Before the Empire, missionaries of the nascent Way came to the jungles of Sumaah and called it 'the ends of the earth.' They found a corrupt, diseased kingdom ruled by despotic kings supported by a selfish and idolatrous religion, propped up by the satraps of the Asavean Archipelago. Yet they also found embers of their own faith, hidden in old stories and legends. They fanned those embers, and without warning ignited a revolution. A people sickened by the excesses of their leaders, hungry for a philosophy of truth, took the teachings of the Way and forged a sword with which they swept away the corrupt and the greedy and built something new, and better.
For nearly a century, emissaries and diplomats travelled the vast distances between Sumaah and the Empire. Few pilgrims managed to make the arduous journey to Highguard, but those who did were increasingly dissatisfied with what they found - compromise, expediency and tolerance were poisoning the roots of the shared faith. The Sumaah had no interest in joining the Empire, and so were denied a place in the Imperial Synod; indeed, they saw little in the Imperial Synod that was relevant to them - the virtues of Ambition and Pride made it clear to these fervent converts that to look to an outside source for guidance would be wicked.
Eventually the Sumaah had had enough. In 118 YE, during the reign of Empress Aenea the Republic broke with the Imperial Synod and technically excommunicated not only the Empress but all the priests of the Empire. The Empire was technically at war with the Sumaah Republic for the next two hundred years, but the vast distances involved meant that military conflict was all but impossible, All trade between the Republic and the Empire ceased, however, and it was not until 326 YE that the trade-routes were re-opened.
Today. the Sumaah are a great power. Their ambition is limitless; they regularly engage in wars of conquest with their neighbours. converting them to the faith by sword and spear. Those who will not convert are given a simple choice to leave, or die. They burn with the fire of the zealot, and those who live near them look with some concern towards their borders. Still, they are far away and while some priests of the Synod insist on debating what they call the Sumaah problem, for most of the Empire they are little more than another exotic foreign nation, far away, that just happens to have a faith in common with the Empire.
Of particular interest to Imperial citizens outside of the Synod are the Sumaah ports which are open to trade with the Empire.
The Sumaah Republic far lies to the south-west of the Empire on the northern shores of a continent that is almost entirely unknown to the Empire. It is much warmer than even the Brass Coast. While the common image of Sumaah is that of a land is dominated by great swathes of tropical and sub-tropical jungle, dotted with sprawling pyramid-cities and overlooked by a spine of cloud-scraping mountains, in actuality most of the people make their homes in fertile coastal areas; the heart of the jungle is as impenetrable to the Sumaah as it is to anyone else.
This misperception persists because the majority of the Sumaah Republic is unknown to Imperial travelers. Foreigners are not welcome outside the port-city of Zemeh, and are forcibly returned there - or even exiled from the nation forever - if they are discovered elsewhere. The cities are undeniably wonderful; Sumaah architecture tends towards the creation of great stone buildings with most public structures being pyramids or many-stepped ziggurats riddled with passages and chambers. A family of urban Sumaah is more likely to occupy a series of apartments in a squat three-storey building shared with other families than to have a private structure of their own; only the wealthiest or largest families have entirely private residences.
Almost every city or large town is built on the banks of one of the wide, slow-moving rivers that run down through the jungle to the sea. The majority are built at the mouths of the rivers, while those cities built in-land tend to be smaller and often dedicated to the exploitation of specific valuable resources. Boats and ships are vital to the nation, due to the difficulty of constructing roads in the fast-growing jungles - the few roads that do exist are wide, straight constructions that cut through the teeming jungle and require constant maintenance.
This tendency to build along the coast lead to the second-century Dawnish diplomat Bernice de Clevau dubbing the nation "One of those long, thin countries such as you see nowhere else - a bit like a giant comb built of stone, wood and water."
After the Winter Solstice 382YE, for the first time in its history, the city of Timoj has been opened to foreign pilgrims. Indeed, a grand white granite highway has been built linking Zemeh on the coast to the city itself. Pilgrims are welcomed to travel the road to visit the temples and shrines, and the House of the People that is the heart of the Republican government. The road itself is impressive enough, with shrines every league or so dedicated to the virtues or to exemplars recognised by the Houses of Virtue. Regular hostelries maintained by the House of Prosperity provide rest and refreshment at reasonable prices to pilgrims traveling to and from the coast.
The city itself is breathtaking, easily rivaling the splendors of the White City, and much more exotic than Zemeh. While not a match for the sprawling urban landscapes of the cities of the League, it is still a dynamic and cosmopolitan city. Surrounded on both sides by wide rivers, Timoj is as much garden as city with great public parks and open plazas between temples, government buildings, and terraced homes. Many unfamiliar animals live in the city - from the cheeky little monkeys that crowd the rooftops around the marketplaces to gorgeously coloured jungle birds that roost in the trees, to the stocky green-scaled drake-like quadrupeds that serve as a common beast of burden. Flowers are everywhere - every public building has a garden sometimes on their roofs. The people themselves are vibrant and full of life - a far cry from the dourly monochromatic emissaries familiar to most Imperials - wearing bright fabrics and adorned with feathers, flowers, and beautiful wooden and amber jewelry.
The House of the People that stands at the heart of Zemeh is impressive enough, but even more impressive still are the seven Houses of Virtue - great white granite and mithril ziggurats each dedicated to one of the seven virtues - and the beautiful Court of the Way - a great open courtyard that lies before the House of the People where priests meet to enact the business of the Sumaah Synod. Around each ziggurrat, and around the Court, are beautiful shrines dedicated to the memory of the Sumaah paragons. These shrines do not approach the basilica of Bastion in splendor - they are surprisingly low-key in nature - but what they lack in size they more than make up for in beauty and in the profound sense of spirituality.
Imperial pilgrims are welcome here, and soon find themselves rubbing shoulders with followers of the Way from all over the known world. These include some pilgrims from places the Empire has no contact with - primarily allies of the Republic similar in size to those nations that border the Empire.
(OOC Note: Any Imperial citizen is welcome to roleplay that they have visited Timoj; as always however no further information will be provided about the city than is presented here or on the Sumaah Republic page).
The Sumaah are first and foremost devout, and the philosophy of the Way permeates all aspects of their life. Families engage in regular communal acts of discussion and readings from books and scrolls that discuss the Way and its teachings. Almost all art serves a religious function, from the statues of the Paragons that decorate the façades of many public buildings, to the instructional rhymes the children sing.
All citizens of the Sumaah Republic are human. Orcs and daeva are viewed as subhuman; when the Sumaah encounter an orc tribe, they exterminate it. The Sumaah do not keep slaves - doing so is seen as being an offence against the very fundamentals of Prosperity. It is also one of their many points of contention with the Asavean Archipelago - although it is a minor point compared to the many other reasons the Sumaah have to despise that northern nation of idolators.
The lineaged are viewed with a little suspicion by urban Sumaah, and there is some social pressure for them to remain celibate. This stems less from concerns about their souls and more from the fact that they were invariably the priests of the corrupt idol-based religion the Sumaah followed in the distant past. Rural Sumaah tend to be much more tolerant of and accepting of the lineaged. For its part the Präster (a Sumaah term for priest, pronounced roughly as "pressed-AIR"; singular Präst, used by both men and women) teach that while the lineaged must master the influences of their blood, as long as they accept that challenge they are due the same rights as any other citizen of the Republic.
The Way encourages humans to seek new knowledge and put it to practical use. The Sumaah are at least as technically adept as the people of the Empire, although some inventions (such as the crossbow or the printing press) have not proved popular. Only in the area of philosophy do the Präster exert overt control, and while there may be many natural scientists in Sumaah there are very few philosophers.
The jungles are home to many creatures considered marvellous by Imperial travellers. A number of species of massive drakes are known to be native to the Sumaah jungles, including several breeds that have been domesticated as watch-beasts, companions and beasts of burden. Indeed, the burly workdrake is used where the Empire might use oxen. The forests and jungles are also home to a profusion of brightly-coloured birds and big-cats, as well as uncountable breeds of insect many unknown in colder climates. The shores teem with giant turtles, and immense panthers move like oiled juggernauts through the deeper jungles preying on great drakes and humans alike.
The citizens of the Republic democratically elect representatives to sit in the House of the People which meets in the city of Timoj in the southern heartlands. These representatives rule on behalf of the people, raising taxes, initiating public works, and ensuring that the populace prosper. In practice, however, Sumaah is a theocracy in all but name. The Präster of the Way have an unlimited ability to veto the decisions of the representatives in the name of Virtue. The day-to-day running of the nation is accomplished by the Virtue assemblies, and law is enforced by the religiously appointed Censors who interpret the laws passed by the republic. For the most part, however, the Assemblies do not interfere in the business of the House of the People as long as they remain virtuous and lawful. Individual Präster have greater political power than their counterparts in the Empire, but they are also more carefully monitored by their peers. The individual Virtue assemblies wield sweeping powers over the people. For example, the Assembly of Vigilance maintains the Censors, responsible for enforcing and ensuring all laws are respected, while the Assembly of Courage effectively controls all military forces within the nation. The Assembly of Wisdom is responsible for education and for ensuring all written works are truthful, while the Assembly of Loyalty ensures all elections are scrupulously honest and that all representatives are truly reflecting the wishes of their constituents.
There are no nobles in Sumaah; everyone is a citizen. Individual wealth goes some way towards creating a simple class-structure, but the wealthy are expected to spend appropriate amounts of their wealth in celebration of their prosperity. Every individual is equally worthy of protection before the law, and the Assembly of Ambition works tirelessly to help citizens achieve their greatest potential in the service of the nation.
Under the auspices of the Assembly of Pride, the Sumaah engage in wars of conquest against their neighbours. These crusades are fought carefully and methodically, targeting the nations most offensive to the Sumaah first and wherever possible integrating them into the Republic through diplomacy and forced conversion. Imperial scholars estimate that the Sumaah have destroyed five other smaller nations in the last 400 years, completely absorbing their lands and their people. The one nation they have had no luck destroying is the one they would most like to - the Asavean Archipelago offends the Sumaah to the core, but they have had only limited success spreading the fire of crusade to the northern nation, partly due to the distances involved.
It would be easy to dismiss Sumaah as a totalitarian theocratic dictatorship, but it would also be slightly unfair. The majority of Präster appear to genuinely believe they are upholding the greater good. Präst who become corrupt or self-serving is stripped of authority and usually executed. The Assemblies repeatedly speak of using their veto to prevent the representatives making mistakes, rather than out of any desire to control or dominate the secular authorities. Before wielding their power, the Assemblies often debate the pros and cons of action and inaction for days on end before reaching a decision. As Bernice de Clevau wryly commented in her final letter to the Senate in 118YE "The garden of tyranny is laid out with the best of intentions."
Many magicians in Sumaah are also Präster, and the virtue assemblies are known to maintain cadres of ritualists who specialise in specific areas of magic. For example, there are many covens within the Assembly of Prosperity who specialise in magical effects similar to Rivers of Gold or The Lure of Distant Shores while the Assembly of Vigilance has covens who make good use of divinations such as Signs and Portents.
On a practical level, Sumaah magicians are known to use the music of the spheres, but they do not use runes or anything recognisable as dramaturgy. While in the Empire some magicians evoke the names of paragons or exemplars, magical beasts or eternals, doing so in Sumaah would be at best heresy and at worst blasphemy. The most common form of magic involves the manipulation of physical materials or energies, devoid of spiritual powers. For example, fire, polished crystals and and water are used extensively, as are coloured sands or earths. Blood, as long as it comes from living humans, may also be used as a representative of the spiritual power of the human soul. Tools such as metal bowls, mirrors and knives are also popular because the shaping of raw materials into useful tools is a potent symbol of the way humans can shape the world and the powers of magic to their own end. Some scholars refer to this oddly eclectic set of traditions as spiritual materialism. The people of Sumaah know that magic is a tool, like any other; but like any other tool it is dangerous in the wrong hands. Magicians in the Republic are carefully monitored. Any magical effect that creates a lingering aura of any sort (OOC: roleplaying effect.) is strictly monitored. Rituals such as The Chamber of Delights and Crystal Clarity of the Rational Soul are considered blasphemous and magicians who perform these rituals are usually prosecuted.
Interaction with eternals is carefully monitored, and magicians who interact with an eternal outside of the presence of a Präst are usually censured or viewed with suspicion. The Sumaah know a number of eternals unknown to the Empire - the only ones both nations are known to regularly interact with are Leviathan and Yaw'nagrah. The Night eternal Sadogua is considered an enemy of the Republic; its heralds are destroyed on sight, and magicians who interact with it are usually tried for idolatry.
Partially due to this level of control, and partially due to the emphasis on less supernatural means of resolving problems, the Sumaah republic lags behind the rest of the world in terms of magical might - it has not a fraction of the magical capability of the Empire or the heathen Principalities of Jarm. It makes up for this by having more organized magical traditions than any other nation with the possible exception of the Commonwealth.
The Way is the only philosophy tolerated in Sumaah. The Präster of the Republic share the same core values as the Imperial Synod; they recognise the same virtues and agree broadly in the guidance they offer in pursuing those virtues. Their symbols remain broadly the same, although the labyrinth image used in Sumaah is often rendered in three-dimensions rather than two, often resembling a circular or heptagonal pyramid.
Where they differ greatly from the Empire is in their absolute adherence to dogma. Having accepted that the Way is correct, they have come to the conclusion that all other philosophies must logically be incorrect. Given that the greatest good lies in ensuring that human souls pass quickly through the labyrinth, it follows that any action that impedes that progress must be evil. Left to their own devices, people may choose easy paths that lead to evil - in the same way that a child may stick their hand in a fire. It falls to the wise to prevent the ignorant from making evil choices, just as it falls to a parent to prevent their child harming themselves. Several popular treatises in Sumaah claim that anarchy is the most wicked of the malign spiritual presences because it claims that the freedom to do evil, the freedom to make catastrophic mistakes. is a virtue.
As a result the Präster of the Republic are committed to enforcing the teachings of the Way, even on those who might choose other paths. Where heretics and blasphemers may be prosecuted in the Empire, they are persecuted in the Republic. There is a scale of punishments available to the Präster, and they do their best to ensure that deeds are punished over words and intent is punished offer accident but at the end of the day their tolerance extends only so far. Heretics and blasphemers are hanged, while idolators are hanged until they lose consciousness then burnt alive on slow-burning pyres. An honest repudiation of heresy or blasphemy can earn a reprieve from the gallows. but the slightest backsliding is likely to result in death. While the Sumaah accept that a heretic can turn their life around, if they judge the heretic incapable of doing so it is better that they enter the labyrinth now and begin preparing for their next life. The harshest punishments are reserved for those who teach heretical or blasphemous doctrine; the next harshest are reserved for Präster who abuse their position. In Sumaah the ceremony of excommunication is invariably a prelude to execution.
The Präster are divided into the same Virtue Assemblies as the Empire, including the Assembly of the Way. In theory, there is also a General Assembly but in practice the kind of powers that would be wielded by the General Assembly in the Empire are wielded by the Assembly of the Way, which is without doubt the most powerful of the eight Assemblies. The Council of Eight is made up of the seven Cardinals of the virtue assemblies and two Cardinals from the Assembly of the Way. No National assemblies exist; rather there are Local assemblies made up of all the Präster in a village or city ward who meet to pass judgements, hear criminal cases, and the like.
The Republic produces large amounts of liao - great plantations controlled by the Assembly of the Way are dedicated to the cultivation of plants used to create their own version of this precious substance. They sell their surplus to merchants from the Empire and the Commonwealth, and while the 'recipe' may differ, the results are the same - some Imperial priests claim it has a 'smoky' quality. It is often prepared in the form of incense that is burnt and inhaled - indeed, incense is one of the most common luxury goods found in Sumaah and it is a common feature in both public places and private homes.
Before they embraced the Way, the people of Sumaah were literal idolators, making offerings of valuables and good to a small pantheon of spirits combining idealised animal qualities with elemental powers. The religion was utterly dominated by the secular powers who used the greed and corruption of the heathen priests to control the masses. In the wake of the reforms that created the modern Republic, the idols were cast down. Imperial scholars are quick to point out, however, that several of the Paragons embraced by the practitioners of the Way in Sumaah bear a striking resemblance to the idols their ancestors worshipped. Vena the Great-hearted Paragon of Courage shares many attributes and stories with Fire-Lion while depictions of the Paragon of Wisdom that the Sumaah call Zoria have more in common with the idol called Cloud Eagle than with the Ushkan sorceress.
Despite the schisms, the Sumaah share certain paragons and exemplars with the faithful of the Empire. They acknowledge the Paragons Tian, Korl, and Atun as well as the Exemplar Zemress. They also recognise a Paragon they call The Builder who seems to be the same Paragon that the Empire knows as The Sentinel.
Other than this, the Sumaah and the Empire maintain separate lists of Exemplars and Paragons. One interesting note made by an Imperial scholar who spent many years in Zemeh is that the Exemplar of Courage they call Amma the Wanderer bears a resemblance to Adelmar the Lion, and that the historical provenance for the character (who appears in Sumaah stories starting around 80YE) supports this contention. No proof either way has been gathered to date.
Look and Feel
The Sumaah Republic is inspired by the Mayan and South American native cultures. When at home in Sumaah, or relaxing among friends, they favour loose garments in single bright colours, and brightly coloured jewelry. Their normal climate is very warm, so a short tunic or even a skirt or woollen kilt is sufficient coverage to protect against the elements. Those traveling to cooler climates add a loose robe cinched at the waist or a long poncho likewise tied at the middle with a decorated belt, or both when visiting particularly chilly climes (such as the Empire).
This bright clothing is put aside when the Sumaah are on official business. On a pilgrimage, or when representing their people abroad, the basic outlines are the same but the bright colours are replaced with white, silver, and gold fabrics. Jewelry is much more muted, and again tends to mirror the paler colours. This same dress is favoured by both members of the House of the People, and senior Präster who are engaged in business related to their office
Tattoos and piercings are common, and jewelry is selected for its aesthetic value before its material worth. Orichalcum alloys (gold and red-gold metals) are common. Feathers and semi-precious stones are a common feature of their national costume; when at home, brightly coloured jungle flowers are regularly used as temporary decorations for the person or the home. Animal products are common in costume and decoration - the hides of jungle cats, leather made from drakehide, and polished turtle shell are all common components. While they may use animal products, the Sumaah avoid using animal imagery in their costumes or decorations - unlike real-world Aztec or Native American costumes animal head-dresses for example would be considered heretical by the Sumaah. The Varushkan animal icons, for example, would be blasphemous to the Sumaah.
Almost everyone in Sumaah has a religious symbol of some sort that they wear or carry at all times. This might be a tattoo, but is most commonly a piece of jewelry or a belt that can be worn with many different suits of clothing.
Sumaah is not as iron-rich as the Empire. Spears and axes (which serve double-duty as tools for hunting or crafting as well as weapon) are common as are bows. Daggers are usually a sign of some wealth or status, and swords are reserved for professional soldiers or the very wealthy. Armour is often of hide or thick leather, with only professional soldiers or the most wealthy owning suits of metal armour which are often passed down from generation to generation.
To Imperial eyes. the Sumaah are even more exotic and strange than the Jarmish or the Asaveans. Of course the dour colours and restrictive styles of the Imperials are just as jarring to the Sumaah eye.
The Sumaah speak a number of languages which, according to their histories, are the languages spoken by their distant ancestral tribes. The dominant languages are represented by those of the north Germanic or Scandinavian language group, especially Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. The three languages are used interchangeably, and many Präster are fluent in all of them (and often several rarer dialects, commonly spoken by the people of conquered nations). No one language dominates, and when people talk about the Sumaah language they could be referring to any one or all of them.
The Sumaah Republic in Play
The Sumaah appear exotic, and are made all the more exotic by their adherence to a faith that they share with the Empire. They have the fervour of the convert - the Empire tolerates insults to its faith that would have the average Sumaah reaching for a noose. They can appear dour, but it is important to understand that they generally celebrate their religion; the Way liberated them from centuries of despotic rule by cruel overlords. It exalts the human spirit, and tells every one of them that they are important and that they have ultimate control of their own destiny.
While the Präster are totalitarian, arguably fascistic, to outsiders they are in the main motivated by a genuine concern for the spiritual wellbeing of their people. They simply believe that they alone know what is best for their people. Most Sumaah look at the Empire and see a nation of cowardly backsliders who lack the courage of their convictions, who would rather talk than act, and who would rather let someone die that risk some incomprehensible notion of egalitarian freedom.
It is entirely appropriate to play a Sumaah character who has left the Republic in search of freedom, or to avoid persecution or execution for heretical or blasphemous beliefs that the Empire would take in its stride. Likewise, a character who is a magician or whose parents were magicians might have left Sumaah to avoid the restrictive way the practice of magic is controlled by the Präster. It is also worth noting that to the Republic 'not believing' is the same as being a heretic - characters who might in the real world be considered agnostics or atheists have good reason to leave Sumaah behind. For that matter, a Sumaah missionary Präst here to try and convince the Imperials to adopt a less liberal interpretation of the faith might also make for a fun character concept.
For all that this description of the Republic goes into some depth, Sumaah is also an enigma to the Empire. For everything they know about it there are a dozen unanswered questions, and the Sumaah like it that way. Backgrounds that involve extensive exploration in Sumaah, or contacts outside Zemeh, are unlikely to be approved.