The Middlelanders are one of four major cultures occupying The Continent, as first described in Goda’s Slave. They are native to the volcanic Samma Valley region of the Western and South-Western parts of The Continent, but eventually expanded far past their original homeland. Due to geographic isolation over eons, they have many unusual biological and cultural traits that they don’t share in common with their neighbors, and could even be viewed as a distinct subspecies of human relative to the Outerland-Upperland subspecies.
Middlelanders evolved from a common ancestor that they shared with the Lowerlanders, an ethnic group that lives South of the Samma River. Both groups are “yaw-tolerant”–meaning that they can eat and digest the toxic yaw root–a trait that is not shared by any other ethnic groups. (Unlike Lowerlanders, though, Middlelanders are also yaw-reliant and must eat the root.)
As the river that divided them expanded and the climate changed to make local geography harder to navigate, eventually the two populations split into two separate cultures long before the beginning of Goda’s Slave. Religious superstition also came to play a large part over time, as most Middlelanders refuse to cross the Samma River, believing that Lowerlanders are unclean savages.
Out of all of the cultures, Middlelanders and Lowerlanders were historically the most isolated, having only limited contact with outsiders for tens of thousands of years in part due to natural geographical features, such as treacherous mountain ranges, rivers, gorges, and dense forests.
In addition, Middlelanders are also highly dependent on their staple food source yaw root, which is native to the geothermically active region of Samma Valley and traditionally would not grow well without volcanic soil. This restricted Middlelander migration for generations, as they could not sustain themselves in other environments.
Hundreds of years prior to Goda’s Slave, however, a revolution in farming technology allowed the Middlelanders to begin planting yaw in non-native environments, which heralded an explosive expansion. This was further fueled by an industrial revolution–and the invention of ethanol-powered internal combustion engines by the Middlelanders–roughly one hundred years before Goda’s Slave.
With a highly developed social structure and adaptations that allow them to survive (and reproduce) under many conditions, Middlelanders out-competed their neighbors for resources during these periods of expansion. By the beginning of Goda’s Slave, they dominate many of the previously-diffused tribes of the Outerland and have installed a puppet government in the Upperland to allow themselves access to a sugary grain (called mok) that is used to make biofuel.
Social System and Cultural Imposition
The Middlelander culture is ruled by a central government and its vast bureaucratic system. This level of organization and unification exceeds that of their immediate neighbors to such an extent that the Middleland easily steamrolls any resistance from outsiders. With superior technology and the largest military on The Continent, by the era of Goda’s Slave, they have achieved near total control over the Outerland and Upperland.
Middlelander culture is highly theocratic and matriarchal. The ruling class with the highest status are priestesses of the state religion, whose authority is required for much of the government’s functioning. The main figurehead is the High Priestess, who is the supreme leader of the Middleland, and whom Middlelanders refer to as The Mother (a title She shares with the Goddess Mahara, as She is considered a living incarnation of this deity).
Though prejudice against outsiders is rampant in Middlelander culture, their government focuses more on unification and the absorbing of other cultures than on traditional warfare. This is mostly for financial and practical reasons. For example, they spend a small fortune educating foreign children and converting adults to the Middlelander religion in order to make the local populations complacent and render brute force (which is expensive) unnecessary in the future.
Because of this (or perhaps in spite of it), Middlelanders tend to view themselves more as “liberators” of those who are starving and suffering, rather than strictly warmongers. Plenty of Outerlanders and Upperlanders beg to differ.
The Middleland offers citizenship to any freeperson who fulfills certain residency and religious requirements. They have a large social safety net, guaranteeing free food, housing, and medical care to all residents of the Middleland proper, as well as free education and job placement for citizens.
Law and Criminality
While The Mother takes good care of Her many children, She is also very strict. Criminal justice in the Middleland is highly organized and embedded into the country’s industry. Criminals are often punished with slavery, which may be temporary or permanent, depending on the nature of the crime. Human beings (and some types of animals as well) cannot be owned by normal citizens and all private slavery is illegal, but the government employs many of its own slaves, whose masters are typically government employees.
Besides the obvious income source of free labor, the Middleland government also uses enslavement to strip citizens and foreigners of their inheritance, which produces further profits that can be absorbed into the system. Once a criminal finishes her sentence, her rights are reinstated, but her wealth may not be.
Other income sources for the military and criminal justice system includes drugs, especially Samma Flower, which are confiscated from criminals who are then enslaved or executed. The resulting free product can then be further processed or sold covertly on the black market, creating both profits and more slaves for the government.
Robust women are much more likely to become criminals or slaves than any other demographic group of the Middlelander population.
Middlelanders pass on wealth and status through matrilineal lines.
The foundation of family structure in the society is a pair-bonded marriage, which only occurs between two women. Children are raised by two mothers–typically, one of higher status and one of slightly lesser status–and this status is passed down through the “higher mother.” Either mother may give birth to the child, but the child is considered to belong to both.
Though men contribute to fertilization on a biological level, they are not considered parents on a cultural level and Middlelanders have no concept (neither in their language nor in practice) of fatherhood. Men also do not marry and typically live with their mothers or sisters for their entire lives.
This family structure is largely a consequence of unique Middlelander biology and their complex relationship with the hormone-altering yaw root. It also affects their concept of gender entirely.
Like many centralized cultures, the Middleland did not develop equally in every region. Wealth is disproportionately concentrated in the Southern Middleland, where, due to environmental factors, farming yaw root requires much less labor and fewer resources.
The Southern Middleland is also home to the capital city (Suda) and is the central hub for most government activity. Since the government is by far the largest employer in the Middleland, most jobs (and most of the population) are concentrated in this region.
By contrast, the population is sparse and diffused in the Northern Middleland, where most families live a rural lifestyle and engage in subsistence farming. Some Northern Middlelanders even survive by hunting and gathering. Because of the remoteness of many Northern settlements, educational resources and government aid may not effectively reach individuals living in these areas.
Both this disparity in wealth as well as the vast difference in lifestyle created a cultural rift as the Middleland industrialized. Northerners speak a different dialect of the Middlelander tongue than the Southerners do, and though both versions of the language are mutually intelligible, the Southern dialect is considered “standard.”
Discrimination against Northerners in the Southern Middleland is commonplace, though Northerners are officially treated equally to Southerners under the law.
Biological Predisposition to Collective Behavior
Besides their mating strategy, gender balance, and tolerance to yaw root, the Middleland People differ in other ways from their neighbors on a biological level.
One major feature that is key to the culture’s material success is that most Middlelanders are predisposed to collective behavior, more so than Upperlanders and (especially) Outerlanders. This tendency to sense the emotions of those within a short radius and unconsciously begin to act upon those signals allowed their society to achieve unprecedented levels of organization.
However, it also allows Middlelanders to form angry mobs with specific, focused goals within mere minutes, with little or no verbal communication necessary. This can cause sudden destruction and chaos, which is why the government concerns itself very much with studying how to influence and placate the populace through passive means.
Riot control and prevention is a major area of public investment. It’s one of the reasons that the Middleland government guarantees universal food rations and shelter to all residents; a food riot could explode beyond control very rapidly. If the military were to attempt to directly subdue or force a group of Middlelanders over a certain size (especially a group filled with robust women), then the group would simply grow larger and angrier. If sufficiently provoked or offended, Middlelander women will fight to the death.
Civil unrest does still occur on occasion. When a riot has taken form and some kind of physical intervention is inevitable, soldiers will avoid direct aggression and instead will strategically break up the crowd into pieces. They will also attempt to shift the energy towards in-group fighting in order to disorganize and confuse the mob until the emotions peter out.
Because of this tendency to organize quickly, Middlelanders are naturally resistant to collective slavery. Their culture has never been enslaved by external enemies and the populace has never experienced a period of overt subjugation by their own government or military, either. (In fact, the bureaucracy maintains a healthy fear of the civilian population.)
Instead, the government tends to divide and conquer individuals carefully, and takes great pains in channeling the instincts of robust women especially. Enslaved criminals are never transported in groups of more than six to eight per master, and slaves in groups of two or more are always chained or bound to shock cuffs. If one slave misbehaves, all the others in the group are punished.
For most of the free populace, The Mother maintains collective control through a combination of deep social conditioning and other more subtle signals that non-Middlelanders cannot detect.
Notable Middlelander Characters
The nature of the Middlelanders is hard to encompass in one article, so you could also take a look at these, as they go into more detail on the various nuances: