October 9, 2010

Epic Feasts in Hari Ragat

The Vijadesan people find many occasions to hold feasts (who doesn’t love a feast?), but feasts in this milieu are not just about eating and drinking, they’re about creating and affirming social bonds and establishing prominence.  In other words, feasts in Hari Ragat have a political aspect.

In game terms, you can throw a feast to gain Honor, though at the risk of losing Honor if your guests find your feast inadequate.  Contributing to another character’s feast also gains Honor, though not as much as throwing the feast yourself.

For the GM, a feast creates an interesting and different role-playing challenge for the players as they navigate the maze of Vijadesan honor codes.

Dominance and Honor
A feast is an opportunity for the host to prove his wealth and prestige, which in turn determine the size of one’s following.  Feasts are thus a way to advertise the benefits of becoming your follower or ally, and a politely veiled challenge to your rivals. 

The various traditions observed during a feast also carry implicit messages, and your guests will react according to these whether the message was intended or not.  A feast is a very serious matter, as one’s actions during it and even leading up to it can easily create conflicts over honor.

Refusing an invitation without good reason is a mild insult to the host of a feast.  Outrightly rejecting an invitation with contempt is grounds for a duel, or even war!

Offering Betel Chew
All guests expect to be welcomed with a twist of betel nut chew, and to be offered the same again at the end of the meal.

Moreover as a sign of respect and true welcome, the betel should be offered by someone of rank reasonably near to the guest’s, preferably a member of the host’s own household.  Sending betel to a high-ranked guest via a slave or low-ranked freeman is an insult.

Refusing a guest betel chew is a bald statement that the guest is unwelcome; any man shamed in this way after being invited is expected to immediately challenge the host to a duel!

If a free, unmarried maiden offers a man betel chew, it’s a sign she wants his attention.  Betel is normally served by slaves or followers to the lower-ranked guests, and by the lady of the house to the high-ranked guests.  If the host has no wife to do this task, he gets a relative or friend of more or less his rank to do it.

Combined with the previously mentioned custom of considering betel refused as an insult, a man wishing to cause trouble at a feast may deliberately ask betel from the host’s daughter, knowing she will refuse him, and thus use it as grounds to call out the host.

Gifts for the Host
Every guest is expected to bring  a gift for the host, according to their station.  A farmer is expected to bring little more than some fruit or a chicken,  but a warrior or datu is of course expected to give much more.

The host or one of his household must formally thank each guest for their gift, with the host personally receiving the gifts of the higher-ranked guests.

It is a mortal insult to the guest for the host or his representative to refuse to accept their gift.  One possible dodge to this, which however does not always work, is to immediately give an undesired gift to another guest.

Guests may also end up insulting each other when they compare gifts, as sometimes a guest will be shamed by another calling him niggardly with a gift that’s too poor, or accusing him of currying favor with the host with a gift that’s too rich.

Offering the Host’s Cup
It’s considered a special honor for a guest to be invited to drink from the host’s own cup.  However, this is only done if the guest is the host’s social equal or inferior, and connotes the guest being indebted to the host.

For example, a Rajah may offer anyone a drink from his cup, as  he outranks everyone else; but a Datu should only offer his cup to those who rank beneath him, and so on.

This custom can be an incendiary to the fiercely proud datus, as many will consider themselves to be of far higher rank than others.

Peace and Protection
The host of a feast guarantees all his guests his personal protection while they are in his care.  Anyone who harms a guest is answerable to the host.  Similarly, every guest is honor-bound to defend his host’s person, family, followers and property while he’s there.

Guest Ranks
Who’s the highest-ranked person attending your feast? Your character’s rank in society can be gauged by who he can invite and expect to attend.  If you’re important enough for the Rajah to come over, you’re definitely somebody. 

In game terms, the amount of Honor you’ll gain from throwing a feast is influenced by the rank of the highest-ranked guest attending. On the other hand if it’s known that you invited a high-ranking personage and that personage snubbed you, you lose Honor.

How many can you provide for at your feast?  A truly great hero is expected to invite the entire community and even representatives from neighboring communities. 

Moreover your character’s followers, family and friends are expected to contribute to your feast.  It defrays expenses, and the amount of food and drink contributed is yet another sign of how high your standing is in the community.

Your prestige is tied to the food and drink you serve at your feast, the manner in which you serve it, and the entertainment you offer your guests.  The more lavish these are, the higher your standing. 

Like any other culture, the Vijadesans consider certain items to be ‘prestige’ foods.  Rice is a prestige food; it’s harvested only once a year, and it can’t be grown just anywhere unlike the yams and plantains that are the daily staple of most folk.

Meat too is considered prestige food, especially beef, as killing a cow or buffalo deprives you of its valuable labor.  Serving game does not connote wealth the way serving beef does, but putting out a whole roast boar or buffalo that you hunted yourself makes a statement about your prowess your guests cannot miss.

There is also a division between ‘common’ and ‘prestige’ beverages.  Palm wine is considered common, while rice wine is prestigious.

Finally, expect your guests to carefully evaluate the wares and tables the food is served on, the mats you furnish for your guest to sit on, and the dancers, musicians and bards you bring in to entertain them. 

The ultimate in prestige is to be able to serve everyone on fine porcelain – an item that cannot be made in the islands and is thus imported at great expense – or on chased brassware.  The tables on which the food is laid – at least for the high-ranked guests – should be of fine hardwoods, varnished to a sheen and intricately inlaid with tortoiseshell or mother of pearl, and so on.

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