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By the early 1800s, despite each individual empire’s emphasis on cultivating national culture without external influences, commerce has still inevitably inspired union and integration in one way or another. The royal courts of China, Korea and Japan formally established the Four Elegant Accomplishments- artistic highlights chosen to represent the culture of East Asia, which are mainly the checker-style game of Go, calligraphy, painting and a stringed instrument called Guqin. Buddhism is integrated into indigenous religions of each nation, with the exception stricter Mongolians who persist with Tengrism and shamanism. Languages of all three dynasties see a greater similarity in writing and speech, but maintain important differences significant enough to separate.
The East India Company has been losing control over its commercial and trade monopoly steadily, with the British government regulating trade and labour, and increasing taxes. With more British nobility coming into direct contact with Indian traders and merchants, classicism, and colourism begins to re-define how people interact with each other in the courts, but there continues to be a superficial effort to maintain good relations with the Indian nobility.
North India is being ruled by Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, a poet and romantic at heart. He is rumoured to be more interested in poetry than in women, which is code for homosexual leanings. The Emperor and the nobility know of, and accept, homosexuality and bisexuality. Gender fluidity not only exists but thrives. All discussions of sexuality are conducted in whispers behind closed doors, and all affairs of the heart are behind a veil of secrecy. Social spaces—both public and private—are divided along the male-female binary, but this only makes gender fluidity not only common, but almost desired so that the binary can be traversed and transgressed at will. The Hijra identity thrives, as an in-between third gender, able to traverse the strict gender-divide. They are highly respected as advisors and strategists at court, as they are seen to be impartial because of their possession of both male and female characteristics.
The Mughal court is a haven for people belonging to different religions, and religious and cultural syncretism is encouraged. Since India has benefited economically and culturally from trade agreements with the Portuguese, Dutch, Arabs, and Persians as well as the British, the cuisine and fashion of the nobility reflect influences from these cultures in new flavours being introduced and different motifs in embroidery. It is not uncommon to see a geometric pattern inspired by Portuguese art entwined with Arabic calligraphy on tiles decorating a noble’s bedchamber, or a tulip added to a string of jasmine flowers adorning a lady’s hair which, in turn, is covered by a muslin veil decorated with embroidered paisleys. Favourite games include Chess, Polo, gilli-danda (a combination of cricket and baseball), kabaddi, and Carrom Board. British influence brings tennis, and squash, and the nobility also enjoys falconry, and hunting (mainly of local pheasants and deer).
Social interactions are governed by a caste system, similar to the British class system; upward mobility is possible through the acquisition of wealth or by making marriage contracts, but is generally frowned upon, creating social discord and a feeling of mistrust between “old money” and new-found wealth. There are divisions based on geography, religion, class/caste, gender, and wealth. Not every Indian will get along with other Indians, and may establish a deeper friendship with a British person based on a shared passion.
South India is not directly under Mughal rule and is divided into multiple Princely States. Afghanistan remains independent, with Afghan rulers benefitting from trade agreements and “right of passage” treaties struck with Britain and the Mughals. Some South Indian Princely States are ruled by women, creating matriarchal social systems.
The Twin Archipelago Empires
With the diversity of nations involved in the strongest trade settlement of Southeast Asia, the culture is varied and wholly international. The tributary system of China is not imposed, but it’s empire’s teachings are suffused into society. Confucianism influences the government of both kingdoms, but Malacca and Majapahit eventually lean differently, the former toward Islam and the latter reinforcing teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism. Courts are lavish, patriarchal and gender fluidity exists as a result of indigenous influence. Conservatism in terms of sexuality and gender still exist on part of the growing sect of Malacca’s subscription to Islam and may be limited in sacred spaces.
Socially, it is generally accepted and there are no strict customs against it. The seas are explored in ornate ships called kelulus, and the primary melee weapons wielded by soldiers are daggers with curved, wavy blades made to emulate the appearance of crashing waves. Lands are peppered with Buddhist temples, mosques, Christian holy sites. Some vassal states practice matriarchy as a result of local, indigenous traditions. While the Twin Archipelago Kingdoms have been in union for a long time, court intrigue between both empires and the ambassadors of visiting nations exists, which never quite allows both empires to truly integrate.
Strong influence from surrounding countries has made Danawan a diverse and culturally rich nation. As such, there is no organized religion, with people following whatever suits them best. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and tribal Animism are the most popular, although a few Christian villages do exist. The Southern Kingdom is mainly Muslim, while the Northern Kingdom is primarily Animistic, worshiping local deities known as diwata or anito.
With such a variety of cultures, multiple dialects are maintained. The most common are Tagalog and Visayan, which are taught by the comprehensive education system. It is standard for upper class members to know at least two foreign languages, while traders are known to speak even more. Ancient scripts such as baybayin are used to write, though the western alphabet has grown in popularity among academics.
A booming global trade system exists, covering nearly every continent. Balangay and bangka boats are used to traverse the long distances, although Western style ships are also in use. Complex farming terraces, worked with the aid of domesticated water buffalo known as carabao, produce a bounty of produce to be sold overseas. Mangoes and sugar are especially popular. Gold smithing, mining, beautiful pottery, and exotic feathers are also in high demand, fueled by foreign fashion markets.
With constant trade between so many countries, it does not come as a surprise that the people of Danawan happily embrace different cultures. While there is still strong national pride, citizens gladly welcome new imports, such as beadwork from the North Westlands, pottery from China, and bronze from West Africa. Local fashions take on a foreign flair with fabrics and jewelry from across the globe, while bellies are filled with both local goods (mangoes, coconuts, fresh fish, rice) and imported goods (corn, potatoes, wheat, apples). In turn, the industrious Danawanese people seek to share their own exports with the world. New movements such as the “Global Academy” program, and the sending of high ranking youth abroad, hope to further encourage cultural mixing for this long standing civilization.
The Sister Kingdoms get along well despite cultural differences. The Northern Kingdom of Tondo is ruled by Lakambinidilag, a shrewd matriarch known for her love of science and mythology, while the Southern Sultanate of Maguindanao is ruled by Sultana Melike Maka-alangt, a young woman with a sensitive heart and a love of reading. Muslim influence holds strong in the Southern Kingdom, with many devout followers. In accordance with Islam, many women choose to veil their hair, and most citizens follow the guidelines of what is halal and what is haram.
Meanwhile, in the Northern Kingdom, Empire law comes before religious rules. Indigenous knowledge is highly regarded, and many communities still employ shamans and perform traditional rituals. Despite these differences, there are also many similarities. People of all genders can hold power positions, and sexual freedom is enjoyed by all. The rulers work closely together and enjoy each other’s company, meeting once a week at the old border to discuss strategy and share a meal. Their main concerns are making the decisions that benefit the people of Danawan as a whole.