Denizens of the Expanse
While foreigners, especially ignorant explorers from Avistan, often group the humans of the Mwangi Expanse as a single people—the Mwangi—this classification is both right and wrong at the same time. As a political unit, the people of the Mwangi Expanse tend to have more in common with each other than outsiders, yet that’s not the same as being one unified people. In fact, most locals recognize four distinct ethnic groups of humans within the Mwangi Expanse, and within those broad divisions are thousands of isolated tribes and villages with their own individual histories and practices. Of course, it’s widely believed that all four groups descend from some ancient pan-Mwangi human ethnic group now lost to time except for the shadowed ruins scattered across thousands of miles of jungle and plain, but mentioning this to individuals of a particular ethnicity may evoke any number of responses, including violence.
Bonuwat: The ethnic group most commonly encountered by foreigners is the straight-haired and swarthy Bonuwat people who dwell largely along the Mwangi coastline, north of Desolation Cape, and throughout the Shackles, as well as in the fallen nations of the Sodden Lands and portions of southern Rahadoum. Relying heavily upon the sea for their livelihood—and having myths of being related by blood to ancient seafarers from beyond the Fever Sea—they tend to worship a combined aspect of Gozreh and Desna known as Shimye-Magalla. Broken into many competing clans, they often adopt other gods as lesser, personal divinities and just as often draw upon famous ancestors for the same role. They often favor colorful vests and pantaloons, as is common among many seafarers, and take great pride in being people of the sea, holding that even those Bonuwat found inland were likely conceived in a boat.
Bekyar: Also dwelling along the Garundi coastline, primarily throughout Sargava, Desolation Cape, and portions of the Shackles and the Sodden Lands, the Bekyar people are poorly understood beyond their reputation for brutality toward outsiders. Exceedingly tall, with wiry hair and a cultural flair for flamboyant, sometimes grotesque attire and personal decoration such as extensive piercing and scarring, the Bekyar wallow in the slave trade and openly worship fiends, primarily Angazhan, Dagon, and Zura. Pejoratively called “flesh-merchants” by other Mwangi peoples, they nonetheless find extensive business with less scrupulous Avistani merchants, such as the Aspis Consortium and all others who turn a blind eye to their bloodthirsty religious habits and their methods of slave acquisition.
Mauxi: More distantly related to the other Mwangi ethnicities and often denying any connection at all, the Mauxi people long ago migrated away from their original homelands in the northern and central reaches of the Expanse. Tall, with ash-gray skin and straight, lighter colored hair, the Mauxi people abandoned their roots under the cultural influence of the people of northern Garund, primarily the Thuvians— with whom they heavily interbred—and their former imperial masters, the Osirians. Most Mauxi today dwell in Thuvia and Rahadoum, having adopted the Osiriani tongue and many of that nation’s cultural trappings, though some younger Mauxi yearn to return to their roots and rediscover their cultural heritage farther south. The original motive for their northward migration remains a historical mystery, but some scholars, including a minority of Mauxi sages, believe it to be linked to their origins within an original Mwangi progenitor culture and to the events following its collapse during the Age of Anguish.
Zenj: The most common people encountered by adventurers within the Mwangi interior, the shorter and darker-skinned Zenj people are broadly divided between jungle- and savanna-dwelling tribes. Two major differences exist between the groups, as the savanna tribes live a seminomadic, matriarchal lifestyle, while the patriarchal jungle tribes tend to be more settled and territorial. Still, though these differences are large enough that the two groups tend to only intermarry and form political alliances among their own group, the two factions remain on generally friendly terms. Both groups practice ancestor worship and a shamanistic tradition focused on the use and worship of totems, though the Zenj of the jungle defer to dark and mysterious witchdoctors, and the savannah tribes follow the more transparent leadership of female shamans. Among the hundreds or thousands of Zenj tribes that dot the interior, those best documented by foreigners include the Tirakici of the eastern Mwangi jungle, the cannibalistic Kybwa’ka tribe east of Lake Ocota, the Rumawa crocodile totemists of the northern jungles, and the ancient Jambala Jaeg tribe, destroyed by the followers of Angazhan.
Other Humans: In addition to the native Mwangi people, in the past 6 centuries the Expanse has seen an increasing tide of human migration from various foreign sources, primarily the Shackles, the Sodden Lands, the former Chelish colony of Sargava, and most recently the Aspis Consortium’s beachhead port of Bloodcove. Beyond these recent immigrant populations, the Expanse’s experience with foreign human populations dates back much earlier, including periodic contact via trade and invasion with the Garundi people of Osirion and Katapesh, and far earlier, contact with the ancient Azlanti and an unknown seafaring race from the far west or south, the details of which are still historically hazy.
Dwarves: Among the civilized humanoid races, the dwarves of the Mwangi are something of an oddity compared to their kind elsewhere across the continent of Garund. Within the Expanse, two primary groups of dwarves coexist, with virtually no contact between them and considerably different cultural habits. The first group, the Mbe’ke dwarves of the Terwa Uplands, are the most traditional of their kind, dwelling in relatively large villages of several hundred individuals, and rumors place at least one intact Sky Citadel somewhere along the poorly mapped border between the Mwangi Expanse and the Shackles peninsula. The second group, the Taralu dwarves of the eastern Mwangi jungles, long ago abandoned many of their cultural roots; many have migrated (or fled) from their original homelands within the mountains of the Shattered Range, where their former cities now lie abandoned and in ruins. The Taralu living in the jungles practice a version of ancestor worship alongside the worship of totems based on local creatures, particularly dragons and wyverns, both of which they consider holy creatures. Generally friendly with other races and even outsiders, the jungle dwarves have a small but notable presence within the city of Kibwe, and they maintain a reputation as trustworthy guides among foreign explorers and adventurers.
Elves: The largest non-human population within the Expanse, the Mwangi elves likely represent all that remain of an ancient elven nation that once reigned over much of the northern jungles, though tangible evidence of the true extent of its power remains undiscovered. Indeed, much modern knowledge comes from the subjective legends of the elves themselves. Normally the accuracy of such an oral history would be questioned, since most of the jungle elves keep no written records, but their long lifespans and the relatively small differences between the histories of different tribes seem to indicate a strong thread of truth. Mwangi elves tend to live in small tribes, often comprising no more than a hundred individuals, with limited interaction between them all except when an external threat forces them to unite (many of those ancient tales refer to a “great darkness” their ancestors defeated but did not destroy). Much of the elves’ current history relates to their cooperation against new threats: the Ekujae tribes of the western Mwangi fight a brutal insurgency against the Aspis Consortium and once razed the fortified Consortium outpost of Nightfall Station to the ground; the Kallijae tribes of the northwestern jungles fight to contain the northward expansion of the apes of Usaro; the Alijae of the northern jungles are largely concerned with continuing centuries of on-again, off-again warfare against lizardfolk and boggard tribes and aggressively protecting the ruins of the lost city of Nagisa from foreign explorers.
Halflings: Half lings have lived within the Mwangi Expanse for as long as humanity, and early explorers from the north occasionally mistook them for a race of pygmy humans. Mwangi halflings generally live within the jungles and are culturally identical to the Zenj tribes dwelling in close proximity to them, worshiping the same gods and totems. Within the Kaava Lands, however, the myriad tribes of halflings that inhabit the jungle interior and the northern coast of Desperation Bay differ markedly from their cousins in both culture and temperament. Savage and territorial even toward other halfling tribes, the Kaava halflings worship Zura and Lamashtu and treasure the preserved and posthumously tattooed heads of outsiders. The largest population of Kaava halflings, the Hazh’a tribe, dwells within the ruined city of Mbaiki, culling the inhabitants of the surrounding jungles for sacrifices to Zura and periodically mounting assaults on plains-dwelling Zenj tribes. A third group of Mwangi half lings have recently arrival from the west, migrating from the Shackles as its pirate lords’ power increases, and many of them are former pirates themselves. These are joined by escaped Sargavan halfling slaves imported from Cheliax. These recent arrivals, though often viewed as outsiders or even non-half lings by their own kind from the jungles, often find a place for themselves among the Bonuwat boat people along the Mwangi coastlines and dwell in rising numbers within the Aspis-dominated port of Bloodcove.
Gnomes: Within the Mwangi Expanse, gnomes appear primarily within its western reaches, existing as a diaspora population, many having fled the lost and inundated kingdoms of Yamasa and Lirgen in the Sodden Lands. As such, their communities are often in a state of frequent migration, living alongside but apart from the various human and wild elf tribes in the western jungles. When they do settle in a more permanent fashion—though still semi-nomadic— they often live in close association with humans of Mauxi descent, filling societal roles similar to those of gnomes in Osirion-inf luenced Thuvia. But regardless, Mwangi gnomes have an old history within the Expanse that predates their migration from the west, and were it widely known among the other races, this history might cause the gnomes to be shunned. For deep within the Mwangi jungle, there exists a city-state of gnomes whose minds and bodies have been warped over the centuries by dark, unnamed forces. These are referred to by the Zenj people as morakilae, or “jungleghosts,” but others use the more common name—spriggans. The people of the jungle avoid the spriggans’ land as a cursed, taboo place. Secretive in the extreme, the spriggans avoid outside contact except when it comes to gnomes, whom they frequently abduct and attempt to forcibly convert into spriggans, swelling their own ranks.