The Ton are a human ethnic group originating in the fertile wetlands filling Taifen’s narrow middle, located directly on Canno’s equator. During prehistory they lived as fishermen and hunter-gatherers in the Ton-Ga Bogs. The abundant plant and wildlife ensured that they had no need for agriculture–not to mention making it downright dangerous!–and the early Ton tribes developed a taste for ample free time.
They put it to use working copper and later bronze; iron they scorned because of its tendency to rust beyond use in the humid haze of the wetland summers, despite ample bog-iron supplies in several Ton heartlands and early meetings with iron-equipped Tresar showing the element’s merits.
The early Ton were separated into close-knit tribes, living on stilt-houses or shallow-water docks meticulously sealed with two forms of clay which hardened rock-solid when mixed and moisturized, while remaining light enough to float. This prevented smaller wildlife from infiltrating Ton homes, kept out the heavy spring and fall rains, and prevented sudden belches of bog-gas from poisoning families through the floors.
Despite their equatorial living conditions, the Ton were and are horribly pallid. Incredibly dense trees and undergrowth, bog gases which regularly blot out the sun, and an early love for caves as watertight and easy to keep vermin out of, have bleached them to the point where they’re physically incapable of tanning, and sunburn with alarming speed.
In those days the Ton embraced a peculiar marriage custom: any siblings of the appropriate age and sex at the time of a marriage were added to it. The groom’s family sent all eligible men, and the bride’s all eligible women. No scholar, Ton or otherwise, has found writings to explain this, perhaps because the Ton of the time depended on oral traditions.
One theory suggests this was meant to maintain social order in the bogs as ample food but sparse living space led to frequent overpopulation, and having unmarried, jealous siblings floating around could cause all kinds of problems. How, for example, a nine-way marriage composed of three brothers and three sisters respectively could possibly cause anything other than mass bloodshed has never been answered.
Otherwise, most Ton villages kept to themselves, and their members went out of their way to avoid offending one another. A few surviving villages speak of other tribes who forbid speaking certain words for the bad feelings they caused, or doing anything in a household without asking everyone’s permission. This seems touchy to the modern Ton, divorced from their ancestors’ ways. Historians point out that most crimes at the time meant exile into the bogs and an excruciating death by exposure, disease or malicious beasts beneath dark trees, just to name a few “options.”
First contact with explorers from the Ansethi changed the Ton’s priorities, particularly after these smaller, dark-skinned foreigners demanded that the Ton give fealty to an unheard-of empire. Though shorter in stature, the Ansethi brought with them the world’s first professional armies and steel weapons enchanted against rust, as well as the first of the Noble Steels, emerald-steel, named for its hardness and a very slight green tint.
Hostilities broke out; though the Ansethi prevailed in the early battles, the Ton rallied and formed a large coalition to drive out the invaders. The Ansethi were also devastated by tropical diseases and run-ins with the local wildlife, including the Lungworm, Knifestail Snake, and the now-infamous rumon tree, which drops thrashing, venomous barbs when its trunk is shaken. They did not make another military expedition for centuries, and found the Ton much changed when they did.
Based on captured documents and the testimony of Ansethi prisoners, the Ton began experimenting with metallurgy, agriculture, and specially-built fortresses at shallow points in the wetlands. Their class system mutated and complicated, elevating warriors and craftsmen above the rest of the community so long as they practiced their trade dutifully. The beginning of the Ton warrior mythos emerged, and Ton men and women armed with the first steel weapons in their society tested themselves against the animals around them as well as each other.
The second Ansethi invasion of ten thousand soldiers was met twenty miles inland from its landing site by a well-trained (though loosely organized) force of twenty thousand Ton warriors. The battle ended in a bloody stalemate; both forces lost around half their number, which the Ton rightly regarded as a victory considering the greater experience and coordination of their enemies.
Over the next two hundred years, the Ton expanded and fought the Ansethi, sometimes winning and just as often crushed. But as the Ton moved further from their ancestral homeland, their people began to lose their sense of unity. While still closing ranks against the Ansethi, they came to identify with the families of their individual leaders rather than as one people.
Ton culture began a mass shift from hunter-gathering to agriculture and city-building in the years before the Age of Splendors. Tribal leaders became warlords, and then princes, finally queens and kings.
The warrior class became hereditary and soldierly service became a civic duty for the rest. Steel usurped copper and bronze, then the Ton themselves developed sapphire-steel, which supplanted all. Spearfighters went from unarmored to wearing some of the heaviest and most ornate on Canno, and archers became revered for their accuracy and killing power. Then the Loar came.
After shattering the population of the Eastern continent, the Loar assault swept over the whole of Canno. Even on the opposite side of the world, the Ton were dragged into the war, and suffered greatly in hand-to-hand combat. But with no choices beyond victory or death, they fought on.
Suddenly the last of the Gaunt Ones fell, and the Ton stood taller than most in the War’s aftermath. They fought the Loar further from the invaders’ center of power, and so their losses were not quite so grievous as those of others.
The modern Ton are a highly complex society organized around matrilineal families. The old marriage custom died during the Loar War, but its echo lives on to the present. Like most peoples, the Ton lost too many of their women to Loar death squads. The remainder usually took as many husbands as possible to help hold the survivors together. After the first few generations the population evened out, and most families became monogamous again.
The Ton have taken to stocks more strongly than any culture besides Temana. Despite the Ton belief that a Matriarch’s womb combines the virtues of all her husbands, most Matriarchs take care to have at least one purebred warstock daughter. Warstock Ton women are the tallest on Canno, with very few under six feet; by contrast, warstock Ton men are slightly shorter than average, usually between five foot seven and five foot nine.
Aside from height, the Ton warstock’s distinguishing physical features are relatively full cheeks, smooth, gently curved noses, slanted eyes, and fine dark hair with a few redheads.
The lead Ton woman of a family goes by the title “Matron” no matter her age; only the ruler of a House may call herself Matriarch. Each Matriarch straddles a range of possible expressions. Some prefer to lead the house by martial prowess, others by masterful political maneuvers, economic initiatives, or even vicariously through the best of their children.
The martially-inclined become feared warriors and cunning generals; for these childbirthing begins at the age of fourteen and continues until four children, at least one a woman, survive to strengthen the dynasty. Socially-adept Matriarchs devise elaborate rituals based on music and dance to express authority within the house. Canny choices allow them to elevate favorites or put rivals in their places, with choreography as the excuse and the method both.
Among many other customs, the Ton believe no tool is so simple as to be complete without art. If a toolmaker wishes to produce a hammer, he must either embellish it with engravings or imagery, or make its every line so beautiful, its handling so perfect, its head so strong, that these things become art in themselves. This custom easily gets out of hand, and even some Ton have to wonder if a shovel engraved with tossed-earth imagery isn’t a waste of everyone’s time and money.
Aping their Matriarchs, many Ton subcultures use dance and music as a means to structure society, and this in turn gives musicians far more influence in Ton society than one would suspect. A talented songstress can make or break fortunes by deciding who sits closer to her, and some nobles have started feuds by insisting their rivals take the most embarrassing parts of certain dances.
The majority of Ton Houses worship the same pantheon, beginning with the goddess Enlai, the South-mother, representing matriarchs both as women and as rulers. Her exact depiction changes from House to House, sometimes robed, sometimes armored, sometimes loving, sometimes wrathful, but she’s always a tall, starkly beautiful woman grasping the long, heavy “reaping spear” reserved for Ton Matriarchs and Matriarchs-to-be. Each of her four husbands encompasses several aspects of Ton culture:
Shien, shaggy-haired but clean-shaven, potbellied but strong-armed, his shirt sleeveless, his trousers hiked up, clasps a bowl of skinned eels, fruits, and (since the Age of Splendors) grains. Shien represents Ton foragers, hunters, and farmers, as well as bakers, cooks, and the others who feed their fellow Ton.
Tumi, with his thoughtful expression, spectacles or goggles, hammer and toolbelt, represents every form of Ton craftsperson. His robes are always stained in oils and grease, sawdust and grit, but lovingly-made and free of damage. He’s particularly revered among the Ton’s architects, who are forever at war with soft ground, water intrusions and aggressive plant or animal-life when building against the Bogs, and the members of House Lin, whose wealth and prestige come from their early monopoly on sapphire-steel.
Rai is both the most widely beloved of Enlai’s husbands and the most frustrating for sculpters; in all his incarnations he dances, robes swirling around his slippered feet, playing a reed flute or strumming the thick-bellied guitar treasured at Ton celebrations. He represents artists, entertainers–including prostitutes and other kinds of companion–and free spirits, though there are few enough of the last among the Ton.
Intei is the war-god, dour, hard-faced, leaner and taller than any of the others save Enlai herself, and always said to be her favorite husband. Obviously enough, he represents all forms of Ton warrior. More subtly, he represents spies, ambassadors, and mages. He always carries his “twin” spears, one an eight-foot Tonnish war-spear, the other a four-foot throwing spear, and wears a heavy suit of lamellar with a plumed helm in his left hand.
Theoretically, every warstock Ton woman has the right to as many husbands as she may entice, but only Matriarchs or exceptionally powerful, wealthy or attractive women are likely to have more than one. This frequently causes friction between a Matriarch and her daughters; many Matriarchs start birthing very young, and aren’t yet in their thirties by the time they finish.
Their fully-refined womanhood often shames the teenage awkwardness of their daughters before suitors, with resentment sure to follow. A number of Ton plays, both tragedies and comedies, revolve around the struggle between a group of Ton women for a particularly choice man.
There are four major sub-ethnic groups among the Ton, delineated by region. While any given subgroup’s customs, clothes and architecture may pop up among the others, each likes some things better and other things… well, less so.
The Northern Ton were forced into a leading role against the Loar by mere fact it was their land the Loar first attacked! Their mage-talent runs particularly sparse from Loar culling, but families carrying it show it frequently, and with alarming strength.
Their struggles against the Loar inspired an especially stringent warrior ethos; if anything, many Northern Ton warriors need to taught to train a little less hard. Houses Lin and Sairo are particularly infamous for the strictness warstock mothers show their children. In House Lin, this frequently borders on cruelty.
A long history of violent conquest has hardened the Northern Ton. By seizing farmland emptied in the Loar’s genocidal onslaught, the Northern Ton ultimately came to have half again the numbers of their closest rivals, the Central Ton. Because they’re the only Ton most peoples in the two non-Tonnish thirds of Taifen will ever meet, the harsh Northern Ton have given their entire ethnic group a fearsome reputation with the rest of the continent.
Their customs, foibles and flaws also tend to overwhelm perceptions in other nations, especially Tresamer. Northern Ton garb is dominated by richly patterned color-coordinated robes, with varying layers of other clothing depending on context, taste and weather.
The Central Ton are comparatively tame by Ton standards; their inland location and the dense ravines, caves and fire-resistant bog flora of their heartlands made them especially obnoxious to hunt. Besides this, the Central Ton initially lacked the warrior spirit of the other groups, which may have convinced the Loar they were best left to be slaughtered after final victory.
Thus the Loar focused more on other groups, leaving the Central Ton second highest in numbers and with more of their ancestors’ customs intact. The Central Ton favor shorter, sleeveless robes or–to the other Ton’s horror!–shirts and vests, supplemented with light, tight limb-wrappings which make moving in the dense (and frequently venomous!) environment of the bogs easier.
The Coastal Ton, comprising populations on both the east and west coasts of Taifen and strips of land connecting the two, are the most progressive due to their nautical links with wider Canno. They’re also the wealthiest and most technologically developed, though sparse living space and a relative lack of local metal have hampered them militarily. The Coastal Ton are by far the smallest (major) subgroup, with only about a quarter the numbers of the Southern Ton. They wear sleeveless robes or shirts and baggy pants, with various forms of jacket for sailing in bitter seas.
The Southern Ton are the most conservative, least technologically advanced, and least militarily effective. They were most numerous just after the Loar War, but quickly fell behind other groups for want of good farmland. It might have something to do with their isolation from the rest of Canno, but an outlander would be foolish to mention it: killing mouthy foreigners is legal in many Southern Ton houses.
They disdain the various robes of other Ton houses for heavy, lovingly stitched shirts, coats, jackets, and pants trimmed with furs. Their territory starts in the last stretch of the ancestral Ton bogs, and ends in the final vaguely-temperate bits of southernmost Taifen. Past the Southern Ton are only disunified tribespeople, struggling drybed citystates, and a driven handful of fisherfolk and hunters who ply the waters between Taifen and The White Nothing.
The last fifth or so of the Ton population comprises holdover tribes clinging to their ancestors’ ways in the bogs, remnants of houses shattered in the Loar War, and other subcultures who live some mix of the four regional models.
Regardless where they live, modern Ton spend more time fighting each other than anyone else. Perhaps a few aspire to the unity of the past; most are too busy dodging spears.
(More from Canno)