What is the History of the Redguards?

As we discussed last time, the Redguards arrived on Tamriel in waves, the Ra Gada warrior waves for which they are named, following the defeat of the Hiradirge in 1E 792. The Redguard carried with them a whole bunch of their heroes, and some of the biggest names in Redguard history are tied in with this event. Frandar Hunding and his son Divad are some of the biggest figures here. This, and the general habits of Redguard storytelling, meaning that we have a bit more of an extension of mythic times here. Redguard tales are often focused on singular individuals, and are often designed to establish the person the piece is about as someone of a worthy reputation, rather than necessarily give an accurate representation of history. The main text we had last time on Yokuda was called Redguards: Their History and Their Heroes. While that text was being designed for in-universe publication, it feels to me like the two are pretty much inseparable.

In particular, the Redguards, particularly the Crowns, have strived to maintain their own identity as distinct from Tamriel. This is clear when you look at how they treat heroes from their history interweaving things into their daily lives. This is particularly the case when you look at the Book of Circles, which is treated in a very specific way by the Redguards, according to A Compilation of Redguard History:

To adopt a new name, but to honor the past. In honor of their final battle, they named their new land Hammerfell and adopted the name Redguards. In honor to Hunding the great warrior prince, each household in Hammerfell has a place by the hearth an alcove really, just a niche, big enough to hold the scroll – The Book Circles.

There’s similar wording to that in the Hammerfell section of the New Emperor’s Guide to Tamriel, but not quite as explicit. Part of me thinks the ESO team has just paraphrased this. The practice of storing things in alcoves in the house for ritual purposes is common in many places in the real world, but in particular this is a similar practice to that of a real-world culture that has striven to remain set apart from those around them: the Jews. The treatment of the Book of Circles in this way reminds me of a passage from the book of Deuteronomy chapter 6, verses 6-9:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Keep that flavour in mind as we look at the rest of their history. Elements of the ancient Near East and the modern Middle East has permeated the Redguard aesthetic, and bits of their history.

The movement from Yokuda to Tamriel wasn’t one smooth transition; the Ra Gada was a multilayered thing. Some of them stopped at Herne, the bulk of the people if the First Edition of the Pocket Guide to the Empire is to be believed. If this were the case, we’d also expect the Crown lands of Hammerfell to be the most densely populated. The city distribution, with most in the south where the Crowns stayed, seems to support this, but we don’t have detailed enough figures on the population to see if that’s entirely the case.

The Redguards of Herne, if I can call them that for now, were also allegedly led there by Tava, and ESO’s Yokudan crafting motif notes that “the Tavans’ arms and armor are replete with bird imagery. This second wave primarily settled on the southern coast of Hammerfell, and almost three millennia later their structures can still be found jutting from the coastal dunes.” If you have a poke around southern Hammerfell in ESO around Hew’s Bane, there’s lots of bird architecture, literally jutting out from the dunes, as the quote says. My thanks to Ur-Quan on Twitter for digging those out for me. 

The Ra Gada who went straight on to Tamriel apparently landed at Hegathe, on the Westernmost tip of Hammerfell’s peninsula, and swept north from there. They slaughtered orcs and Bretons that they found there, although it seems they took over the cities they found there, rather than razing them to the ground and founding new ones. Even Sentinel was originally what seems to be a Direnni holding, as the book Sentinel, Jewel of the Alik’r says this:

Then Sentinel (for thus ever after was it known) already contained a port on its harbor, which port was the haunt of low Elves, and Men who did consort with Elves.

The same book claims that the initial conqueror of Sentinel, the Grandee Yaghoub, then kept a bunch of the inhabitants alive as slaves to build his palace in the city. This puts a bit of a lie to the idea that the Redguards simply invaded and wiped everyone out, which is what is claimed in some places, both in. There are a few other accounts that indicate that, as well as the invading armies, the Ra Gada settled in Hammerfell and didn’t wipe everyone out. The Nedic people of Hammerfell are no more, but there are suggestions that they were on their way out anyway, and the arrival of the Ra Gada simply hastened their demise. The first edition of the Pocket Guide to the Empire puts the Redguards’ ultimate success down to superior agricultural practices, rather than waging war.

However, this doesn’t quite jive with the timelines we know about Redguard expansion. Demographic changes and out-breeding takes multiple lifetimes, and there is a good amount of conquering that the Redguards do within two lifetimes. They are well-established across Hammerfell by the time goblins invade and are repelled by Divad, son of Frandar Hunding, who was part of the first wave of Ra Gada to arrive. So I have to assume that the Redguards also engaged in a fair amount of population culling as they arrived, and fairly rapidly.

This may also have something to do with one of the Redguard gods; while Tava supposedly led the Redguards that would become the Crowns to Herne for a while, the Hoon’Ding is suggested to be adriving force of the Redguard people as a whole. Varieties of Faith says that “The HoonDing has historically materialized whenever the Redguards need to ‘make way’ for their people”, and is linked to their mortal heroes. Diagna was supposedly an avatar of the Hoon’Ding before he was a god, fighting the Lefthanded Elves on Yokuda, and a forum post from Michael Kirkbride suggests that Ebonarm was something similar, although I personally feel like Ebonarm was too much of a Breton deity for it to be that. There is also the Hoon’Ding’s supposed presence during the Warrior Waves, although there’s not much detail on exactly what the Hoon’Ding did or was during that time. There’s the obvious phonetic connection between Frandar Hunding and the Hoon’Ding, which would have been the presence at the Warrior Wave. Some ESO contraband items equate the Hoon’Ding and Hunding as well, ascribing items with Hunding’s quotes to the Hoon’Ding. To me, the Hoon’Ding seems to be a role played, more than a god. If the Redguard people achieve something against foreign opposition because of someone’s actions, they are the Hoon’Ding made manifest. This is then something that can be celebrated, but is distinct from the Redguard pantheon. The Hoon’Ding itself is venerated, but some specific incarnations are remembered distinctly, while others are not.

However, the Hoon’Ding is, more than anything else, an expression of the Warrior Waves themselves. This seems to be the Redguards’ defining feature for a lot of things, and I just wanted to stop for a moment and consider that from a design perspective. This is one of those “sea changes” in the lore that happened between Daggerfall and everything else. The first two games present the Redguards as natives of Hammerfell, and have no mention of Yokuda. The earliest mention of Yokuda I can find is in The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard. That makes me think that it was inserted deliberately then to give the Redguards some additional background elements, although I’m not totally sure. It both gives them a past and takes it away from them, in the sense that Yokuda is suddenly there, and then gone again. However, it also pitches the Ra Gada as invaders, which is something that changes the narrative of people of colour into something different. I’m not particularly well-qualified to talk about the various types of African and African-American literature, but I think that what was attempted here was something akin to Afrofuturism. To give some context on the thought process behind this, we have this quote from Michael Kirkbride:

That said, when I started writing Redguard I really thought about how unique the black people of Tamriel were: they came in and kicked ass and slaughtered the indigenes while doing so. They invaded. It was the first time I had encountered the idea of “black imperialism”…and it struck me big time, as something 1) new, 2) potentially dangerous if taken as commentary, and 3) potentially rad if taken as commentary.

Who knows. AVault did say it had a story worthy of being on stage, and Michael Mack (Cyrus) once thanked me for giving him words that “Black folks don’t get to say” (referring to Cyrus’ speech and the reversal of Son to the Father)… which broke my heart and made me puff my chest all at the same time.

Some of the wording here is why I said I wasn’t sure about when Yokuda came about. Kirkbride was involved in the production of TESA: Redguard, but the way he writes about them here feels like the he wasn’t the one to come up with the idea of them invading, so it may predate TESA: Redguard to a degree.

But I regress. On to Afrofuturism!

Afrofuturism as a term was coined in an article called Black to the Future, written by Mark Dery in 1994. The key thing that stood out to me was this passage, which gets cited as a sort of definition for afrofuturism:

Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures? Furthermore, isn’t the unreal estate of the future already owned by the technocrats, futurologists, streamliners, and set designers ― white to a man ― who have engineered our collective fantasies?

Set against that sort of a background, Afrofuturism is an attempt to set that “unreal estate” in Africans’ and ex-Africans’ own terms. On one level I appreciate that the Redguards are another group of black people written by white men, and so isn’t exactly true or authentic Afrofuturism, but it also feels like an attempt to flip a colonial narrative on its head, and provide something like an Afrofuturist take. These are black people who are doing distinctly unusual things for black people, and ultimately setting their own destiny. Even the destruction of Yokuda was a destruction of their own making, rather than being forced upon them by an external force. If you listen to Mysterious Akavir, the text where the Asian analogues got eaten, it claims that “The Redguards destroyed Yokuda so they could make their journey”. That’s still all self-determination in their origins, which only really starts to change when you get to Tamriel.

The colonialist narrative remains to an extent, particularly in the narrative around the narrative of TESA: Redguard and the Crowns/Forebears distinction. Richton, one of the villains of the narrative, is a pretty obvious nod to colonial governors. This element started with the Reman empire deliberately enfranchising what would become the Forebears, giving them a role in the province’s governing council. Up until that point, the Na-Totembu ruled over Hammerfell, which carried on the previous divisions of Yokuda; the Sword-Singers, now become the Forebears, were separated out, and according to the first edition Pocket Guide to the Empire, couldn’t own land until Hammerfell conquered by Reman. The idea of an empire dividing indigenous people against each other by siding with one faction, typically weaker, which depends on them for support, is pretty common throughout real-world history.

Their relative weakness compared to the Crowns has been a feature of the Forebears throughout their history, although a formal distinction didn’t really happen until Reman’s conquest. Until then, I think we just have a faction that has had more time to assimilate into the local culture. The Forebears’ gods have a syncretic mix of Yokudan and Tamrielic deities, with Arkay called out as the most common point of assimilation. That’s also possibly important theologically, at least for the Crowns, as if you don’t follow Tu’wacca, you can’t complete the Walkabout correctly, and thereby return to the Far Shores. I haven’t seen much of an indication of this, but I would not be surprised if the Crowns considered the Forebears a lost people because they have forgotten their traditions.

Those traditions are also what give the Crowns their legitimacy, so it’s not really surprising that they cling to them. The Forebears are the ones who did the initial invasion, so it’s only if you appeal to an existing power structure that the Crowns have any real say in things at all. This could also be another reason that the Redguards cling to their traditions much more tightly than other people in Tamriel tend to. Although it’s also that those traditions are starkly different from those of Tamriel, and so you need to make an effort to maintain that cultural difference, particularly as the climate of Hammerfell is supposedly not as harsh as Yokuda. The practices of the culture to survive in the desert immediately become less necessary as a result.

The myths of the Redguards are also starkly different to those of Tamriel, and potentially more inclined to syncretism, that is the incorporation of other beliefs into the whole. In line with their tendency to venerate particular heroes, most of the Redguard gods are known for specific acts in the creation of the cosmos, and things they do for people, rather than what they are. Tu’whacca shows the way back to the Far Shores, Sep tricks people onto the skin-ball, Tall Papa creates all the gods, Diagna showed them Orichalcum, Tava led them to Herne, and so on. It’s a much more active form of creation than most Tamrielic deities, except for the Altmeri, interestingly. Syrbane, Phynaster and similar are all deified ancestors for specific actions, in the same way as the Redguards are. I’m not sure that the Redguards would appreciate the comparison, but it’s there.

One element of the gods that you will see in the community is the idea of a “god of too many gods”, the idea that the Redguards have a god for everything. I’ve yet to see a precise source on this, but their general mythology supports the idea; lots of small deities filing small niches, rather than having the pared down eight or ten. I have yet to find a precise source to support this, so it may be a prevalent fan idea, but it’s one I really like. It changes the perception of reality for the culture, from one that is mechanical to one that is very much mystical. This is another strand in Afrofuturist fiction, that you’ll find spirituality much more commonly in these forms of fiction than you will in more Western forms of science fiction. The Redguards see the gods’ actions everywhere, so it’s entirely possible that there are little gods running everything.

And on that note, I think I need to stop here. Even with the additional week, I’ve not had enough time to research all the ground that I want to cover. I’ll be looking further into other aspects of Redguard culture next time, covering sword-singing in a bit more depth, a recap of where the Redguards came from and some of their history since the Reman Empire, and possibly some bits about the invasion again. We’ve not even mentioned the goblins yet.

Until then, this podcast remains a letter written in uncertainty.

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