Tag Archives: Africa

Languages of East Africa

Design Note: this is the second post in a series about the East African area of the Erythrean Sea and draws on material from the supplement Lands of the Nile (pages 10-11) and the Appendix A “Languages and Name” section of the Cradle and the Crescent. 

The following languages are spoken on or around the Red Sea and the Erythrean Sea. Most characters should take the appropriate dialect as a specialty but educated or well-travelled speakers will have tried hard to rid themselves of their dialect and may have standard specialties (see ArM5, page 66).

     Amharic
     Arabic (Masri, Khaliji, Maslawi, Shirvani, Somalian)
     Bantu (Kiswahili, many other mainland dialects)
     Faerie Speech*
     Malagasy
     Nubian
     Somali (Northern, Mogadishan)
     Soqotri

Languages of the Red Sea

The most common Arabic dialects spoken in the northern areas and by most traveling merchants and sailors is either the Egyptian Masri  or Arabian Khaliji dialect (the latter usually spoken with unique Yemeni and Omani idioms and inflections). Merchants and seafarers from further afield will use either the Levantine dialect or if originally hailing from Basra or nearby ports, the Persian Maslawi dialect. Due to the short distance across the Arabian gulf, the variant Somalian Arabic is spoken by many southern Arabian natives and differs enough from the form spoken elsewhere in Arabia to be classed as a separate dialect.

Somali_Stone script
Wadaad script

 Somali is the common language of the Bilad al-Berbera, the southern coast of the Arabian Gulf comprising the Horn of Africa. It is very distantly related to both Coptic and Arabic and currently uses the so-called Wadaad version of the Arabic script, although older inscriptions using can be found using a unique native alphabet. Soqotri was once a closely related tongue but has become distinct enough recently to be unintelligible to outsiders. It is rarely heard outside of the isolated island as its merchants and spies use Arabic or rarely Somali when moving through the wider world.

Languages of the Erythrean Sea

Bantu is the anachronistic umbrella term used here to describe a variety of related languages spoken by mundane inhabitants of the hinterland region of the Bilad al-Zanj often enslaved by the coastal towns. The most commonly heard dialect is Kiswahili (or Swahili), spoken in the Arabicized island trade settlements of the coast and island states. It contains many Arabic and Persian loan words and fast becoming the Erythraean Sea’s equivalent of the Mediterranean’s lingua franca. Unlike the other Bantu dialects, Kiswahili is written using the Arabic script.

Shirvani Arabic is an unusual dialect only spoken on the islands of the southern seas, particularly by inhabitants of Qumr. It includes some Bantu derived phrases but mainly borrows Persian words as it was brought to the area by exiles from Shirvan in northern Persia.

Malagasy is an unusual magical language spoken only by the cannibals of Waq al-Waq to the far south and sometimes the rarely encountered Faerie blooded merchants claiming to be from far off ports of the Bahr al-Harkand on the route to Serica. The exact relationship between the two groups is unclear but their language is completely unrelated to the other languages of the region. The exotic merchants sometimes use an unusual Arabic based script they refer to as Sorabe.

What Language do the Faeries Use?

The area of the Erythrean Sea is beset by Faeries claiming to be exotic but mundane merchants or sailors from distant lands such as al-Hind, the hinterland of al-Zanj and the far distant ports of Serica. Instead of speaking mundane dialects, these creatures use a magical ability to interact and carry out their roles in stories. Close observers will note that although these Faeries may appear to speak their own language, the words have no meaningful structure or grammar, merely serving to enhance the creature’s exoticism.

Faerie Speech is not actually a separate language but a Faerie Pretense (see Realms of Power: Faerie, page 50). Characters that possess this Minor Virtue are able to converse with humans as if they know the language being spoken, allowing them to appear to always know how to talk to anyone they encounter.

Dead Languages

     Ge’ez
     Sabaean

Ge’ez is the Semitic forebear of Amharic using it’s own unique alphabet. It is the ancient language of Axum and still used in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s liturgy. Sabaean is the magical language of the ancient Kingdom of Sheba and can still be seen inscribed in either the Masnad or Zabur scripts on ruins and scrolls respectively found in contemporary Yemen.

Languages Penalty

Same language, different dialect -1
Arabic (Somalian) vs Somali -2
Somali vs Soqotri -3

The other pairs of languages are so distinct from each other that comprehension is likely to be based on signing and good guesswork, or magic such as the use of the Gift of Tongues Virtue or the Faerie Speech Pretense (see above).

Once Upon the Erythraean Sea

Design Note: the area known in the 13th century as the Erythraean Sea reflects the modern day Arabian Sea or western edge of the Indian Ocean, correlating with the Arabic Bahr al-Hind. This area links the “Mythic Arabia” chapter of the Cradle and the Crescent, the “Ethiopia” chapter from Lands of the Nile and “Sorcerors of Soqotra” chapter from Rival Magic. This article is one of several gazetteer style posts intended on ultimately linking these sources together.

Dhow
A typical dhow

The dhow (Arabic or Swahili: daw) is the predominant style of ship on the southern waters constructed from teak from far off mythical al-Hind. Unlike the ships of the north detailed in City & Guild, page 84-85, these ships are literally sewn together with coir, a tough woven cord formed from palm or coconut fibres soaked in seawater.

In the thirteenth century, these ships have double-ended hulls that come to a point at the bow and stern – the much later square stern is an innovation influenced by European ship designs.

The generic word for ship in Arabic is markab or safiinah. Although named variously badanbuumjalba, and zaaruq depending on the region they are found, all ships share the common hull features of carvel design (planks laid end to end) providing them with flexibility to manage the surf or shallow coastal shoals and rocks of the Red Sea or Arabian Sea at the expense of their overall structural integrity.

Each ship is so-called lateen rigged, using a near triangular trapezoidal sail (or corectly a settee sail) with an additional luff as opposed to the true triangular sail seen in the Mediterranean. This hybrid design still allows the ship to tack before the wind, unlike the square rigged ships of Europe, but the extra area provided by the leading edge or luff helps catch a greater amount of wind than the regular triangular shape use in the north. Most used for coastal trading have two masts with basic rigging, the larger sail on mizzen and a smaller sail aft, although smaller craft only have a single mast.

Unfortunately, very few of these sewn ships have closed holds or decks, requiring passengers to brave the elements and settle themselves amongst the cargo and any sported animals as best they can. This and their pliant hull design makes them ill-suited to rough weather – the standard practice for regular sailors of these vessels when confronted with a storm at sea is to pull down the mast, jettison the sail and pray for deliverance. Unsurprisingly, the nakhodas or “dhow-masters” often name their ships with fatalistic names that effectively translate as: “By Allah’s Deliverance”, “In Praise of Mohammed” and “As Allah Wills”.

The Magic of Sewn Ships

Unlike northern ships which use bronze or iron nails in their construction, the woven coir binding method and teak or coconut wood construction means that dhows are composed entirely of material derived from plants. This makes them virtually immune to Hermetic Terram spells, but exquisitely sensitive to Herbam based magics.

Historically most dhows were built in India, the eastern source of the teak and coconut used in their construction. Although well known in the thirteenth century to Muslim merchants, in Mythic Europe canonically there is no such land as India, only the rumoured Faerie land of al-Hind. This suggests that the ships of the southern seas may be all built with the aid or permission of exotic  Faeries or may even be Faerie Objects obtained through bargains…

Even if otherwise mundane such ships are rumoured to be crafted using planks sourced from Faerie teak trees in their construction, which if the correct incantations are muttered whilst building them may provides the resultant ship with a small amount of resistance to magics intent on warping or twisting it out of shape, providing a defensive bonus to Herbam style magics equal to the boatbuilder’s Craft: Shipwright score.

Teak wood has the following Shape & Material bonuses:

  • +3 resist rot or disease
  • +2 Rego

Additional Resources

Mythic Africa Revealed!

Between Sand and Sea
Between Sand and Sea

So my contributor copies of Between Sand and Sea: Mythic Africa arrived this week in Oz, which was very exciting apart form the fact I haven’t had a chance to properly read through it yet…

It’s always great to see the interior artwork finally, there’s some really great pieces that capture the flavour of the region – as a line author we get to suggest scenes for the artists but we usually don’t see the actual pictures until the final supplement.

(My copies are often delayed compared to most due to my Antipodean residential status).

I only contributed a relatively small amount to this book admittedly compared to the other authors (the Tuareg nomads, some settuten magic concepts, a few hedge wizard and werehyena ideas, the Cyrenaica and Ahaggar areas, the mundane beasts appendix).  I’m really proud of this one as I think it indicates just how far I’ve developed as a writer with the generous help of my more experienced co-authors (particularly Timothy) and how far we’ve managed to stretch the once restraining envelope of Mythic Europe…

Enjoy!

Mythic Africa Announced!

So finally, my fourth book for ArM5 is on its way (December)! I was privileged to contribute some concepts and ideas to the latest opus crafted by Ben, Mark and Timothy.

The 2nd “Not-Tribunal Book”, Between Sand and Sea, deals with North Africa… well, everything along the southern Meditteranean littoral except Egypt actually (or as Timothy would say: “Guaranteed to Contain No Egypt at No Extra Charge!”)

Although we’re all bound by NDA, I can say that this supplement is full of great material and ideas to allow your characters to explore another exotic set of locales or create characters from the lands outside the core heartland of Mythic Europe.

If you liked the potential and possibilities of exploring beyond the boundaries of Hermetic influence presented in The Cradle and the Crescent, you’ll likely not be disappointed and find hours of inspiration and enjoyment!

Oh, the cover art is shaping up to look great too…

 

Between Sand & Sea: Mythic Africa

Everyone knows Egypt, but Egypt is just one corner of Africa. Between the sand of the Great Desert and the sea of the Mediterranean lie the great cities of Marrakesh and Fes, home to merchants, scholars, and thieves. The Atlas mountains and the plains of the Tell are home to Tuareg and Berber nomads and raiders, and the ruins of Rome and Carthage still await exploration. Not all of the inhabitants of this land are human: the Blemmyae have no heads, bearing their faces on their chests, while the Panotii have ears so large that they can fly, and the isle of monkeys tolerates nothing human on its shores. Trade caravans from all cultures cross the Great Desert, but none know what lies beyond, or where the slaves brought north come from.

Beyond the Bounds of the Order

This book provides cultural and magical details for the lands of Mythic Africa west of, but not including, Egypt. From the jnun to the dark gods of old Carthage, from the bustling cities of the Tell to the wind-haunted mountains and deserts, this is a land that will take magi away from the familiar. Whether building a new covenant outside the Tribunals, or visiting in search of magical secrets, there is something for every maga between sand and sea.