Orc Society: A Study in Contrasts and Assumptions
For many years it was thought that orcs lived in highly stratified societies with a dominant patriarchal authority structure and submissive, possibly oppressed, females. However recent inquiries have proved otherwise. Encounters with individual orcs on trading expeditions and in the merchant district of Land’s End have revealed an unexpectedly complex culture of give and take within the orc’s mountain strongholds.
It has always been highly unusual to find any great number of orcs outside of their underground kingdoms. In fact for many years it was very rare to find orcs abroad in the Unclaimed Lands at all. In conversations with Shelnak, the owner of the Happy Orc Bakery I have learned that this is simply because of the sheer length of time required to establish their cavernous realms.
In conversations with Shelnak and other orcs over the course of the last year I have only begun to scratch the surface of orc culture. However I will relate here what I have learned so far.
Roles of Males and Females in Orc Society
Previous to now it was believed that male orcs held the dominant position and females the subservient position in orc society. It was believed that male orcs were traditionally responsible for all of the heavy work including defense, mining, smelting and anything heavier than cooking and cleaning. This is, as it turns out, quite untrue.
This mistake, I believe, stems from the fact that it was very rare for anyone entering an orc stronghold to ever see a female orc. In reality it is the female orcs who hold the places of highest esteem in their society. This is for several reasons, the most material of which is that the females are the ones who construct and maintain their underground dwellings. Anyone who has ever had the honor to be conducted through their realms knows what a great mistake it is to call them such things as “caves” or “mines.” They are in fact, great kingdoms carved from the living stone; kingdoms to rival the population and size of all the free cities of the east.
There is a great tradition of female orcs learning to work stone that dates back to the beginning of the Second Age when the folk wrested control of their homelands from the Enemy. It was, and still is, the male orcs who were trained in the ways of war and so it was they who with the aid of the other folk drove the Enemy’s forces from their homelands. The females were left behind to repair and rebuild the devastation that had been wrought on their kingdoms.
Shelnak related to me the stores that survive from this time. They are few and contain fewer details but the themes remain consistent. The forces of the Enemy occupied the orc kingdoms and turned their efforts not to caving them in but to destroying the great beauty that had been made there. They chipped away the carvings on the cavern walls, turned the elegant supporting arches and buttresses into twisted mockeries and destroyed as much of the defensive capabilities as they could while extracting minerals in the dirtiest ways possible. What was left behind when the Enemy retreated were desolate caves of scarred stone and abused rock filled with dust and smoke.
It was the female orcs who had to salvage their homes and crops before the winter. They were the ones who took up hammer and chisel to restore their kingdoms habitability. They were the ones who turned the orcish kingdoms to what we know today. The greatest example of their work can be seen in the supporting pillars and buttresses. In the First Age those supporting features were massive and solid things that spoke of stability through all the seasons to come. After the end of the Occupation in the beginning of the Second Age those same pillars and buttresses had been carved into twisted, misshapen parodies of their former state and were likely to collapse in the slightest tremor. After the orcs had finished restoring their homes the pillars and buttresses had been transformed into those we are familiar with today; lacy, delicate structures that seem too weak to support any great weight. Yet they have remained intact through the ages despite a number of serious earthquakes.
It is for this great accomplishment that the female orcs are so greatly revered by their males. This is the origin of orcish culture as we know it today. The females are considered to hold authority over everything involving stone while the males, because of their knowledge of the arts of war and the crafting of metals, hold authority over everything involving metals. Unfortunately information regarding orcish culture in the First Age is a very closely held secret ad not spoken of to outsiders.
Roles and Division of Labor
Because the two genders hold authority over different aspects of life there is also a well defined division of labor. While this might not seem obvious at first to those of us from the other species it is fairly easy to follow once the main themes are grasped. The females, because of their close bond to stone, are in charge of building and maintaining the delvings. The males are responsible for defending them.
Yet there are many areas where those roles overlap. In the building of defensive features females and males work cooperatively. The same is true for the mining of ores, though not of precious gems. Farming and herding take place outside of the delvings and so fall under the authority of the males except when stone structures such as irrigation and fencing might be required.
The best way to understand who has authority is to remember that within the delvings the females hold sway except in cases when defense or the mining of ores is involved. In those cases the males and females cooperate, though in the case of mining the females are on a slightly higher footing because the mines can have an effect on the structural stability as a whole. Outside of the delvings the males are in authority because everything is considered to fall under the category of defense. Farming and herding are also under the authority of the males because they take place outside of the delving. When such features as irrigation and fencing are required the females are the ones who construct them, but they do so in cooperation with and under the guard of the males.
This aspect of defense is where most of the misconceptions about orc society originate. Except for a very few cases any female outside of the delvings is considered to be under the protection of the males. The same is true when outsiders are allowed into the delving; it becomes a matter of defense. In those circumstances the females are highly deferential to the males, when they are seen at all. The few exceptions are where a female declares herself independent and goes out into the world alone. It is a highly unusual occurrence and when the female encounters male orcs she usually has to reassert her independence before they will stop trying to protect her.
What few outsiders are able to observe is the deep and almost religious respect and reverence the males hold for the females. In the presence of outsiders they rarely show their deep feelings of love and friendship, keeping their interactions very formal.
- ► 2005 (18)