Birdfolk

Gift-giving

  • January 19, 2017

Every culture has its customs, and The Inbound Lands is no different. Gift-giving forms a vital and important part of Folken interaction.

This article covers:
  • General practices:
    • Exchanging trinkets and shines
      • Process
      • Post-Exchange
      • Associated Folklore
  • Folk-specific practices:
General practices

Regardless of their folken origins, a few customs span every culture:

The Exchange of Trinkets and Shines

Though especially popular among trade routes such as Caravan and Caravel lines, or along The Process Way, it is common practice throughout The Inbound Lands to exchange trinkets and shines when entering into Truce Grounds, or common spaces, with strangers. When being invited as a new guest into someone’s home, meeting around campfires or water sources, and/or engaging rituals of sharing beverages or food, individuals will trade items as a way of beginning conversation and finding common ground.

The Exchange is not offered when parties are passing through, and it is not considered impolite to refuse an Exchange by explaining that you are in Passage. The Exchange is also not offered in places of trade (such as shops or other dedicated barter grounds), though when offered on neutral grounds, the Exchange may lead to further bartering if the experience has been favorable. People who are familiar with each other typically do not offer Exchange, unless they have either not seen each other in some time, and/or have set up a special gathering, which is often offered (in the invitation) to begin with an Exchange.

Many Inbound gear have a special (often decorated) pocket for holding these exchange items, which are gathered during the wanderer’s travels; a traveler often carries around five small items for exchange. The quality of trinkets varies based on the interests of the individual (and an explanation of why they found such a thing fascinating is often part of the exchange), and may be anything from folkmade objects such as metalwork, fabricwork, or carvings, to found natural items such as stones, leaves, or shells. This open acceptance of items allows all, regardless of class or stature, to participate.

Because of its widespread popularity (especially among trade routes), its strict rules regarding where it does or doesn’t take place and how, and the emphasis on an economy of objects, it is believed that the tradition was spread (if not started) by Birdfolk explorers, though the practice has been widely adopted throughout The Inbound lands due to its harmonizing and socializing effect, as well as its economic influence. Specific regions have developed reputations for producing certain types of trinkets (which bolsters export goods and even the tourism industry, as collectors enter regions specifically to try to find objects), and even offer special souvenir  tenugui designs to celebrate landmarks, philosophies, or events.

PROCESS:

When entering into the space, all parties will acknowledge the other; once it is established that the various parties will remain present in the space for any length of time (not just passing through), someone will make the offer to Exchange. It doesn’t matter who initiates, so long as the offer is made (however, given the folkloric associations below, folken rarely wait too long to initiate). It is considered highly impolite – almost unheard of – to refuse to offer items or to choose an item (there is some forgiveness to those who are obviously tourists, but natives will generally strongly encourage their participation); in some cases, words or songs may be offered up as substitutes for physical gifts.

The participants gather in a rough circle to lay out or unwrap their tenugui (the large, plain scarves of cloth carried by many natives, which serves many purposes; many folken will have a few on their person, depending on need). It is custom that the span of the circle be no more than an arms stretch from tenugui to tenugui; large groups will often break into smaller circles for the purposes of exchange, which serves not only to create an intimate space for the exchange, but on a practical note, to speed up the exchange for purposes of setting up camp or eating a meal.

Emptying the contents onto the scrap of cloth, the trinkets are offered up for the other to choose as they please. (If the participant has no physical items, the cloth is still set out, empty; in this instance, touching a corner of the cloth denotes choice.) Typically, the one who initiates the Exchange will be the one to first offer up the contents of their tenugui, but there is no set pattern for exchange afterwards. Though there is no time limit on choosing, it is considered polite to choose efficiently rather than weighing one’s choices too long; once an item has been touched, it is considered chosen.

Once an item has been chosen, the original owner will typically extend a hand. This is both the acceptance of the choice, and the signifier of a tale: if the palm is sideways or the fingers spread, the item should be taken without comment; if the palm is up with fingers tight together, it signifies that there is an explanation behind the item, and that the other may (but are not required to) ask to know more.

POST-EXCHANGE: 

Particularly in the North, many roadside Rests, shrines, or shelters have small bowls dedicated to trinkets; these locations form easy places to relieve oneself of an unwanted trinket, or to find something unexpected to pass along. Periodically, these may be maintained by local authorities if items build up: there is a steady peddlers trade of trinkets among nomadic routes, buying excess and selling new additions; folkmade objects may be smelted down or otherwise disposed of; organic materials may be buried or otherwise destroyed. However, because they are chosen with care, most trinkets tend to stay within circulation; items taken from these bowls are often kept until they collect a story, and then entered back into the Exchange.

ASSOCIATED FOLKLORE:

It is commonly understood that everyday travelers may come into contact with Long Face Folk during these random encounters, and it is believed that many of the empowered items (objects imbued with magical technology) within The Inbound Lands were acquired during these such exchanges. The Exchange gives a casual context for the Long Face Folk to appear and offer powerful gifts to individuals of their choosing, while still maintaining their disguise and an somewhat impartial involvement due to the following:

The Long Face Folk can never be the one to initiate the Exchange: In its most basic form, the Exchange is a choice, revealing hidden facets of the chooser through what they pick, why, and how. Every choice has a consequence…especially in dealing with Long Face Folk. As Long Face Folk can influence or guide – but not force – the outcome of events, they cannot initiate the Exchange. It is up to the folken to have the presence of mind to engage what often appears to be an ordinary stranger. On a practical sense, this encourages a social openness to strangers and customs of politeness; you never know who might be a Long Face Folk, and to refuse one the courtesy of The Exchange would have dire consequences.

Nothing may be as it seems: Long Face Folk are often in disguise during some (or all) of the encounter, and the items they offer are typically (but not always) seemingly ordinary, their magics often masked until after the choice has been made (if not longer). As the individual chooses the item without any indication from the Long Face Folk (and thus any effects are a consequence of choice), the Exchange becomes a contest of character: if the chooser is good or purehearted, the revealed effects are generally positive or benign; if the chooser is dastardly – or just in need of learning a particular lesson – then the effects may be negative, or temporarily cursed in some manner until the lesson is learned. In a practical sense, this folkloric association serves as a moral lesson, encouraging all to enter into the Exchange with good intentions, and to treat others well. However, it’s also known that Long Face Folk are often, at worst, tricksters whose definition of “lesson” can be based on whim, or at best, inscrutable in their farsighted reasoning as to why you even need to learn such a thing, and even a “positive” effect can be undesirable. Birdfolk view most Long Face interactions as a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” catch-22, and generally feel that the fewer legendary involvement, the better…but if you have to interact with strangers (legendary or otherwise), be on your best behavior, because you never know who they might be, or what the consequences will bring.

The Long Face Folk may or may not explain the item: If the Long Face folken are going to reveal themselves as such, they won’t do so until after the choice has been made, but there is no requirement as to when, or even if they will.  They may offer the story palm up after the choice; appear to the chooser later in a vision, dream, or physical encounter through which they explain their reasoning; or choose not to explain at all, leaving the blessing or curse up to the interpretation of the chooser. Sometimes, the chooser is merely a carrier: they may not know the magic they hold until it reaches its intended destination, whether that destination is physical (“the key began to glow as I approached the gate”) or intended for another individual entirely (“When he picked up the key I had been carrying, his eyes widened as if he had received a shock. ‘Where did you get this?’ he blurted). In a folkloric sense, this serves to move the narrative along. In a practical sense, it teaches that one doesn’t always know the meaning of an experience right away – that sometimes it takes more information, reflection, or another perspective to open our eyes – or that what seems inconsequential for us may be invaluable to another.

Folk-specific practices
  • Gift-giving among BirdfolkBirdfolk hold gift-giving – and the rituals of exchange – in particular value; their background as traders and explorers lend weight to the cultural belief that the custom of giving gifts serves important purpose in relationship-building. In particular, Birdfolk give certain types of gifts for certain occasions:
    • BOXES AND CONTAINERS: When beginning a new relationship, the gift of an empty box is an important symbol within BirdFolk culture. It signifies Possibility, the idea being that the new relationship will fill the box in some way over time. It harkens to the concept of the possibility (and sense of caretaking) inherent in the Unbroken Egg, but also to a commitment to each other and to the stability of the relationship despite travel or change: a contained emotion that can be easily brought along. These gifts are often small, with most no larger than a foot cubed, being as the idea is not to burden the receiver but to enrich them. The gift of a box is often accompanied by a plan to fill the box over time (as is often the case with lovers) or with an item intended to be used over time (as is often the case with friends): either with gifts of food or drink, with souvenirs or letters, or other ways of capturing memory or otherwise providing small luxury that shows forethought.
    • FEATHERS: When a Hetchling is adopted into the Birdfolk, members of the Flock that has vouched for the individual will often gift feathers to the new inductee. When either a Birdfolken or a Hetchling changes Flocks (not uncommon, as Flocks are seen more as “companies” than as “families”), they are given feathers from the new Flock as well as part of their transition.
    • FABRICS AND FLOCK MOTIFS: In addition to giving feathers to new initiates, Birdfolk often give ways that the new member can signify they belong to the Flock. These can be colored bolts of fabric, clothing, or (commonly) scarves printed with the motifs associated with that Flock, or take the form of jewelry or other adornments (most common when the choice to join a Flock is taken after wedlock; however, since the choice to join a Flock is deeply personal and separate from the choice to wed, a motif is never given in advance of that choice). NOTE:  As motifs can also signify alliances, not just membership, if a motif depicted is shown contained within a ring, it is seen as an alliance mark, and not a membership mark.
  • Gift-giving among Foxfolk: The Foxfolk in The City of The Fingers differ from most gift-giving traditions; their ascetic lifestyle favors gifts that are intangible or temporary. Popular Foxfolken gifts would be:
    • OFFERINGS OF FOOD: Foxfolk often cook for treasured guests; the act of being invited to dinner by the otherwise reclusive inhabitants of The Fingers (who often under one fast or another) is a gift in and of itself (see below). Equally appropriate gifts are packages of food, letterform snacks, or bundles of tea; if food itself is given as an object (separate from dinner), it is understood that these gifts are to be consumed by the individual at a later time.
    • OFFERINGS OF TIME: As it is understood that the inhabitants of The City of The Fingers generally keep to themselves, the offer of time – to choose to put in the effort to invite, schedule, and spend time with the individual, in some fashion or another – is in and of itself a gift not lightly given. Declining the offer for any reason is not seen as impolite, though a reason must be given.
    • TEARS OF THE SENTINELS: Water collected from The Sentinels – the canyon cavern to the north of The City of The Fingers – is often given in small, ornamental vials sealed with wax at the time of collection. Though the water is seen as somewhat sacred, it is intended for the guest to drink; most vials hold a single large swallow. Just enough to whet thirst, but not enough to quench it, this single swallow is seen as a metaphor for the pleasure of treasured company. Like other packaged gifts of food, it is understood that the water is to be drunk at a later time.
    • POEMS, SONGS, BLESSINGS, AND OTHER SOUNDS: Though Foxfolk give general blessings as a matter of rote, they are known to compose special poems, songs, and customized blessings for individuals or groups. These may be performed for the individual or group in question, or, if the Foxfolk is currently under fast, may be given in writing.
  • Gift-giving within The Great North: Especially along The Process Way, the North favors the practice of Exchange, and Blazes in particular often carry a plethora of small trinkets to exchange with their fellow travelers, and/or to leave with their hosts.
    • HANDMADE TRINKETS: When left for hosts along the Way, these trinkets are often handmade by the Pilgrim, whether as created objects or, commonly, in compositions of words or short musicial measures.
    • BELLS: Given the plethora of wildlife within the North’s isolated roadways, it is common to gift small metal bells to travelers beginning an important journey (whether physical or metaphorical). The North is known for its intricate metalworks, and these bells – generally custom-made – are often decorated with symbolism important to the giver and the giftee. Though worn on the person in some way (typically attached to a pack, belt, or article of clothing), these bells are originally wrapped in cloth or tenugui – often embroidered, dyed, written upon, or otherwise embellished – which both serve as giftwrapping, but also to wrap the bell if the giftee chooses to move in silence, such as during a hunt.
    • BOOKS: The popularity of The Process Way in the Great North provides its inhabitants with a regular abundance of new literature. In late fall, inhabitants to head to the nearest town for the “Turning of the Leaves” festival, typically timed around the equinox, when the leaves start to change color. During this week-long event, folken give gifts of books to each other – sometimes paired with snacks or tea – with the idea that the literature will warm the soul and occupy the mind during the long winter ahead.
    • ARROWS: Hunting is a large part of life in the North, and it is a common gift of friendship to give each other a single wooden arrow as a symbolic object. Since arrows are silent, ranged weapons, traditionally it is known that to give someone the gift of an wooden arrow is to express your trust in the person and in the relationship, your willingness to be vulnerable to them, and your desire to see them prosper. Since you have handed them the means to attack you without notice, a proper acceptance of the gift is to then break the wooden arrow in half. However, these days, individuals may also give each other small arrow tokens – such as cloak pins or other jewelry, or items adorned with an arrow – that do not or cannot require the symbolic breaking.

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