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The Dom

by Jennifer Guerra

The Dom ("the people") are the "gypsies" of the Known World. They are descended from the Traldar that migrated west into Sind during the invasion of the Red Orcs circa 1000 BC. Although the Traldar immigrants adapted to and adopted much of Sindhi culture, they never fit into that region's rigid caste system. Consequently, the Dom left Sind (though a few tribes remained) around 600 BC. Dom legend suggests that this second migration was prompted by the bestowing of the Wandering Curse, by an evil priest. This curse damned the Dom to forever wander, never able to settle down. As the Dom are a nature-worshipping people, with close ties to the land, this curse was evil indeed. Since that fateful day, the Dom have become a people divided, scattered to the ends of Brun by their unquenchable wanderlust. But they ultimately remain one people, a fact testified to by their view of the Three Nations in One.

The Dom recognise three major natsia, or nations, among their people. All Dom belong to one of the three nations: the Domani, the Daro, or the Lomavren. But people of all three nations recognise that they are first and foremost Dom. This is the concept of the Three Nations in One.

Of the three nations, the Domani are closest to the original "branch" of Dom. The names "Dom" and "Domani" are even used interchangeably in most cases, except when referring to a specific clan. (For example, a Lomav would never refer to himself as a Domo.) Historically-speaking, the Domani are the "original" Dom, from whom all other nations split. In the return from Sind, the Domani remained in what is now Darokin. Today they may still be found there, as well as in parts of Ylaruam and Western Thyatis. The Domani tend to be skilled artisans and craftsmen. Clans of Domani include the Domanichal, Gitoros, and Manushk.

The Daro are the largest Dom nation. They are also referred to in Traladara as "Darine." The Daro split from the Domani after reaching what is now Darokin; the older, more influential families among the Domani would not agree to plans proposed by the current ruling family. The feud caused a great rift in the Dom, leading to the exodus of a majority of the people. This was the creation of the Daro. Today, Daro are found mainly in Traladara, Ierendi, and the Five Shires, with a few tribes in Minrothad and Vyalia. In fact, the feuds between Daro in Vyalia and Domani in other parts of far-western Thyatis has become the stuff of local legend. [Another interesting fact is that the Daro may very well be the origin of the word "Darokin," as they maintained a close association with a few scattered tribes that remained in the Streel Valley...a region later known as Eastwind.] The Daro are the best-known (and most numerous) Dom today. They are mainly entertainers, fortune-tellers, and thieves. Clans of Daro include the Kaldresh and Vistani.

The Lomavren comprise the smallest and least-known Dom nation. When the Dom left Sind in 600 BC, about half of the Lomavren travelled west, out of Sind and into the Great Waste. They braved the journey across the treacherous Black Mountains (which only about two-thirds survived) and into the rich valleys of what is now Huyule (Hule). The other half of the Lomavren remained in Sind. They remained outside of the caste system, but adhered to the same strict standards of purity that characterise Dom culture from the Sindhi period onward (see below). With the rise of the Hagiarchy in Huyule, the Lomavren were ruthlessly persecuted in that state. Today, only about one-fifth of the original number survive. Nearly all of these adhere to the tenets of the national church. In Sind, Lomavren still thrive (in low numbers); many key members of the Sindhi resistance against their Huyulean invaders are, in fact, Lomavren. Clans of Lomavren include Sinthi and Kadi.

The Dom, as a whole, have no one culture. As a nomadic, fractured people, their culture evolved as they travelled, picking up bits of local customs and beliefs here and there. Furthermore, no one can be certain of what distinguished the Dom from other Traldar peoples before their flight to Sind. In fact, most of the general cultural traits which are here labelled "Dom" are Sindhi in origin. However, no matter where they roam, the Dom have many things in common, historically and culturally.

The Dom are also known as Kadreshi (after the Sindhi province where they lived) and as "tsigani." The term "tsigani" derives from the name of a Dom dance of wild, sensual abandonment, although as a name it has a darker, derisive connotation, implying immorality and dishonour. There are, today, approximately 120,000 Dom on all Mystara. They are one of the most oppressed people in the world, having a reputation for thievery, kidnapping babies, and even the worship of evil spirits (although of these terrible deeds, only occasional thieving is true). The Dom have been ruthlessly persecuted in Huyule, Glantri, and Thyatis in modern times, as well as in Darokin (in the times of independent merchant rule) and Minrothad (during the Silver Purge). To this day, many towns in Darokin have laws against Dom (specifically, Domani) even buying goods from their markets. It is estimated that half the Dom in Thyatis are enslaved. Most people believe that Dom are lazy, irresponsible, and predisposed to criminal behaviour.

It is no surprise, considering the attitudes of non-Dom, that the Dom avoid them except when absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, in the modern world, it is more and more necessary for the Dom to have contact with outsiders, most notably in Darokin and Traladara, where civilisation is burgeoning. Non-Dom are referred to as gajikane or gadji. The Daro refer to Traladarans as gorgios. Gadji laws are regarded as inferior, as they are dynamic while the laws of the Dom never need to be changed. Marriage to gadji is discouraged, or even prohibited outright in certain tribes. Dom trade with gadji for nearly everything, but this is out of necessity. A Dom tribe that can survive without gadji goods will do so. This is mainly due to the Dom codes of behaviour, by which most outsiders are ritually unclean.

This state of impurity, brought on a person by the violation of a purity taboo, is called marime. (The expulsion brought about by this violation is also called marime.) There are many rules of purity for Dom to follow in order to avoid the state of marime. Many of these taboos involve water. Dom must wash only in running water (no tubs), and there is a hierarchy of for what that water may be used. For example, water for drinking and cooking is drawn far upstream from the camp; the clothing of men and women must be washed separately, downstream, with the clothing of pregnant and menstruating women farthest away.

The rules of marime are especially restrictive of women. Women must not expose their legs; the bottom of their skirts may not brush up against any man but their husband. Pregnant or cycling women are considered unclean, and must wash and eat separately. When a woman gives birth, all the blankets and clothing of childbed must be burned.

The rules of marime encompass many aspects of Dom life, from birth and death to meals (the eating of horseflesh is prohibited) and pets (cats are considered especially unclean since they touch their own waste). The fear of impurity ties closely in with other traditional Dom beliefs and customs.

Although contact with other cultures has changed Dom religious beliefs forever (most notably among the Daro of Traladara), while in Sind they were known as devout followers of the triple-aspect fertility goddess, Kali (Valerias). They also worshipped a male horned god (Faunus). Older influences also persisted, including belief in good (del) and evil (beng) spirits, bad luck (bibant), and evil spirits or undead creatures (melo). Dom believe in the power of charms and amulets, as well as curses and non-clerical healing rituals (drabarni). Due perhaps to Sindhi influence, Dom believe in reincarnation (as a person or animal). One may also come back as a mulo, or living dead, to seek revenge on those who harmed them in life.

Dom children are typically given three names. The first, the birth name, is given by and known only to the mother. This is similar to the "true names" of other cultures, and serves to confuse evil spirits who might want to hurt the child. The second is given at the child's acceptance into the tribe, and is the name he or she will use with the tribe (and Dom society) for life. This acceptance into the tribe is similar to baptism in other cultures, and is occasioned by the father formally and publicly acknowledging the child as his own by either placing a ribbon on the child or by squeezing a few drops of his blood into the child's swaddling. The third name is given at baptism into an outside faith (especially in Huyule), and has little value within the tribe.

Marriage traditionally takes place early in life, between the ages of 9 and 14. In some Daro tribes, the young people choose their mates, but traditionally the parents arrange the marriage. Marriage to outsiders is strongly discouraged, and premarital sex is forbidden. A bride-price, or durro is paid. At the pliashka, or engagement ceremony, the young man's father presents a necklace of gold coins to his future bori (daughter-in-law). The actual abiav, or wedding, is not religious in nature, and is more of a handfasting, an agreement between the partners. Different customs symbolise this union: couples may jump over a broomstick together for good luck, or feed each other salt and bread. Feasts and music go on for days; relatives usually present money as gifts. The bride's family escorts her to the young man's home. They unbraid her hair and put on a diklo (head scarf); she will never be seen in public without it again. The couple lives with the groom's family until they have many children. Interestingly, they will not refer to one another as "husband" and "wife" until they are parents.

The Dom believe that death is a senseless, unnatural occurrence that should anger those who die. When a person is dying, their relatives gather around to ask for forgiveness for anything they might have done, so that the person's spirit will not haunt them. The person is cleaned and dressed before they die, as it is considered marime to touch the dead. If death was sudden and there was no time to prepare, a gadji is called in to prepare the body. Grief is overtly and publicly shown; no other activities take place in the hours following a death, including washing or eating. The use of the deceased's name is avoided, except when absolutely necessary. Funerals are very large and crowded, with mourners wearing white (purity and protection) or red (blood, which stands for vitality and life). Some of the deceased's possessions are placed in the coffin, for use in the next life; everything else is destroyed, or sold to gadji. There is a pomana, a dinner held after the funeral at certain intervals, at which times different people announce that they are no longer in mourning: at 9 days, 6 weeks, 6 months, and 1 year after the death. The last to end mourning (at 1 year) are immediate family members.

Aside from the taboos of marime, there are other domaniye, or typical customs or behaviours among the Dom. Dom believe that illness (prikaza) can be prevented or cured through natural (non-clerical) means. Some standard cures include shaking a young tree to reduce someone's fever; drinking powdered portions of certain animals, dissolved in liquor, to cure disease; carrying a mole's foot to cure rheumatism; or carrying a hedgehog's foot to prevent toothache. Dom, ever the wanderers, always carry their wealth, the women even sometimes weaving gold coins (galbi) into their hair. Women dress in bright clothing, with their heads and legs covered; men typically wear bright scarves, a hat, and a well-groomed moustache, even if he does not have nice clothing. The Dom diet is made up mainly of fruits and berries, leafy plants, molluscs, or small mammals (i.e., easily-gotten travelling food). The principal drink is coffee, sweetened heavily with sugar. Dom usually have coffee in the morning, no lunch, and then have dinner at sunset. Dinner consists of a thick, fatty stew of game meat and rice or potatoes. At feasts, the traditional meal is roast hedgehog, served with ale, wine, or spirits. Dom do not eat horseflesh (it is marime), and kill only for food.

The Dom adhere to their own law code, which they see as inherently more concerned with justice than gadji law. Dom see their law as superior to gadji law for three reasons: 1) it exists to protect the rights, interests, and traditions of the Dom; 2) it is inherently democratic; it does not discriminate against a person because of financial circumstances or political influence; and 3) it does not change. Dome law recognises four primary associations (groups) in Dom society: natsia (nation), vitsa (clan), kumpaniya (tribe), and familiya (extended family unit). Disputes are settled from the bottom up; the smallest infractions (like a slight breach of marime or an unruly child) is handled at the family level, and so on. A divano, a kind of mediation council, may be called to iron out differences between clans. The gravest of crimes are tried in a Dom court, called a kris. In a kris, The judge (krisnitori) hears the audience speak, as well as the accused, as it is recognised that any serious matter will affect the entire nation. Only Domanes (the Dom language) is traditionally spoken in kris, although a few Daro have been known to use Traladaran. The Dom have no jails, and no police or guards; the death penalty is rarely imposed, as it is believed that the spirit of the person the criminal harmed will avenge himself. Typical punishments include fines, corporal punishment, community service, or banishment.

Banishment is considered to be the worst punishment a Dom can receive, as it forever cuts him off from his entire family, culture, and lifestyle. Worse yet, due to the Wandering Curse, a banished Dom will still compelled to walk the world, alone. Only (an estimated) 5 to 10 percent of Dom have permanently settled down, many of these being slaves, or prisoners in gadji jails.