A Course in Rawàng Ata: 2.2

LESSON SIX

Counters and Number

Certain nouns are mass nouns – they refer to substances, not to individuals. These nouns cannot be inflected to show number. However, they can be modified by certain words known as counters, which can in turn be inflected for number.

Which counter is used depends on the mass noun in question – any deviation from the set counter is poetic and not standard usage (though poets may indeed mix counters freely, or even invent new ones).

soal ayati

a handful of grain

soalònga ayati

this single handful of grain

wuy siwàk

a scoop of mud

wuywuy siwàk

these scoops of mud

rāsyang yohok

a surge of anger

rarāsyang yohok

these surges of anger

rārarasyang yohok

an overwhelming flood of anger

However, it is not only mass nouns that require counters. All animate nouns also require counters if a number inflexion is to be applied. However, animates relating to people often have a wider range of counters available.

datta wohola kokoama kòmaya

the sailor strikes all of this coven of women [group of like-minded women who plan things together]

datta wohola yimiyìmina kòmaya

the sailor strikes all of this gaggle of women [group of women assembled for gossip or to spectate]

Note: this demonstrates that some counters are pluralised through an archaic method of whole-word reduplication. This must be learnt.

More importantly: case is marked on the counter, NOT on the noun itself, which is placed in the ergative, no matter its role in the sentence.

Collective Number

A small number of animates nouns by default refer to groups, rather than to individuals. Mostly, these are words for pairs of body parts (ears, eyes, hands, etc) or for social sets (brothers, friends, etc). In these cases, to refer to an individual, the singular must be used.

datta wohola yaiòngma lutà

the sailor strikes the testicle

datta ruaya tanòngma sōma [NB sandhi: n+m=m, lengthening the preceding vowel]

the sailor rubs the ear repeatedly [lit. ‘polishes’ – polishing the ear is a gesture indicating deliberation]

.

Vocabulary

First, a note about verbs. Until now, verbs have been cited with a final –a in all cases; however, properly speaking this is an affix, and not part of the root. Therefore, from now on, verbs will be cited in stem form, with a final hyphen to which this affix may be added. Although the use of this affix will not be described until later, one reason for this change in notation will be made clear in the following chapter.

Some of the semantics of the following verbs may seem strange. This will partly become clearer in the following chapter, as these verbs are all ‘native passives’, and may seem inverted to English speakers.

tì- = to see

This verb is simple enough in meaning, except to mention that it is strictly a verb of sight: it does not bear the various extended and metaphorical  meanings it may have in other languages. However, one small extension is that it may be used to mean ‘acknowledge’, in the sense of noticing the existence of. To ignore the presence of a person by claiming not to see them is amongst the highest of insults – save that it is common for monks to refuse to acknowledge the existence of anyone with whom they have no business. The subject is seen, the object sees.

nūng– = to love, to cherish

Many ‘emotions’ are spoken of in Rawàng Ata through verbs. This verb refers to a ‘direct’ (ie within a social group – see previous vocabulary section for more), positive emotion; specifically, it is the love of a parent for a child, a spouse for a spouse, a person for their country, and a country for its allies. It is literally ‘constructive’, in that it is associated with a desire to help change or improve a thing or its situation. It is irreflexive, which is to say that if X ‘loves’ Y in this way, this does not suggest that Y loves X in the same way. It is not usually used for sexual or romantic love, although within a marriage group it may (indeed should) be part of the ‘love’ between two people. The subject is loved, the object loves.

mayajd- = to surround

This is not the verb for a group moving to surround something – rather, it is the verb for ‘inanimate’ surrounding, as walls surround a person in a room, or as the sea surrounds an island. It is not used for an actual boundary and the area it bounds – walls do not ‘surround’ a room itself (they ‘define’ or ‘limit’ it), only things in the room. Animate things can ‘surround’ in this sense, but not by moving to surround a thing – the thing must enter into the surrounding without any action by the surrounder(s). The subject surrounds, the object is surrounded.

faràkk- = to coat, to colour

The subject of this verb is NOT one who colours or coats, but rather the coating thing – a colour may ‘coat’ an object, as may a paint, or an oil, or dust. Extendedly, an individual or group may ‘coat’ another individual, in which case the latter individual bears allegiance to the former. This too may be seen as an emotion verb. The subject coats, the object is coated.

A Course in Rawàng Ata: 2.1

LESSON FIVE

Transitivity and Animacy Bars

Two related and important sets of rules are the rules of transitivity and the rules of animacy barring: what makes a verb transitive, and what restrictions are placed on inanimate/animate nouns with respect to verbs.

There are five rules of transitivity:

  1. Transitive verbs must have actual known objects, even if they are not stated explicitly
  2. Transitive verbs must represent successful actions that have not been blocked, and have not failed through error or circumstance
  3. Transitive verbs must have subjects higher in animacy than their objects
  4. Transitive verbs must represent actions that have had real and lasting effects upon their objects
  5. Transitive verbs must have subjects that were, or are considered as having been, in control of the action.

If any of these five criteria are not met, the verb must be intransitive, and the subject marked accordingly. Although a verb with no object cannot be transitive, not all intransitive verbs lack objects. Those that fail to be transitive for any of the other four reasons may have objects.

The third criterion is also an animacy bar: specifically, a relative animacy bar. Whether the criterion is met is judged by the animacy hierarchy, which details the degrees of animacy of various nouns/pronouns. In descending order of animacy: second person pronouns; first person pronouns; third person directive pronouns; anaphoric pronouns; deictic pronouns; pseudo-pronouns; non-feminine animate nouns referring to humans; feminine nouns; other animate nouns; inanimate mass nouns; inanimate count nouns.

datta wohola kòmana

the sailor strikes the young woman

kòmaya kufohola dattama [Sandhi! w becomes f after u]

the young woman strikes the sailor

Note that in the second example, the verb is intransitive due to the relative animacy bar, and the subject therefore requires the ergative case; moreover, the feminine subject requires marking on the verb.

In addition to the relative animacy bar, there also exist various absolute animacy bars, regulating the required minimum animacy level for a noun to be the subject of a particular verb. These bars are specific to the verbs in question. For instance, sakkunga, ‘to kick’, has an animate-only bar: the subject must be animate; wattujnya, ‘to orient’, has a human-only bar: the subject must be a human. Maximum animacy bars are also possible, although they are more commonly found with passive verbs (dealt with later on in these lessons). Some examples of maximum bars in active verbs include djitta, ‘to nip’, which is animate-max (humans and pronouns cannot be the subject) and furila, ‘to frustrate’, which is feminine-max (women can be the subject but men cannot).

The fifth transitivity law also includes an absolute animacy bar: only animates can be responsible for their own actions, and so only verbs with animate subjects can be transitive.

.

Vocabulary

ayati = grain

The Lày consume a number of crops, but are chiefly dependent upon the grain of a liana similar in appearance to Wisteria, named sūn. Sūn lianas, properly tended, can produce very large harvests of grain, allowing high population densities; however, the work of maintaining the lianas, and of harvesting the seeds, while not requiring great manpower, is technically difficult and quite dangerous, being conducted at high heights with ropes and harnesses. Moreover, ‘breaking’ land for farming is very laborious: competing lianas must be eradicated, sūn lianas slowly grown, and optimal tree spacing and canopy density safeguarded. These factors have encouraged dense and efficient farming rather than casual expansion. Once the grain is harvested, it must be crushed and soaked, to remove toxins, before being dried into a course flour: this may be added to milk or water to form porridge for the elderly and for invalids, roasted to produce a crunchy topping for many forms, or primarily turned into noodles.

The word ‘ayati’ can also be applied to the grain of other plants: a species of rush, once a staple crop but now grown for its tubers and fresh shoots, or the various cereal crops grown in drier climates on the mainland. However, when used without disambiguation, it is now overwhelmingly the sūn grain that is intended.

siwàk = mud

Siwàk is defined more by weight and texture than by composition. Important uses include fertiliser, a construction material for simple structures, and plaster to line the walls of houses.

yohok = uncontrollable anger

This word is hard to translate simply. Rawàng Ata speaks of emotions in several different ways, which reflect the speakers’ theories of mind, action, and metaphysics. One species of emotion is a motivating spirit that possesses the body of the speaker and causes them to act in unrepresentative ways. This implies a weakness of the part of the speaker, but can also be used to remove shame from them: the emotion-spirits are so powerful than nobody is immune, and actions performed under possession are actions for which the individual is not ethically culpable (although punishment may still be required). However, it is not true to call these emotions ‘uncontrollable’, as some people do control them: being affected by the spirit is not the same as being mastered by it. However, if a person displays the emotion, they have not been able to control it, or have not chosen to do so. These emotions are spoken of as deities: Ūta Yohok, ‘Lord Anger’ is one of the most powerful. Whether these deities are purely metaphorical, ontologically sophisticated, or plain gods will depend on the speaker, and how they describe them will depend on the circumstances. Each god is considered to be the ruler of a pantheon of lesser gods, corresponding to different shades of emotion, distinguished by the type of action it provokes. However, the emotion is not the same as the action, because although actions and emotions are often hard to distinguish in the vocabulary of Rawàng Ata, these action-emotions are a different class from deity-emotions, and although action-emotions can result from the influence of a deity-emotion, they can also occur without the deity being present. The deities should therefore be seen as driving the individual toward different actions, where ‘action’ includes some types of emotion.

A key concept in Rawàng Ata emotional terminology is the distinction between ‘direct’ and ‘inverse’ emotions: direct emotions are those in which the expression occurs within the same social grouping as the object of the emotion, while inverse emotions are those in which the expression occurs in a grouping in which the object is not present. Yohok is a direct and destructive emotion. A man driven to yell at his wife in their home; two citizens fighting in the street; both are guided by yohok. In contrast, if two citizen are furious about the behaviour of another man’s wife, or if a lynch mob is going to drag a man out of his home, or if a man and his wife are plotting to kill their neighbour, these are all examples of actions driven not by yohok but by salyin, inverse destructive emotion.

Mistress of the Empire – Feist and Wurts

Mistress of the Empire is the concluding volume of the Empire trilogy, and most of what might be said about it I have said already, in my reviews of the other two volumes. However, all three volumes have their differences. Mistress does not suffer from the pacing problems of the first two novels – the aimlessness of the first book, or the long, slow initial lacuna of the second. It’s a book that hits hard right from the beginning and ramps up tension without ceasing from then on toward a single, clearly-defined destination. It continues, unfortunately, to try to amplify this tension by continual claims about the immense dangers the protagonist faces, and while these claims ring more true now than ever, they remain annoying. It is also, if anything, too constant in its action. It is all but 900 pages long, and all action-packed, and the shear weight of incident becomes a little tiring by the end. It would have benefitted, I feel, by being broken into shorter novels, each with its own rise and fall. Indeed, the entire trilogy would have been better written as, say, a series of ten shorter novels – although the total wordcount would no doubt have been a little higher, the balance and structure of the series would have been better. As it is, many things that could have been climactic in their own right will be passed over by the reader too eager to move on to the next big incident.

That being said, it is exciting. In the overall plot, Mara faces her greatest challenges yet – challenges that not only appear insurmountable, but that the previous two books have led us to believe must be insurmountable in her world. On the small scale, there is more emphasis on personal action than before – in particular, more emphasis on missions performed by her spy-network, including one brilliant “mission impossible” style chapter. This more conventional heroic fare is balanced by plenty of personal and feminine drama. The ending of the book feels less of a deus ex machina than the two previous volumes – although in some ways it feels more problematic, as the characters by now have to some extent broken out of the machine, making the conclusion seem more authorially-influenced.

If the book is better in tension, it is worse in other areas. There is, I hate to say it, an air of laziness, or at least carelessness, about parts of the book, in both writing and plotting. Repeatedly, things were unclear to me, either because not enough care had been taken to explain a leap of the plot, or because the prose, particularly the dialogue, was lacking clarity – on occasion, I even thought the confusion might stem from some unnoticed mistake by the authors. I was also concerned that not enough effort had been taken to unify – or at least to demonstrate unity between – the culture depicted in this book and that depicted in previous books. There was considerably less focus on the alien peculiarities of Tsuranni society and behaviour, which even more than before seemed entirely mutable to meet the needs of the plot. None of this amounted to any serious plot holes that I could be sure of, but it impeded the reading experience.

Relatedly, the world-building continued to be a problem, as the scope of the story expands beyond its original setting: apparently the authors created no more material than is present in the books, and the lack of development of their ideas shows. Moreover, as the Assembly of Magicians comes to greater prominence in this book, the gaping world-holes (as opposed to mere plot-holes) raised by their existence and constitution become more salient, and are never convincingly papered over.

Another big problem was the moral of the story: essentially, that America (and its incongruous proxy in fantasy, pseudo-medieval Europe) is wonderful, and that non-American cultures are inferior and must be changed by force. Now, I have no problem with a novel having a political point. Or even with that point being central to the entire story. After all, epic fantasy is inherently political: it is epic precisely because it deals not only with individuals but with the world, and that involves an explanation of why exactly the bad guys are bad for the world and the good guys are good for it. My problem is that the politics of the novel is ham-fisted, lazy, incoherent, dishonest, and frankly alarming.

By the time of this third novel, Mara of the Acoma, our heroine, has reached a level of power where she can openly challenge the ruling powers of her world, and the ‘traditions’ they foster. Broadly speaking, this makes the novel a battle between ‘reforming’ and ‘traditionalist’ elements: the reformers being liberal and humane, the traditionalists being in favour of stagnation, deceit, slavery, and the killing of babies. There’s not a lot of doubt which side we’re meant to be on – and although the authors do make the effort to humanise the chief villain, the attempt is half-hearted and unconvincing. Traditionalists, it seems, are motivated almost entirely by childish pride and by conservativism for conservativism’s sake.

But of course, the dispute is not, or should not be, so simplistic. On the side of the traditionalists, there is little to no attempt to explore why these traditions of honour have come about, and what function they might serve. Mara’s ideals repeatedly drive her toward the threat of total civil war which might destroy the whole of her society – but it is never admitted that the threat of continual war might be a reason to allow a degree of stasis. Instead, those who try to prevent war are seen as simply being traditionalists. This is a little at odds with the account in the second novel: and what’s more, Mara at no point appears to realise that all the problems afflicting her society in the third book are the result of her actions in the second book; as a result, I see no reason whatsoever why the situation after the end of the book will not become even worse than it was to begin with.

Indeed, much of the politics here appear to be liberal wish-fulfillment: love and freedom and individualism enforced at sword-point by an absolute and unquestionable authority. It reminds me of nothing more strongly than the ideologies of liberalism absolutism in the Enlightenment – with perhaps a hint of Oliver Cromwell. Like Cromwell, Mara is lead into irreconcilable contradictions by this paradoxical ideology – but, although they are brought out fully, with her conclusions in one chapter sometimes wholly undermining her actions in the next, these issues are never addressed by the authors, who appear virtually blind to the incoherence of their character’s moral system (‘almost’ because of one mention of the irony that she only has a chance at all because her followers live by the traditional codes that she wants to abolish – but the irony is glossed over unconvincingly and never mentioned again). The problem is accentuated by the positive portrayal of the Cho-Ja, despite the fact that this insectoid, hive species in which lying is impossible and in which individual workers are happily slaughtered for the good of the many, is such an apotheosis of the Tsurani way that one might almost assume the Tsurani society was intentionally an imitation of the Cho-Ja (for instance, when a Cho-Ja Queen dies, her mindless workers are killed, just like the slaves of a disgraced Tsurani Lord). But there is no examination of why the Cho-Ja are applauded while the Tsurani are condemned.

On this note, another flaw of the novel is the development of the characters. They are rounded and vivid, but they do not really develop over time. A symptom of this was my constant inability to guess how long the series had taken, in-world: the plot both of the trilogy as a whole and of this volume unfolds over years, perhaps (according to one line in the book) decades, and there are several chapters with the phrase “two years passed” at the beginning of them. This is wholly merited, and helps give the books their epic tone – but in the face of such expansive lacunae, a strong sense of time and age must be conveyed through the writing, and the authors simply aren’t talented enough to do this. Aside from a little gradual (and vague) development of Mara’s political views, and a mention of silver hairs, there is very little to show that Mara – or any other character – has genuinely aged or changed in character. Although the writers do a better job than in previous novels of allowing Mara to be affected by events (in part because her political views now allow her to be more open), they seem to have little cumulative effect. This is likely because Mara has too little spare time in this book to sit around displaying her character – she is constantly fighting for her life – and to depict an aging woman solely through the writing of her interior monologues is extremely difficult. This should therefore be considered not so much a deficit of writing talent as a surfeit of authorial ambition.

I’ve said a lot now about what’s wrong with this book, and this series: a lot. But I’d also like to say a word, finally, about why you should buy these books. Or, at least, why you might.

–          the trilogy has the style and weight of epic fantasy, but not the content. The protagonist is a woman (and not even a tomboy) who by the end is in middle-age, and marriages and babies are very important. The setting is not brilliantly realised, but it is vivid and it is not European. There are mentions of battles against a great supernatural “Enemy” that threatens the world – but all such business occurs off-screen and is not the subject-matter of these books. Instead, the content is concerned with familial and political disputes.

–          the trilogy is dark. It never wallows in darkness – perhaps, it is always too clinical, too austere, never making the most of the tragedies contained. But the shear amount of death, much of it not pleasant death, is extraordinary. People are tortured to death – entire regiments die agonisingly at the hands of magicians. And, more than in perhaps any other novels I have read, the central characters are not spared from the world around them. Characters die – some heroically, some ignominiously, and there seems no way to build up an ‘immunity’, as in ordinary books: being saved in one chapter doesn’t mean survival through the next, and just because somebody dies heroically to save a second character doesn’t mean that the second character won’t themselves be killed off. People talk about how George RR Martin kills his characters (between a third and a half of the named characters introduced in the first book of ASOIAF die by the end of the fourth), but Feist and Wurts go even further. How many Starks have actually been killed so far? Well, in Empire, the number of named characters in the first book who survive until the end of the trilogy is virtually zero, so far as I can see.

–          relatedly: the authors are ingenious in their plotting. Many things happen through the trilogy that I had not in the least expected. Sometimes, because it’s random chance, sometimes because I trusted to the traditions of fantasy, and one or twice as the result of ingenious deceptions by the authors.

–          finally, action: so many things happen. Sure, a reader of short sensational novels might complain that the trilogy is immense and horrifically slow in places – but by the standards of epic fantasy, the twists and turns are breathtaking. Not always well paced, but certainly plentiful.

As a result of these virtues, although I would not consider recommending this series to most people I know, I would not hesitate to do so in some cases. If you like epic fantasy and want something a little different; if you can handle massive tomes; if you aren’t demanding the very highest levels of prose, world-building or characterisation: this trilogy could be a pleasantly different way to kill time until the next book you’re really interested in comes out.

If you hate long books, if you hate politics, if you hate machinations, if you demand brilliant writing, if you demand complete emotional involvement… then you will utterly despise these books. But they’re actually not that bad.

.

..

Adrenaline: 5/5. Perhaps I’m being a bit generous, but I was gripped throughout, even despite the many frustrating flaws I encountered in the novel. It provides both moments of thrill and long periods of drama.

Emotion: 3/5. As before, the authors aren’t able to portray the full emotional impact that the events in the books merit. Nonetheless, the shear weight of tragedy and heroism on display pushes the score up a notch.

Thought: 2/5. It has themes; they’re just dealt with very badly.

Beauty: 2/5. As before.

Craft: 3/5. I really want to push this down to a 2, because I feel that much of the writing in this book is a step below its predecessors. However, I have to admit that this is balanced by superior pacing and plot structure, and some ingenious twists.

Endearingness: 3/5. Much the same as the first book. Although the politics is even more incoherent than in the second book, the tone is less hectoring, as it no longer focuses on Kevin educating Mara about morality.

Originality: 4/5. Plenty of plot twists, total author brutality, more alien-seeming setting.

.

Overall: 5/7. Good! Perhaps not the best written of the three, but nonetheless the best.

A Course in Rawàng Ata: 1.E

EXERCISE!

Reading

On the basis of the information in the first four lessons, read the following Rawàng Ata sentences, and attempt to deduce what they say (affixes have been shown with hyphens for clarity, while reduplications are shown with ‘=’):

–          wō-ma kòma ku-taka

–          wō-ma kòma amor-taka

–          lutà sa-taka uj=ùjmang-ma

–          lutà ra-taka ùjmang-ma

–          runta-ònga-ma lutà dùr-taka

–          lutà ra-taka ta=ta=taita-ma

–          bolaj-ma kòma ku-tumanya [NB. sandhi: y+m=jm]

–          kòma ku-tumanya

.

Writing

Next, try to translate these English sentences into Rawàng Ata (remembering that some translations may not be entirely literal):

–          the sailor polishes the cooking pot

–          as for the cooking pot, the sailor polishes it

–          the cooking pot hits the floor

–          regarding the turtle, the young woman eats it

–          the young woman strikes the testicles

–          the turtle eats [it]

–          the turtle eats

–          as for this particular single turtle, the young woman polishes it

–          the woman eats an ocean of turtles

–          the young woman turns the cooking pot over in her hands

.

Answers on postcards…

A Course in Rawàng Ata: 1.4

LESSON FOUR

Animacy

All things are either animate or inanimate. This is a basic characteristic of nouns. In most cases, animacy is predictable semantically: humans, motive animals and tools are animate, along with a handful of ‘animates of power’ referring to important parts of the natural world (the sea, the sky, lightning, etc). However, there are sometimes exceptions, due mainly to change in meaning over time: fōna, for instance, is inanimate.

Animacy is not evident from word form, and must be learnt with the word. Sometimes, the same word may have both animate and inanimate uses with different meanings. For instance, lutà means ‘ball’ when inanimate, but ‘pair of testicles’ when animate.

The effects of animacy will be dealt with later.

.

Gender

Nouns are also either feminine or common. Most feminine nouns refer to female human beings, or to a few female animals of economic significance. Some tools particularly associated with women have taken on feminine gender: sisanto, “dildo”, and ùjmang, “cooking pot” are both feminine.  Again, gender is not marked explicitly on the noun and must be learnt.

.

Verb Agreement

The verb in Rawàng Ata must always ‘agree’ with a noun – this noun is the ‘control’. In the simple sentences considered so far, the control is the subject. Excluding first and second person subjects, which will be considered later, there are six possible agreement prefixes:

ku- is used whenever the control is feminine

dùr- is used when the control is ‘concertive’ – when multiple animate controls act in concert to create a single action

amor- is used when the control is ‘pluractive’ – when multiple animate controls act independently to perform the same action multiple times, or incoherently

ra- is used for all other animate controls, except for non-feminine humans

sa- is used for inanimate controls

a null or zero prefix is used for non-feminine human controls that are not concertive or pluractive

Examples:

datta wohola kòmana

the sailor strikes the woman

datta dùjwohola kòmana [Sandhi! r+w=jw]

the sailors all strike the woman together

datta amojwohola kòmana

the sailors each strike the woman

kòma kuruaya ruruntama

the woman wipes clean the floors

datta ruaya ruruntama

the sailor wipes clean the floors

lutà sataka runta

the ball hits the floor

lutà rataka runta

the testicles hit the floor

.

Intransitive Verbs and the Ergative

Until now we have dealt with transitive verbs only. Transitive verbs in English have both a subject and an object; in Rawàng Ata, it’s slightly more complicated than that, but that’s how we’ll begin: if a verb has no object, it cannot be transitive. This means that it is intransitive.

What this means in practice is that the subject must be placed into the ergative case, marked by –ya. Otherwise, it is assumed that the verb is transitive, but that the object has simply been left to context.

Intransitive verbs with no object often have the connotation of aimless or universal direction. This may have idiomatic uses.

datta wohola

the sailor strikes [it]

dattaya wohola

the sailor strikes out

kòma kutaka

the young woman hits [it]

kòmaya kutaka

the young woman runs out of energy and/or nervous fortitude

.

Vocabulary

ùjmang = cooking pot

As a result of the scarcity of metals, most cooking must be done in ceramic pots. Several specialised types exist, but most meals will be cooked in the ùjmang, a large pot designed for use in ovens. Key features include a squat, stable base, sides that are pinched slightly near the top to form a broad neck, and a pair of high, wide handles that reach well above the mouth of the pot. In general, the food is stewed. The pinched neck can in some cases be plugged; at other times, reeds can be placed across it to allow some foods to be steamed above the stew. To remove the hot, heavy pot from the oven, a strong wooden pole is thrust through the loops of the two high handles and into a recess at the back of the oven; the ùjmang may then be slid out along the pole, so that food can be ladled out into tureens. The ùjmang is an important social artefact, as it acts to distinguish who is within and who is without a certain family group within the baryōng. When two or more marital groups are present, they will have their meals cooked in different ùjmang; similarly, some servants may be ‘adopted’ into the family (albeit with a very different status from true-born members), and this is symbolised by allowing them to eat from the same ùjmang.

bolay = turtle

Bolay, turtles, are an important animal to the speakers of Rawàng Ata. They are admired and empathised with for their longevity and equanimity, and their predation upon dangerous jellyfish, while their practice of laying their eggs on land but living at sea is taken as symbolic of the (ideal) island lifestyle; but equally they are condemned for their lack of affection, particularly toward their young. It is a popular myth that the Lày people (the main and dominant speakers of the language) are descended from a the coupling of a woman and a giant turtle, which is held to explain the sea-longing and wanderlust that afflicts Lày men; for this reason, giant turtles are seen as kin, and to kill one is considered murder. However, the Lày have no such qualms about smaller turtles, which are both hunted and (in the case of some species) farmed – their meat and eggs are eaten, their skin is used for leather, and their plastrons may be used as an attractive material, or else ground down to a powder, from which is made a gelatinous foodstuff. Small species may also be found as pets. A final species sometimes seen is the colossal turtle, which wanders up from warmer waters from time to time: these gigantic creatures are treated with religious awe.

tumanya – to turn over in one’s hands

The verb is used usually in cases either of inspection of an object, or of idle motion. In its intransitive form, it has the metaphorical meaning “to muse, to ponder, to be puzzled, to deliberate”.