle. And sure, they could be pretty violent, especially when they were out raiding, but then again it was a very violent period in general. And as ibn Rustah points out above, the vikings were first and formost expert merchants, which you can't be if you're not very good at getting along with people. Rustah actually goes on to point out that they were very friendly towards outsiders. Additionally, the norse sagas seem to portray them as a very no-nonsense people who valued common sense and cunning, and who tended to have a very dry, sarcastic sense of humour.

    Just once I would like to see a portrayal of the vikings that breaks away from the stereotypes and tries to show them as what they seem to have actually been. Trouble is, if you do that odds are people actually won't recognise them as vikings.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2012
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