Icëlani

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Icëlan
Taxonomy: pinsa hurises
Habitat: Forest
Avg. height: 3.8 ft. / 115 cm
Population: 6 million
Verdurian: icëlan

Icëlani [i ˈkjɛ la nɪ] are a Thinking Kind whose habitat is forests or jungles. They are hominids, thus related to Almean humans, but evolutionarily more primitive; it’s as if our own australopitecines had survived alongside Homo sapiens. On earth, these primitive hominids were out-evolved and disappeared; but on Almea they simply retreated to the forests.

Physical description

Relaxing in the forest

Icëlani are small, averaging less than four feet tall, slight in build and very pale. They are usually golden-haired, though they have no facial or pubic hair. Those who have seen them close-up and under a good light usually call them ugly, with protruding jaws and a low receding forehead. They have long arms, short legs, and agile toes, all adaptations for climbing trees and swinging from branches.

Culture

The icëlani are without fire, metallurgy, agriculture, domesticated animals, or writing. In effect they occupy the ecological niche occupied on earth by the apes, but with greater intelligence, inasmuch as they have languages (though simple ones) and both make and use permanent tools (as opposed to the temporary tools made by our own apes), including spears and knives. They wear clothing only in cold seasons or regions.

They live in bands of four to a dozen, normally dominated by one to three older males (usually brothers or cousins). The dominant males share the females, and all help to raise infants and adolescents. Males will attempt to form a new band of their own at adulthood (roughly 15); if they can successfully feed themselves and defend a territory, they will attract females from other bands.

Their languages are significantly simpler than human ones, with perhaps 300-400 morphemes and few rules of morphology and syntax; as if in compensation, words are enormously variable in intonation, volume, length, repetition, and even types of articulation (e.g. a speaker may replace the t's in a word with clicks to express impatience). In some ways they resemble animal codes (such as birdsong) more than human languages: rich expressiveness applied to a small number of basic utterances. (Another point of resemblance is that icëlani are observed to speak almost as much when alone as with other icëlani.)

Contacts with humans

They are rather elusive, and most humans will never see an icëlan. In Eretald it’s considered bad luck to see one-- probably because of stories of humans who stumble on an icëlan gathering, are enchanted with the pretty naked girls, and become obsessed with them-- but can never find them again. There's a name for this obsession, pizarda. (In the popular imagination icëlani have a doll-like beauty; again, those few who get an actual look rarely enjoy optimal viewing conditions.)

People who live near the forest report having minor items stolen, and sometimes leave out food or other gifts for the icëlani to prevent this. Others manage to establish trading relationships (e.g. knives or hooks for honey or rare herbs).

Sadly, some humans have kidnapped icëlani for use as pets or displaying them for money. (Some have tried to make servants out of them, but it never works.) These abuses are fortunately rare; more tragic is the loss of habitat as human habitation expands; often the humans are not even aware of their destructive impact. Cuzeian theism, among other religions, discourages the felling of virgin forest; it’s possible that this stricture was engineered by the iliu to protect the icëlani. The largest icëlan habitats, in fact, adjoin iliu enclaves.

Really primitive?

Evolutionary purists will object that no modern species can be described as “primitive”; icëlani are as far removed from the common ancestor of hominids as humans are, are not ancestors of humans, and are equally adapted to their environment. This is all true enough, and yet it is something of a retreat from reality. There is a real difference between a human and a flatworm, and assertions of equal value should be recognized as what they are: pious value judgments, thus not science.

Others will have a subtler worry: is there some kind of racism at work here, refusing to recognize equals in order to steal their land or exploit their honey-finding abilities? There are hard facts to consider here, notably brain size, less than a third that of humans. But perhaps the best answer is to compare the icëlani to forest-dwelling human hunter-gatherers, such as those of the Rau jungle, Téllinor, or Curym. The latter all have complex languages, live in large and complex social groups, have domesticated animals, use fire, and create a much greater variety of tools and structures; above all, if their children are raised among civilized groups, they are culturally indistinguishable from them. None of this is true of icëlani.

Terms. Cuêzi agâsas 'hider'; Ver. icëlan, of uncertain origin; Caď. pinsa, Bar. pinzek, Ismaîn pîse, Flaidish pinse; Ax. mounez 'of Moun'; X. muney, Ṭeôši munep; Old Skourene geŋŋiaḷgirig ‘they hide themselves in the forest’; Elkarîl nupggud ‘forest imp’.