Colors of Ambition
Snick was originally born as Aa’lat (snow sparrow) in Merren (“our own”, “within the boundaries”) to the Ne-ahti tribe of the Oarri people.
The Ne-ahti travel in packs of five to seven maternal kin-groups. Nomadic by nature, the Oarri have set their travel according to a lunar schedule and will stop in an area for no longer than the period between full moons, despite good hunting. The only exception is the Seasons of Birthing and Weaning, which begins in late winter and ends in early spring. The father takes no part in rearing the young, which are born blind, deaf and toothless, covered in fine white down in litters of two to four kits. These kits are cared by the mother and her family. At approximately six weeks, their eyes open and they begin to incorporate the group’s kills into their diet. At twelve weeks they are able to move under their own power on four legs. At fifteen weeks most are capable of bipedal movement. At the point when the last kit has opened its eyes, the group resumes its nomadic lifestyle – with young being carried in fur-lined slings or on sledges. Infant and mother mortality is high, at least one mother and nearly half of kits that survive birth die before the end of the Season of Birthing and Weaning.
A record of the Ne-ahti’s travels and time is made and maintained by the head of each family-group, who adds a single hand-made bead of whatever material is most plentiful in the place of their stopping each month – upon the rising of the full moon. The family head begins adding to this string upon the death of her predecessor, and distinguishes her line by an elaborate and unique knot that serves as her sigil or signature. A pre-literate people, the Ne-ahti use the dyed and woven wool of their favored and sacred prey – a variety of bearded reindeer which they follow – to keep track of births, deaths, marriages and significant events, forming a tapestry that can reach many feet long. It is the responsibility of the head of the highest-ranking family to add to the tapestry until her death. Family rank is determined by individual age among the maternal heads. A counting of the moon-beads of each family is held upon the death of the previous headwoman. Whomever had been leader of their family the longest, becomes the leader of the Ne-ahti until she herself dies.
Their camp is referred to as Merren (lit. “our own”, “within the boundaries”), leading to confusion when outsiders ask where they are from, or where they were born. When choosing their monthly camp, they prefer heavily wooded, steep hills or mountains. Each family chooses a side, hollowing out a one-room living quarter that is then built-out from the hillside with logs and other available material. The family of the highest rank makes their home on the peak, above the ring of other families.
Hunting duties are carried out by the young, who are instructed by their parents or older siblings. From the time they are first able to walk, they are taught the art of sneaking and stalking through games of Catch-Me and Not-My-Shadow. Arrows and other weapons are made of chipped stone. Besides their skill at weaving and leatherworking, they make elaborate carvings in bone.
By the time an Oarri has seen 8 to 10 summers, it has much of its adult height and weight, coinciding with the onset of puberty. It is at this time that restlessness sets in. The young stray further from camp, exploring, and take longer returning from hunting trips. At the full moon before each solstice, the kits are brought out in a ceremony that judges whether they will be released from the tribe to explore the wider world. The wise-woman examines their shadow’s length and, if acceptable, they are considered adults and outfitted with the best their families can provide. The new adults complete one final hunt together, hoping to bring down their sacred deer, which they bring back to the camp and share as a feast with the community before taking their leave.
By 15 summers the Oarri is fully mature, with its full height and weight. Most live to see another 15 or 20 summers, with most brought down by injury, accident or disease. It is rare for an active hunter to live to see 40 summers.
The carefully documented passage of time and its use in scheduling the group’s movement has created a world view of patterns existing and governing the movement of an individual through its life. Roles exist – mothers and daughters, hunter and prey – with a solidity that is beyond question. Things are the way they are, and as a result the Oarri have a difficult time imagining things any other way. Nature, red in tooth and claw, hasn’t rewarded imagination among the Oarri. What is, is “natural”, and fulfilling one’s established role as nature or fate has determined it to be is considered “good”. Death isn’t seen as evil, but one’s natural and expected path.
To the Oarri the moon is seen as a benevolent spirit of life and creation who the Oarri petition for intercession and guidance. The color of the moon is interpreted by the wise, with certain colors prohibiting or signaling certain actions. The night of the full moon is sacred.