A guide to the occupational castes featured in The Sword of Kaigen.

With 2019 coming to a close, I realized that I’ve actually written far more Theonite-related content for other people’s blogs than my own. This isn’t something I regret; I don’t believe I’ve ever mistaken myself for a blogger or led anyone else to do so. However, I do want all of these posts to be easy to find, here on this site where people are most likely to be searching for them. So, what I’m going to do over the remainder of 2019 is post introductory samples of all my guest posts, one at a time. These samples should be just long enough to give you an idea of whether you’re interested in clicking through to the full post on the host’s blog. The content is easy to find, the hosts still get the traffic, everybody wins!

The following is the fifth of seven guest posts I wrote for The Sword of Kaigen Blog Tour, hosted by Karina at Afire Pages from 11/11 – 11/29/19. This one, hosted by Oro Plata Myta is a guide to the names and real-world origins of the occupational castes in The Sword of Kaigen.

Kafonu: Castes of Kaigen

The title of my latest book, The Sword of Kaigen, refers to a peninsula at the westernmost edge of the country of Kaigen, which serves as its first defense—it’s sword—against Kaigen’s enemies to the west. The expansive Kaigenese Empire includes, in the north, a peninsula, which parallels Earth’s Koreas, in the south, islands that parallel Earth’s Philippines, Indonesia, and most of Australia and, in the middle, where our protagonists live, an island chain called Shirojima, which parallels Earth’s Japan.

While Kaigen is inspired by East Asia, the dominant people on Planet Duna are the Yammankalu, inspired by the West African Mande (if you saw my previous guest post with the map of Duna, this is why the map is ‘upside down,’ with Africa on top). Even powerful countries, like Kaigen, that have never been colonized by the Yammankalu have absorbed and integrated many of their influences in much the way people across our own world have integrated facets of Western culture.

One of the Yammanka influences that has made its way into the otherwise Asian world of Kaigen is the kafo system, a set of social castes that dictate citizens’ occupation and role in their community. These kafonu are inspired by the vocational castes of the Mande of West Africa. Like a lot of people who study Mande culture, I don’t love calling these social groups castes, since the term implies an oppressive hierarchy and discounts the collaborative, mutually supportive relationship these groups often share, but it’s the best English translation we have. Just understand that when I use the word ‘caste’ here, I’m not implying an inherent power imbalance. That said, the Mande-inspired ‘castes’ of Planet Duna are:

  • Fina, Kafo of Gods
  • Numu, Kafo of Metal
  • Senkuli, Kafo of Glass
  • Koro, Kafo of Spears
  • Manga Koro, Kafo of Kings

The following is a review of each kafo, the Mande social construct that inspired it, and the way it has been integrated (or not) into the Kaigenese society of The Sword of Kaigen. Basically, we’re going to look at each kafo’s journey from real-world West Africa to fictional East Asia.

Jaseli – Kafo of Voices

Real-world Origins

Arguably the oldest caste in Mande is that of the jeliwu (singular: jeli), called ‘griots’ in most Western scholarship and in other parts of Africa. Early European and North African visitors to Mande country called jeliwu bards. While they do play music and keep historical epics, this is a limited assessment of their role. The Mande jeli who mentored me during college, Mamadou Ben Chérif Diabaté, listed the social responsibilities of the jeli as follows: maintaining the history of the community, teaching the sons of kings the value of history, managing the relationships between families, guarding the peace, speaking for the community, serving as checks on power, chiefs of protocol, and advisors to the king.

Yammanka Jaseliwu

I haven’t taken many creative liberties with the oral traditionalists of Duna. My made-up Yammanka word jaseli (plural: jaseliwu) is a combination of the Mande word jeli (also often spelled djeli) and the similar Soninke term gesere. Aside from the spelling change, I’ve stuck to Diabate’s guidelines as far as the oral traditionalist’s role in Yammanka society.

Kaigenese Jaseliwu

While many jaseliwu serve as powerful advisors and repositories of knowledge in Yamma, only a few jaseliwu bear this distinction in Kaigen—those being the jaseliwu that serve the Emperor and his family. This is largely due to the fact that power in Kaigen is less dispersed than it is in Yamma (more on this in the manga koro section).

Common Kaigenese jaseliwu like the history teacher, Hibiki Sensei, who appears in the first chapter of The Sword of Kaigen, are required to report for certification every year to review the version of history they are allowed to repeat. Those who do not report for certification have their teaching and performance licenses revoked, rendering them unemployable. This strict standardization obviously limits their capacity to serve their individual communities, making them significantly less powerful actors than their Yammanka counterparts.

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