Alright, this is the first of a series of posts on various cultures around the world. Cultures do not exist in a vacuum, and areas near my (admittedly arbitrary) cultural borders will retain elements from all of the bordering major centres of culture.
The Aruan Archipelago
The Aruan Archipelago is a chain of islands that extends from the southwestern-most peninsula on the main continent. The five main islands are large, the smallest the size of one of the islands of Japan, and the largest about the size of England.
(I had a huge long history here, but thankfully for you, I remembered this is a blogpost and have mostly spared you)
The islands were once just great mountains, when the world was in an ice-age, and were settled by five major nomadic tribes from the north-eastern coast. After this initial settling, other peoples from the peninsula came to settle in the area, giving up their sovereignty to the five original clan, who became oligarchs and eventually monarchs.
As the seas rose again when the world was warmed, these formerly interconnected tribes grew apart, and each grew more culturally solidified (ie, the newer settlers and the initial settlers grew together culturally) until each island was generally monocultural. The monarchs took the best land towards the centre of the islands, relegating their subjects to the coast.
Soon, seafaring took hold and the islands began to find one another again. A trading culture grew between the large groups of poor subjects who had no other source of income. Over a few generations, the king of Arua (the largest and centremost island) had solidified the five crowns into his domain, and declared himself Emperor of Arua.
There's more, but those three paragraphs probably set up what I wanted to talk about. The Aruan Empire consists of the five main islands and the other small islands in the area, and a fair section of the peninsula to the south. At one point in time, the Empire also stretched across the southeastern part of the main continent, but they were thrown off during the rise of Mechia (I'll get to Mechia one of these days...).
Okay, the point I'm getting to is coming: There are two cultures in the Aruan Empire. The first is that of the nobles, descendants (well, the really old noble families at least) of the original five settling tribes. More and more, successful merchants and blackmarket operators are joining the ranks of power and moving inland, but we'll get to the underground in awhile.
The nobles are the island-dwellers. While perhaps an exaggeration, it is not ridiculous to say that sometimes these nobles spend great portions of their lifetime without ever setting foot in a boat. Their culture is mainly based on personal wealth and influence (most of which comes from wealth). The role of the noble class varies slightly from island to island, so I will treat them individually.
It is common for nobles on all islands to show their wealth with bright-coloured clothing. Reds and purples are reserved for recognized nobles, and setting foot on an island wearing these colours may subject you to arrest and imprisonment, but likely on a first offense you will be warned to keep these colours out of your wardrobe. This is especially true for foreigners. Another way in which these nobles show their wealth is through piercings with precious metals. The face (eyebrows, ears, nose, etc) is a common place for these piercings.
With the gradual decline of the power of the Emperor, much wealth is generated illegally. This combination has allowed for the ranks of nobles to swell with successful black-market operators, effectively eliminating the rule of law on the islands. It is not unusual to be able to find whatever you like in the Aruan Empire, provided you have the wealth.
Linked to these black-market operators, but not necessarily in cahoots with them, are the shipping tycoons. The sailing skills of Aruan seamen are legendary, and Aruan ships have no peer. If you want something moved quickly, or if you want to move quickly, they are your go-to people, and the owners have become very rich, many of whom joined the ranks of the nobility.
All the nobles owe allegiance to the Aruan Emperor (The King of the Five Crowns), though in practice the Emperor's power is extremely weak. The current Emperor (in the default period) is attempting to curry favour with the common people, but that is a subject for later.
Each major island apart from Arua itself has an Imperial Governor, who is (in all cases except Myra) essentially impotent. The Governor's official position is to ensure the nobles fall into line, but with the weakening of the Empire, the Governor does little more than report on the activities of the nobles (well, the ones he can find out about, at least).
Nobles by Island
Arua: The nobles on Arua tend to fall into two groups: The most powerful and ruthless, that is to say those that the Emperor feels the need to keep an eye on personally; and those most loyal to the Emperor, so as to help keep the most powerful nobles under control. The "Imperial Governor" of Arua is traditionally the Emperor, though this job is often delegated.
Myra: The majority of the nobles on Myra are shipping tycoons, and are kept under the strong thumb of the Imperial Governor. This is probably the island most loyal to the Emperor (This doesn't at all mean that it's particularly loyal...just the most loyal).
Lora: There is no greater hive of scum and villany. This island is the closest to the peninsula, and has the most opportunity to deal in illegalities. The nobles here tend to be nobles by virtue of their ill-gotten wealth, and if the Aruan Navy were a touch smaller, it might try to secede.
Reia: This island is furthest from Arua, and closest to Mechia. It is its own gateway of sorts. The nobles here are often shippers, and oddly enough they are also often successful navigators. This island seems to breed the best navigators, and noble children here learn the art at a young age. Nobles from Reia are often consulted for guidance on issues of any subject, not just the steering of a ship in the correct direction. They share the Mechian mystical styling, keeping quietly to themselves, except to dispense advice. Many Reian nobles misuse this reputation, but this is not universal.
Dara: This island is northernmost (still tropical), and, with the great hurricanes that often pound its shores, produces some of the best sailors, due to their ability to read and adjust to winds. The nobles here are a microcosm of the entire chain, some loyal, some criminal, some shippers, some navigators.
Whew, that was a lot. Next post, I'll touch on the other culture: The Seafaring Peasants.