Legacy of the Olman Empire 1: Tamoachan and the Origin of the Olman People
Date: Thu, April 21, 2005
Topic: Peoples & Culture
The mighty Olman empire, though now a mere memory to the people of the Amedio, was once one of the most powerful nations in Oerik, rivalling perhaps even the Suloise and Baklunish realms of legend. But where did the people who built it come from? Here's a new look at that question, reviewing the source material and offering a fresh interpretation of the clues.
Legacy of the Olman Empire 1: Tamoachan and the Origin of the Olman People
Special thanks to Maria Deltorre and Darva Shriver for helping shape these ideas.
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Here is a look at the canon on the origins of the Olman people, from the adventure module C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, and an alternative interpretation of the material to provide a more interesting story for the history of the lords of the Amedio Jungle.
Area 1 - The Vault of Chicomoztoc (Place of Seven Caves)
The display appears to be a diorama depicting a hunting party of Olman warriors, in feathers and deer hide garments, in a mountainside scene. Some have successfully pulled down a stag with the aid of a dog, another group is cleaning a small mule deer and the last party has cornered a puma with their spears. A scout watches the puma hunt from an outcropping above. He holds a metal staff with a loop in its end. It looks like a shepherds crook.
This scene can be interpreted as symbolic of a change in Olman hunting lands. Stags and other deer are very rare in the jungle, so it is likely that the first two scenes are depicting hunts as they occurred before the Olman people came to the jungle. Pumas, on the other hand, are common in the jungle, so it makes sense that the third scene depicts a transformed hunt, occurring after the Olman people settled into the Amedio.
Now, the Hepmonaland region is similar to the Amedio in terms of climate and environment, so it makes little sense to imagine stag or deer hunting being common enough there to be depicted in semi-religious dioramas. It is more likely, from studying this diorama, that the Olman people came not from Hepmonaland, as some sages surmise, but from a more temperate region where stags, deer and sheep are common. Since travel to or from such a region south of the Amedio is nearly impossible, it is fairly safe to surmise that the Olman homeland was to the north, in what is now known as the Flanaess.
Hypothetical Description of Diorama
This diorama is fairly straightforward, depicting hunting techniques used by the Olman tribesmen before and after their migration to the Amedio jungle. There is one figure of more importance though – the shepherd. While some Olman villagers do keep small numbers of goats and sheep, the scarcity of such animals and the lack of large pastoral lands makes the shepherd an alien figure in the jungle. The person depicted is actually not a shepherd at all, in the strict sense, but the legendary Olman prophet Samalikuk (Old Man Who Sees Tomorrow), the man credited in Olman folklore as being the one who united the Olman tribes in their Flanaess homelands and led them to the jungle to avoid some great misfortune. Samalikuk holds a Slerotin or Moses-like position in Olman legends, and is often depicted as a shepherd to symbolize his guidance and caretaking of his people.
The other 6 Alcoves
A The first alcove contains a river scene. Olman men, women and children are busy gathering rushes, fishing with nets and carving a dugout.
This scene holds little significance related to the history of the Olman, but it is interesting in that it shows that the Olman people hold little of the gender roles that the other noteworthy races of Oerik have adopted. In a traditional Olman community, all people, regardless of age or gender, share and contribute in the work to the limits of their personal ability.
B This recess portrays natives farming. They are planting maize and harvesting wheat. There are several warriors standing guard and a priest in a bird costume is blessing the fields.
As mentioned previously, while farming is not unknown in the Amedio, large plots of fertile land (that aren't already overgrown with thick jungle life) are rare. Wheat and corn are also unlikely crops in a jungle environment, being much more prolific in a more temperate climate. Taken in consideration with alcove A (above) and the main scene, it is possible that the three scenes show a transformation of the Olman people from a farming folk to a society that relied much more on hunting and fishing. A step backwards culturally perhaps, but the jungle, while bountiful, is no undespoiled breadbasket waiting to be cultivated. Likewise for the Hepmonaland region, at least in the northern half of that continent. This is offered as further support for the theory that the Olman people came from the Flanaess, not Hepmonaland.
The bird priest is worth examining as well. The Olman venerate the god Chac, and more often presently, his wife Centeotl, to provide rain for their crops. It is believed that Chac, who presides over not only rain, but farming and agriculture as well, is offended by birds, who reap the bounty of the land while remaining arrogant enough to spend their lives soaring above it. A common Olman belief is that bringing birds into a field or clearing will inspire Chac to bring rain on the spot, since it is obvious that rain drives most birds away. Since the tending of large farms and fields has declined since the Olman people moved to the Amedio, Chac's worship has declined while that of Centeotl has prospered, since she possesses a more general nature aspect not bound strictly to agriculture.
One last bit of important canon here is the presence of maize, or corn. It has often been debated in Greyhawk fan circles whether or not this crop exists in Oerik, and this diorama clearly states that it does. It is unlikely that corn is the major staple in the jungle that it was in the Olman homeland, but in communities that are located where it can be grown, it may be found.
C The third niche portrays a temple upon a tiered pyramid. Natives are bringing small offerings of gold and jade. Before the temple stands a priest handling a constrictor snake. Around him stand three costumed warriors - one dressed as a winged serpent holds a spear; another is dressed as a bear with razor claws; the third represents a coyote holding a torch. There are also several stone statues of the gods.
This scene depicts the conquest of the jungle, at least in the northern empire governed from Tamoachan. The snake-handling figure is Tatichkax (Father of the Jungle), the first emporer of Tamoachan. The serpent he holds represents the jungle itself, and his handling of it portrays an implied mastery over the jungle.
The lesser figures are distinguished from the statues of the gods, so it may be assumed that they are not gods themselves. They represent the three major tribes that Tatichkax conquered and united to forge the empire. The feathered serpent represents the Palcoatl tribe (Children of the Coatl), the bear represents the Nohakab tribe (Those of the Mighty Claw), and the coyote represents Huunpek (Kin of Little Dogs). Huunpek's torch is of some significance, its fire representing a position of honor. The Huunpek tribe allied peacefully with Tatichkax and aided in defeating an assimilating the other two tribes, so the elders of Huunpek were given positions of moderate authority in the new empire.
D The fourth niche holds a scene of tribal warfare. All the figures depict warriors carrying spears, clubs, handaxes or daggers. The warriors of one side are painted black, while the other side is done in red.
This battle is presumably the grave misfortune that occured in the Olman homeland, prompting Samilikuk to lead the Olman from there to the Amedio jungle. The red figures represent the Olman people, symbolic of their being of the sacred blood of Quetzalcoatl, their creator god. Their adversaries are painted black to show a a disconnection from the blood of the gods, not to imply any actual skin tone.
The other two dioramas, and subsequent imagery found within the Tamoachan module add diverse character to the Olman people, but shed little light into their history, so their analysis will be saved for a forthcoming followup article. The only topic left to address here is to venture a guess at where in the flanaess the Olman are actually from.
So where are the Olman from? Most of the tribes originated in what is now called the Wild Coast, Pomarj and Principality of Ulek. While no major kingdoms or empires of Olman people sprawled over the region, the tribes were plentiful and thrived in and around the Drachensgrab mountains. In fact, it is likely that their stoneworkings, huge affairs painstakingly depicting their various gods, especially the winged serpentine visage of Quetzalcoatl, are responsible for the name later given to those mountains. The Keoish nobility who hoped to settle the Poor March and break free of the tight grip of the throne mistook the feathered serpent images of the Olman people, now worn by nearly 6 milennia of weather, for dragons, and being unable to explain the carvings, they assumed some divine draconic origin and named the mountains in honor of those wyrms.
Ages ago, the rise of the Olven kingdom of Celene brought conflict to the Wild Coast/Pomarj region. The Olve and Olman were alien to each other, and their misunderstandings and conflicts blossomed into decades of savage warfare, with neither side gaining an upper hand. It was at this time that Samilikuk rose to influence among the tribes, uniting them and convincing them to abandon their homeland, which he claimed the gods now viewed as tainted by the spilling of Olven blood, and seek their promised home across the sea.
Several settlements were founded among what are now collectively called the Olman Isles, but it was nearly a century before the migrating Olman happened upon the Amedio mainland and founded their new home, Tamoachan, "The home sought after". Other settlements were founded, some only loosely allied with the empire of Tamoachan, and some, like Xamaclan, completely distinct and sometimes opposed to Tamoachan. Later came the civil wars in the jungle, unification of the entire jungle under the emporers of Tamoachan (for a brief time) and war with the Touv over the islands between their nations and the fall of the Olman civilization, but those historical details are left for another article.
Back in the Pomarj however, there is still a lingering trace of the Olman presence there ages ago. As Samilikuk prepared the tribes for their long migration, he spoke a grave curse on their homeland, proclaiming that any nation of the blood (human, in other words) that was established there would be doomed. The Olman gods, angered by the actions of the Olves, granted the curse, and appointed a minor deity from their ranks to stay behind and oversee its manifestations. That deity is known to his peers as Luumcoa, The Earth Serpent. Inhabitants of the Pomarj in current days know him as the Earth Dragon. Through his direction, the curse of the Olman gods has been preserved, and no human nation or settlement has thrived there for more than the shortest time.
More details on the Olman society and their history after settling into the Amedio is forthcoming, but feedback and ideas on the time before that is welcome. No further detailing of the events and ideas posted here, aside from their incorporation into a master timeline, is planned at this time, but interesting additions or alternate ideas from others fans could change that.