“On the matter of religion, the Mo have no concrete gods, but come close with regards to their forefathers. Every patriarch has the right to interpret the will of the ancestors. Honour is maintained as much for their sake as for the sake of the living. Each household has small fetishes in a prominent place, to be worshipped, consulted for support and asked for guidance.”
Excerpt from ”The Mo Folk – an analysis and anthropological study” by Ethan Rickman
Important words and cultural concepts:
The man with the final words in matters pertaining to the entire town. The office is often inherited, but not always. If the current Alderman’s son is unfit to follow in his father’s footsteps, someone else could be appointed. This is often a great loss of status for the current Alderman if he is not followed by his son (or has no sons). To be Alderman, or his son gives, great standing, but you must also live with everyone judging your every decision.
Everything not Mo. The towns of Mo are inside an area around twelve thousand square kilometers in size. They rarely leave their homelands, except for once in their life, when the young boys must leave before becoming men. They spend a year Beyond, to discover first hand how the rest of the world is, compared to Mo. We imagine the world Beyond to be a place somewhere around the early 20th century when it comes to technology and that a parallel to the first world war is raging somewhere far away. Visits from Beyond is an uncommon occurrence, though the surrounding world makes notice of itself from time to time. Visitors are treated according to the laws of hospitality, but especially women are viewed with suspicion, since they are uncontrolled and a danger to all the people of Mo.
A dowry is paid by the family of a woman, to her husband’s family as a price for taking the woman in marriage. The negotiations of how much to pay for the marriage of a woman is a long and complicated process. Even though it might seem to be only about the material wealth of the families, the relationships, kinships, status and honour of are of utmost importance. What is to be paid as dowry is really about who benefits from the marriage and how difficult it is to marry off the young lady. Women considered mild, docile and easy to manage are easier to find husbands for and costs less in dowry. But the status of her family is also an important factor in the price. The Keips have an important role as advisors in this, as they know which young women and men would be good matches. (Before play starts, you will be informed about the relative wealth and standing of the families, but the outcome of the negotiations will be improvised during play – the important thing is that your play shows which families have high versus low status in the towns.)
The most important aspect of a man’s life. The thing he gave his most sacred promise to maintain. In front of the ancestors and the other men of the city he promises to protect the people from evil and take responsibility for the woman he is given. He can never disclaim the Burden, it is a bond he must keep until his death. The Burden is part of the important trinity of The Oath, The Burden and The Honour.
Your closest relatives. The Mo are more about the immediate household, rather than lineages. The family is the people you live with, in the same house. Everyone in the household will take on the name of the patriarch, so if he is named Ulf and his wife Vigdis, the wife will be called Vigdis Ulfs. The man could keep his father’s name, but most often he will only have his own.
The religion of the Mo consists of ancestor-worship, and they try to interpret the will of the spirits of the deceased in all major matters. The final authority on matters of the forefathers is the Oathkeeper.
One of the pillars of Mo culture. Honour is everything and always present in the Mo mind. Every time something is done, it is measured against how it damages or strengthens the Honour. As a patriarch you are responsible for keeping the family honour unstained. It’s not just the honour of the family at stake, sometimes the actions of one individual can change the standing of a whole town. Losing face is unthinkable and your honour is always the first consideration in any given situation. It is honourable to take hold of a problem, and that gives the family greater status. That is why the men who have the highest standing in a town often have two wives, since they did the honourable thing of taking in a widow or similar unwanted woman. It is expected that people with big responsibilities and high standing will sacrifice more for the sake of honour, which in turn heightens their standing. Honour is the glue that helps a man keep his Oath and bear his Burden. Even women and children are expected to contribute to maintaining the Honour of their family.
The people of Mo believe in full hospitality. It is a great Honour to invite in guests and offer them everything you have, even if they are troublesome visitors. It is seen as highly inappropriate to abuse hospitality and everyone is grateful for having it offered.
Not all boys become men. Maybe they failed on the night of the Trial or had some other defect that made him unable to swear the Oath. But among the Mo there is a place for everyone, as long as they are willing to fit in. To be a Keip means having a special set of responsibilities. Keip do not belong to any gender, they are grown up, but neither swore the Oath nor have any Vitality. The Keips are thus tasked with teaching the customs of the Mo to the young boys and girls. They are also good listeners and all Mo can talk with them if they have troubles or dilemmas, that they for various reasons can’t tell the Oathkeeper about. It means that even though boys might not exactly dream of becoming Keips, they still hold a special place in the culture of Mo. They are often well-liked and respected by all. During the bridal price negotiations, they often help out with their knowledge and impressions of the young people, guiding the men to good and fair decisions. They are also allowed to pick one of the boys to become keip, if the need is urgent.
The one in the men’s council who keeps track of the history of the town. If you have a sensitive issue, you can go to the Magistrate and find a solution. There are often historical examples of similar situations, solutions and outcomes. The Magistrate also needs to keep track of who is related to who, to avoid inbreeding. Unofficially this also means that the Magistrate has the most influence on what happens to the statuses of all the families.
The opposite of the women. The most important task of a man is to create order and counterbalance the female chaos. To be a man means always striving to bear your Burden, uphold your Oath and maintain your Honour. It also means being deliberate, calm and considerate. There is a heavy load on the the shoulders of all men, but it is seen as a sacred job. There are also girls who spent a year outside Mo and then returned to take the Oath. It’s unusual, but it happens. A girl who becomes a man takes a male name, wears male clothes and is seen as a man in all matters, though it is harder for such a man to gain high status in his town.
The final step into adulthood. A marriage is most often entered into alongside becoming a man or woman. Sometimes there are not enough young women to marry, which leads to the great shame of a young man being left over, which is a deadly blow to his status.
In all Mo towns there are four men with greater responsibilities than the other inhabitants. It is the Oathkeeper, Alderman, Steward and Magistrate. These offices are found in all towns and are often handed down father to son, but not always. The wives of the men in the Council often reflect the offices of their husbands, but not in any official capacity. For example it is often the wife of the Steward who takes charge of communal cooking and the wife of the Oathkeeper who leads the women’s ritual and awakens the Vitality.
The people’s name for themselves. Also the word for things that are “right” according to their customs. Things that are not Mo are considered wrong, according to their world view.
What makes a boy into a man. It is a sacred promise to work his utmost for the safety and prosperity of Mo, and as part of this to bear the Burden of the woman he is going to marry. An important part of the men’s ritual.
The man with the strongest connection with the ancestors and the one who can interpret their will. Together with the Alderman, Steward and Magistrate he is a man of utmost status in his town, but also the one with the biggest responsibility. It is his duty to marry the woman of strongest Vitality and thus relieve the town by bearing the Burden of controlling her. The Oathkeeper is also the one to talk with the inhabitants of the town about their behaviour, as well as the one you can go to for guidance on how to handle misbehaving family members or others with problems that need solving. He is expected to cooperate closely with the Keips, who can move freely and informally among all the inhabitants of the town.
Occasionally there is no man to take charge of a woman, she might not have any sons or male relatives after the death of her husband, or possibly no fitting (or willing) single men to bear the Burden of marrying her. In that case a responsible and honourable man of high standing can offer to take her as his second wife, thus gaining more honour. This used to be a great shame for the woman, to be married off without a dowry, and she would often be mistreated and considered a failure (since no one wanted to bear her Burden). However, since the war Beyond began claiming more and more men and boys, it has become a more common practice. It is still not a desirable position for the woman to be in, and the honour gained has diminished for the man who accepts her, but there is still a gain in status for carrying an even heavier load. A young man just returned from the year Beyond might even be charged with taking a second wife along with his first, to make sure that no woman is left uncontrolled.
Among the Mo, the belief is that all sexual matters are part of the Vitality. The urge to reproduce is first and foremost a thing of the women. To initiate intercourse is something only women do. Sex is therefore something you are expected to do, but not excessively. To rein in the sexual urges of the women is an important duty of their husbands. All families are expected to produce children, but if they have more than three, people start to suspect that the husband is unable to control his wife. It’s nothing you can’t look past, if she is otherwise well-behaved, but always a warning sign. Men are expected to be to reticent and women to attempt self-control, but not so much that the population suffers.
The member of the men’s council in charge of making sure all practical matters are in order. It is often his wife in charge of communal cooking efforts (since food is about nourishing life and simply doesn’t taste as well if made only by men).
The single most dangerous night of the year. The only night when there are uncontrolled women running rampant without anyone in charge of them. To make sure no town suffers unduly, they take turns hosting the night of the Trials. If two towns decide to exchange young people in marriage, they negotiate who will host the night itself. It improves your standing to be able to accomodate the dangerous ritual, so it is often the town with the most pristine Honour who ends up as hosts.
The Trials start with the secret women’s ritual, where the Vitality is awoken inside the young girls. It is absolutely forbidden for men to see this ceremony, since it is so dangerous. Instead, the men prepare the boys for what is about to happen. The next thing is that the women, both the older ones and the newly created ones return from their ceremony so filled with Vitality that they are nearly impossible to handle. The first step in the way to becoming a man, is to stand up against the power of the young women. Even the older men have a great challenge ahead, as their wives are also under the influence of the ceremony. Handling a woman of such unbridled vital force is not something any man takes lightly.
When a boy becomes a man and marries, he acquires a stick. The stick is a symbol of his Oath and his Burden. But striking someone in anger is entirely unacceptable. Using violence is something a man does because he must, and it is always thought out and fully controlled. Even when the Mo in rare cases enter into conflict with each other or people from Beyond, the violence is planned and ritualised. It’s been known to happen that strangers who failed to follow the Mo rules and customs have been chased out of town by angry men with sticks. This has given the Mo a reputation as hot-tempered and unpredictable, which is one of the reasons that the world outside doesn’t bother them very often.
The power that is the source of all life, according to Mo beliefs. When harnessed and under control, it is the power that brings children into the world. But unleashed it is a destructive and dangerous force that could tear apart the very existence of the people. Often the world Beyond is used as a lesson in how badly it can go, when women’s life force aren’t harnessed. Out there the people are starving and there is war and rampant suffering, so take heed!
Is something you become through a sacred ritual. Once you have completed the ritual, the Vitality in you has been awakened and you are able to marry and become pregnant. But it is also the time that a woman becomes a danger and a man must take charge of her. An unmarried woman is threat to the entire town, to the entire people of Mo. There are clear rules of what a woman can and can’t do. If she breaks those rules, she must be punished and quickly returned to the path of righteousness. Even letting little things slide is a danger to all. The vital forces of women makes them destructive and chaotic beings, so the men have a duty to help them stay safe and nurturing.