Culture Test: Nirala

In The Planet Construction Kit, Mark Rosenfelder recommends creating a “culture test” for concultures, in order to get a clearer view of what it’s like to be an average member of one’s invented society.

Rosenfelder’s version for the average American was sufficiently instructive (as in “dude, just @ me next time”) to encourage me to create one for the average Niralan.

Per culture test rules, the following describes 90 percent of the species – it’s an overview of what it’s like being Niralan on Nirala. The La’Isshai, who may or may not actually exist, live a dramatically different version of Niralan life; I’ll give them their own culture test in coming months.

In honor of yet another round of edits on the Nahara manuscript, here’s life as an average Niralan.

If You’re Niralan….

  • You’re convinced of the rightness of rule by your elders. They have the experience, after all; not only from their own lives, but from your collective ancestors as well.
  • You value cooperation above all else. You see the role of your elders as maintaining cooperation, by any means necessary.
  • Age is less important than your status among the various major life stages: birth, puberty (amaron), motherhood, eldership, and death. That said, you’d find it odd to meet anyone under the age of 3 (about 12 in Earth years) who could talk or anyone under the age of 26 (about 100 in Earth years) who had a child.
  • Children are seen and not heard, by definition: a “child” cannot talk.
  • Everything is something you can communicate emotions with by touching it (inaya) or that you can’t (ilikpa). The former are “people,” the latter are “things.” (Think of the difference in your approach to “my sister” versus “my hat.”)
  • You speak at least two languages: Niralanes, and the chord-based song-language of the hamaya. Depending on where you live, you may speak up to six Niralan languages; depending on your job, you may speak several offworld languages as well.
  • You think of yourself as your kiiste (family), not as an individual member or part of your kiiste.
  • You think of the kiiste as individual members or parts of Nirala.

In Your Household…

  • You live with your oldest living ancestor and every one of her direct descendants. If her line was a small one, you might live with every one of the direct descendants of a deceased great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother. Households are typically three to twelve people; larger households are preferred.
  • Your house is partly or entirely underground. It has a large central room, probably circular, which is where you spend most of your time and also where you sleep (along with everyone else).
  • You don’t have your own room, but you do have your own cupboard or trunk in which to keep personal items like clothing, books and grooming tools. You don’t collect sentimental objects.
  • You eat at a low table, sitting on a cushion or low stool. Most of your food can be eaten by hand, although it’s typical to use utensils when people who aren’t members of your kiiste are present, so that you avoid touching one another’s food by accident.
  • Your diet is primarily meat-based, though you don’t typically kill your own food. Food comes from protein resequencers or is shipped in from planets with larger animal populations.
  • The toilet is separate from the rest of the house, in its own heated building. Washing is typically done in the main house; many houses have added a separate room to contain the water. Privacy is not a concern, since nudity doesn’t phase you.
  • Relationships across kiiste lines are primarily made on the basis of usefulness, and even the longest-lasting of these doesn’t come before your obligations to your own family.

Socially Speaking….

  • You’ve never been off Nirala.
  • Political and social decisions are made by a council of six Niralan elders, called the senarie. You find this natural and sensible.
  • The senarie also serves as the court system, but hearing any case is a once-in-a-decade event. Most disputes are settled by seniority: the elder disputant wins.
  • Your mother and grandmother took care of your education. They may have worked to acquire advanced materials for your study once you reached the age of amaron.
  • You probably haven’t been sent off-world to university, but you have heard about Niralans who were. These are generally cautionary tales.
  • You work at least one-third of each year in direct public service, without pay, during which your family supports your food and medical needs. The rest of the time may be devoted to activities that support your family, help others or make money, though the latter is looked at somewhat askance.
  • Utilities, transportation, healthcare are all public goods, administered by the senarie. Arrangements may be made for offworlders to provide these, but without offworlders coming into direct contact with Niralans.
  • Nirala has exactly one ambassador. You’ve never met her, nor do you know anyone who has ever met any Niralan ambassador, ever.
  • It has never occurred to you to do any job other than the one your mother and/or grandmother chose for you.

You Spend Your Time….

  • You know Lili Amarones backwards and forwards, even if you otherwise hate reading.
  • You mastered ice skating, sledding and building things out of snow before you could talk.
  • “Games” are cooperative, not competitive. They’re typically based on one or more songs, which you would have learned as a young child. The song might be accompanied by a dance or other form of ritual movement, or it might be a more sedate activity involving strategic manipulation of complex geometric shapes.
  • You don’t remember at what age you began playing games, and there’s no age at which it’s considered unseemly to keep playing, although elders tend to prefer games that allow them to sit.
  • You’re always studying something. Games and relaxation are fun and all, but life is tedious unless you’re learning something new.

Everyone Knows That….

  • Days are 102 hours long (in base-6).
  • Numbers are counted in base-6: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21….
  • There’s no reason to know or care on what day you were born.
  • Texts are written top to bottom and right to left.
  • Niralanes is written and read with reference to a central vertical axis, but only children actually draw this axis to “center” their writing. Adults can write in a straight line without a guide.
  • You can get most things you need to live without money. If you need money, you probably don’t need the thing you’re exchanging it for in order to live.
  • Showing up more than five minutes late to an appointment is not only inexcusable, but a symptom of a serious illness.
  • The length of meetings, appointments, etc. is dictated by the whims of the eldest participant. If participants are closely matched in age and the topic requires significant discussion in order to reach consensus, meetings may last for days or even weeks.
  • Barring mishap, you can reasonably expect to live to about 48 years old (or about 180 in Earth years). 53 years old (about 200 in Earth years) is unusual but not impossible.
  • Viidans can’t be trusted. The Second Empire in particular was unusually cruel, nearly eradicating Niralans entirely.
  • Devori are the least untrustworthy offworlders, even though they aren’t people.
  • Every kiiste has its own quirks. Nahara can’t be trusted, but is great for finding out the answers to questions you can’t ask directly for whatever reason. Nantais can be relied on to take the lead on projects no one else wants to do. Nesenda won’t ever say no to a request, and is in fact a bit of a doormat. And so on.

My first novel, Nantais, introduced Nirala to the world; its upcoming sequel, Nahara, expands on the language and culture. Check them out, or support this and future writing efforts by buying me a coffee.