Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Ethereal Council: Holes in Tau Fluff?

As some regular visitors will likely know, I dabble in writing little bits of Tau fluff. I've been looking to the few Samurai videos on Hulu for inspiration and I'd like to bring the concept of rival warriors to the Tau Empire. Even though, the Tau on the whole function cohesively as a school of fish, there must be more drama and intrigue among them than the current fluff shows.

As I am gearing up to get working on a longer short story, I've begun wondering how Tau castes relate to each other. I'm not interested in writing about the Tau utopia but the imperfections of the caste system. How do the castes relate to each other? Is it of mutual respect or hidden contempt for one another?  Do the Shas'la dominate the other castes like the Samurai of feudal Japan?

Are the Shas organized in clans based on family origins? It's difficult to believe that the Septs which encompass entire worlds are the only basis.

What rivalries unfold among Shas'la that train in the great battle-domes of the T'au? What happens to those that fall out of favor in the eyes of the Aun?

Are the Fio'la, Earth Caste members, treated as equals or are they shunned? Which of the castes have the lowest lot in life? Are their Tau species that are out of the caste system, dare I say, untouchables? Who develops the technology with which the others depend? Which caste species makes up the teeming millions that push the limits of the Empire? Who are the Empire's average citizens?

*Picture painted on my Ipod Touch...Sketches, what a great app...


Pete W said...

Hey OSH,

I love thinking about the background to the Tau culture as well. I really like the ending movies for Dark Crusade and Soulstorm where you were left with questions about what would happen now the war is over.

-How would the city be built?
-Who would run it?
-Would the army stay there or would it move on to other conquests while a defence force took over?
-Would the conquest army resent the defence force getting to enjoy the safer duty?

I think your questions on the cultural issues are great as well. You should definitely work on a short story if you have the time. Let me know if you want any help or ideas and I'll see what I can scrounge up from my cogitator circuits. I nearly wrote a Tau short story for a BL contest but never got around to finishing it. Still fun though.

Zzzzzz said...

Just my 2p:

I suspect that the castes are all equal in prinicipal, with primacy ceeded to the caste in whose areas of expertese endeavours are focussed.

I suspect that most of the 'civilian population' are allied or sub-septs of the caste that reflects the main direction of their lives*. And that any 'untouchables' exist outside the caste system as the Imeriaum knows it.

* ie Human suxilaries are a sub culture of the fire caste, but are not Tau and therefore not a part of the caste per se. However they are not untouchable, as they are making an obvious contribution to the Greater Good.

suneokun said...

As a big Tau fan, a knowledgeable person on Japanese History and Japanese filmmaking and someone who lived there and speaks fluent Japanese ... here's my 2 pence.

Let's not forget that the Tau are genetically far more diverse that humans would accept in our xenophobic mindset. Air caste make the Eldar look bulky, and the Earth caste look like they're auditioning for squats...

Therefore there is theoretically no 'mixing' between the races of Tau or castes. Is this a culturally instilled thing, or a genetic enforcement?

The concept of a mixed caste child would be an interesting centrepiece. How would a Earth caste/Fire Caste Tau fare ... would it be killed, shunned or excluded? Would it have 'heterozygotic' advantages as it can effective think like a multi caste. Would it be more free thinking, and therefore a potential threat to the Ethereals (or at least viewed as an abberation to the fire warriors).

In addition, the Tau are hugely accepting of other cultures, xenos and points of view. Their greater good credo is particularly un Japanese and more 'Startrek'. Those outside of the echeloned caste system were (and potentially still are) despised and disgusting...

Tau is Kurozawa meets Captain Kirk.

The language of the Tau is reflective of the Japanese (and other oriental) languages. In Japanese you define those around you constantly through language, and the language is reflective of the comparatively sexist, masoginistic culture ... so there are words for 'me' and 'you' that would directly highlight my superiority to you (if I was older, or you were a woman of any age)...

Shas'la Shas'Ui etc reflect this.

Love to speak more on this, great topic.

Old Shatter Hands said...

@Suneokun, that's really helpful. I think I can build off that. Captain Kirk meet Mr. Kurozawa. I loved the Seven Samurai, but i have yet to see Yojimbo. There was one great film, I think it's called the hidden was awesome!

I also think that a mixed caste member would make a great character to follow through the story.

I'm thinking the majority of the population would be earth caste members as the laborers, builders, farmers etc, then Fire Caste, then water as the merchants, bureaucrats, etc and then air caste members are the pilots who ferry products and good throughout the Empire. Ethereals are the equivalent of Daimyo, rulers of Septs and regions. The upper echelons of Tau society.

Orcboy said...

Hi, Shatter. I'm thinking that looking at human caste systems might be enlightening -- and that looking at India's struggles toward egalitarianism despite their caste system might be another example.

Japan is really rather historically idiosyncratic about how they intentionally "fixed" the caste problem during the Meiji Restoration, and then swept everything that wouldn't "fix" under the rug, where it still festers today. As well, some of the Chinese-style caste distinctions completely collapsed during the Sengoku Jidai, and never were firmly re-established during the last shogunate.

So Hindu Varna with its four/five castes could be a useful alternative parallel:


There's no parallel to Air in this case, though, unless you want to suggest Chandala/Air, which doesn't seem to work. Alternatively, you could have:


...with Ethereals the interlopers into the system who "took over" at the top in a very Orwellian more-equal-than-the-rest kind of way.

Sage said...

Remember several things: the Tau are far more advanced then other races, so a 'builder' would be an engineer with drone construction units, who has subordinates who can maintain the drones, do other menial things (he can too, but he's gotta plan builds, test for safety, strength). A laborer would someone who controls loading drones, with some supplies allocation experience, with 1-2 maintenance helpers.

Farmers would be biological scientists who can grow healthy plants in larger numbers efficiently, at all times, and somewhat quickly (think hydroponics ++), also with helpers.

Now merchants are an interesting thing. As humans, we use money, but do the Tau? They seem to be a united force (with Ethereals around at least), so I think money might be counter that. The Greater Good doesn't council personal gain, it council's helping the most that you can, the most efficiently. So there's a meritocracy in there somewhere. So merchants are given jobs based on skill (maybe merchant isn't even the right word, maybe supplies allocator?).

Finally, two things: The Tau aren't really overpopulating areas yet, so take that into account. The Tau aren't exactly a 'negative' race, if you ignore Dawn of War. Their forces are more then happy to support their Empire. And I doubt the Ethereals can control all Tau on a planet if they get pissed, so I'm not sure if subservience or slavery is the right sort of ring.

Tau WANT to do their best, so it's not necessarily that they have to be pushed into something, but maybe they need to be put in the right direction. Also note that no one really knows what Ethereals do (most Tau probably think of them as a caste equivalent to the Emperor, which makes a certain amount of sense for them, that the Ethereals are doing work too).

Old Shatter Hands said...

Very insightful, Sage. There is a lot of content there that can lead to an interesting tale. There's a chance for mystery with the Ethereals.

However, there needs to be a reason why they are engaging in Empire building. Is it because their population is growing, or their need for resources is growing or is it simply a quest for power? Is it a control thing? Do they fear their neighbors so much that they must conquer them?

I find it hard to believe that any group would expend the resources and lives of its people simply to bring more worlds into the greater good. In order to build an empire you need a large population to build armies to police it and maintain your control. On top of that the Tau build settlements on new worlds as they expand their grip on the galaxy. That's why I think there is a population element to their Empire.

Sage said...

Why they have an empire/are making it grow: Because the Ethereals say it's a good idea. And questioning the Ethereals is HERESY.

The Ethereals are mysterious. No one knows WHAT they're trying to do. And while they are actually pretty nice to their conquered worlds, what the Ethereals say goes. Sounds like a good place to start.

Now, as to what the Ethereals are trying to do.....the Greater Good is generally that the Galaxy sucks, but the Tau can run it better. Considering that they fought off a Hive Fleet in the new Tyranid codex (evolving their tech just as quickly, eventually quicker, as the nids evolved biologically), they might be better at it then the Imperium, at least technologically.

Also remember that Tau seem to be extremely driven compared to humans (they sleep 1 hour for every 10, and react quickly) and that their tech, beyond warp-based stuff, is incredibly advanced (and advances at a staggering pace).

Oblivion_Necroninja said...

Actually, I think the Tau's reasoning for expansion (spreading the greater good) is supposed to be hard to believe. It cultivates an aura of mystery around the Ethereals, and around the Tau mindset in general.