What Happened to Yokuda?

The Redguards came to Tamriel from Yokuda, having amassed a lot of history in their native continent, so I think we need to start there. The earliest arrival of the Ra Gada Warrior Waves onto the shores of Tamriel is 1E 808, if you believe the Pocket Guide to the Empire, Third Edition, which roughly checks out with what we know. There were allegedly several waves, which may mean some confusing things for the sinking of Yokuda, and it may not. We’ll get to that a little later.

Despite a lot of aesthetic references to North African Moorish architecture, the history of the Yokudans mirrors that of feudal Japan more than anything else. This is probably the only occasion where you’ll catch me saying that The Elder Scrolls maps directly onto real-world cultures. It’s probably easier here if I quote directly from the book Redguards, History and Heroes, and point out things afterwards:

The traditional rule of emperors had been overthrown in 2012, and although each successive emperor remained the figurehead of the empire, his powers were very much reduced. Since that time, our people saw 300 years of almost continuous civil war between the provincial lords, warrior monks and brigands, all fighting each other for land and power. Our people once were artisans, poets, and scholars, but the ever evolving strife made the way the sword inevitable – the song of the blade through the air, through flesh and bone, its ring against armor: an answer to our prayers.

In the time of Lord Frandar the first Warrior Prince, lords called Yokeda built huge stone castles to protect themselves and their lands, and castle towns outside the walls begin to grow up. In 2245, however, Mansel Sesnit came to the fore. He became the Elden Yokeda, or military dictator, and for eight years succeeded in gaining control of almost the whole empire. When Sesnit was assassinated in 2253,a commoner took over the government. Randic Torn continued the work of unifying the Empire which Sesnit had begun, ruthlessly putting down any traces of insurrection. He revived the old gulf between the warriors – the sword singers – and the commoners by introducing restrictions on the wearing of swords. “Torn’s Sword-hunt”, as it was known, meant that only the singers were allowed to wear swords, which distinguished them from the rest of the population.

This is pretty much Japanese history from the period of the Sengoku Jidai, starting in 1467, and ending anywhere between 1568 and 1615, depending on which event you use. The power of the Japanese emperor had been waning since the Heian period in the 8th-12th centuries, and saw the emergence of daimyo that fought for the title of shogun, which is essentially the analogue to the Yokeda position mentioned here. Mansel Senit coming to the fore but with his work of conquest incomplete by his death sounds like Oda Nobunaga, and his commoner successor who initiates a sword-hunt is clearly inspired by Hideyoshi.

When they left, the Reguards were, by some accounts, fleeing a disaster of their own making. The book Mysterious Akavir flat out states that “The Redguards destroyed Yokuda so they could make their journey” to Tamriel. Other accounts, like The Ubiquitous Sinking Isle, that talks about many landmasses other than Tamriel, puts it down to a mistake. The Third Edition Pocket Guide to the Empire puts it down to either a natural disaster or the vengeance of the Hiradirge.

Typically, though, you’ll see one reason given in the community for the sinking of Yokuda: the Pankratosword, a forbidden sword technique. This is obliquely referenced in some of the texts here; the “mistake” in The Ubiquitous Sinking Isle is a sword stroke, and the Warrior celestial in ESO says that “The Shehai of a first rank Ansei sank Yokuda.” The term itself appears in the unlicensed text Vivec’s Sword-Meeting with Cyrus the Restless, and has been taken from there by fans. You’ll see metaphors around nuclear weapons for the Pankratosword too, with stuff from the Sword-Meeting talking about “cutting the Atomos”, which sounds an awful lot like splitting the atom and nuclear fission. It’s not quite that, though; the Atomos is apparently taking the original meaning of the word “atom”. The word means “indivisible”, and there’s reference to the Pankratosword “cutting the uncuttable”. That makes me think that it’s more about weaponising a paradox of reality or something, than it is a direct metaphor for a nuclear weapon. That at least feels more fitting with TES, to me.

It’s also possible that the Orichalc Tower of Yokuda was something to do with the sinking of the island, although exactly what is obscure. It may simply have been a reference to Atlantis, going on this comment from MK on the matter from the Made-up Word Round-up:

Orichalc Tower was indeed in Yokuda. Whether or not it contributed to the sinking of the land isn’t for me to say, but the Yoku and the Left-Handed Elves certainly did fight a lot, so you can be sure the Tower had a part to play in their wargames.

Orichalc the name comes from Plato’s description of Atlantis, the Most Famousest of Sinking Continents. It was therefore too fun not to add some orichalc into Yokuda’s background.

So we don’t know how much the Tower had to do with the continent sinking, but it is supposedly gone thanks to the sinking of the continent itself.

You’ll also notice that there’s some ambiguity around precisely who sank the island. This is because there’s some confusion around what exactly happened happened after Torn unified Yokuda. That act of unification was followed by something that split the society apart again; the Sword Hunt, that forbade anyone but Sword-Singers from carrying swords, in the same way at the medieval Sword Hunts in Japan, emphasised a difference between the Sword Singers and the rest of the Yokudan population. This means that the distinction between the Forebears and Crowns we see in modern Redguards, runs deeper than it would seem, although it has been perpetuated by more modern political means.

The Sword-Hunts and everything that happened after basically set the ruling classes against the Sword-Singers, from what we can tell. There’s only one source that mentions, this, though, Redguards, History and Heroes, so take it with a pinch of salt. It’s a compilation and distillation of legends, so the impact of particular factors is likely to be exaggerated, at the very least. Although it doesn’t help us with who sank the island, it doesn’t mention it at all, it does give us some context. It claims it was the Sword-Singers that left Yokuda, after a war against the Hiradirge, followers of the last Yokudan emperor. Despite winning, they headed for Tamriel. We’ve already mentioned several sources that claim it was the Ansei, the sword-singers, that sank Yokuda, while others say that it was the Hiradirge, who sank the continent out of spite.

My opinion is that it was probably the latter, or maybe the inheritors of the Hiradirge. What I mean by that is that, if there were several migrations from Yokuda, which began with the Sword Singers who became the Forebears, and then they were followed by the Yokudan royalty that became the Crowns, there needed to be time for those distinct waves to form. So the Sword-Singers needed to leave before the continent was sunk. Unless it was something that was set in motion by them, and then occurred slowly over time.

I think that we’re not getting the whole story, either; Redguard stories, and by extension Yokudan stories, focus on individual heroes and their deeds, probably exaggerating them beyond what actually happened. The fight between the Sword-Singers and the Hiradirge is pitched almost as a battle between Franar Hunding and Hira as much as anything else. However, if the book Na-Totembu of Yokuda is to be believed, the ruling class of Yokuda was council of kings, rather than individual rulers or emperors. That casts a whole heap of doubt on the general set-up we’ve already discussed, unless Hunding’s war was simply a squabble between kings, but it seems more fundamental than that. I’m not totally sure that we have a solid answer for that conundrum, which is a pain.

It’s even more confusing when you look at a book describing Yokuda itself, The Lost Islands of Old Yokuda. That the book itself describes Yokuda as an island chain rather than a continent means that quite how much Yokuda actually changed from the cataclysm is up for debate.

The collapse might actually still be going on to some degree; on maps of Mundus, the isles of Yokuda are still charted. There is also dialogue in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion that suggests that there’s still trade between Anvil and Yokuda. There is some confusion about Yokuda’s status, which has led to some speculation in the community about precisely what or where Yokuda is.

Possibly the closest to an explanation we have for these incongruities is in Vivec’s Sword-Meeting with Cyrus the Restless:

The captain set their course south-southwest, slanting across the spring trades into the Sea of Pearls to the puzzlement of the crew. Some of the older among them muttered darkly of the guardians of the western approaches, but nothing was sighted during the long weeks of smooth sailing. At twilight on the 12th day out of Jabbur, Coyle, long-learned in the navigations, took sighting of the non-constellation of Sep and abruptly Cyrus changed course to the north. The old hands explained to the new that they had crossed the Line that day and it was now safe to bear up for Old Yokuda.

That suggests that the route to Yokuda is guarded, or only accessible through a particular route. The use of the Serpent constellation here, which moves in the sky, is interesting, although I’m not sure entirely what it means in this context. Maybe, as the stars are the path to and from the Far Shores for the Redguards, that there is some measure of “extra-planar” travel between Tamriel and Yokuda. This possibly lends some credence to the idea that Yokuda was actually a previous kalpa, which I’ve talked about before in an episode on kalpas. You need to find some way of going back in time in order to get back to Yokuda itself, which you can possibly do by way of charting a particular course.

The Yokudans also brought with them their gods, which are both similar and different to other pantheons. Exactly what the gods relate to is different as well; Tu’wacca was known as the god of Nobody Really Cares at one point, for example. The gods have been involved in portions of Yokudan history, particularly with regard to the conflict between the Yokudan men and the Left-Handed Elves. Leki was allegedly involved directly in teaching them new ways of wielding a blade, and Diagna taught the Yokudans how to make orichalcum weapons, which helped them defeat the Left-Handed Elves.

The Left-Handed Elves themselves are a little obscure. There’s not a whole lot of information about them, because the Yokudans considered even mentioning their names to be unlucky. They were obliterated by the Yokudans, and the Ra Gada’s destruction of the remaining elves of Hammerfell is attributed to their hatred of the Left-Handed Elves.

There are a lot of theories about what the left-handed elves were, none of them with a lot of evidence. There is some notion that they’re linked to the Maomer which has been discussed in a Loremaster’s Archive, but with no answer being presented. The new antiquities system has mentioned in passing they they meade statues of alabaster, but that’s about it.

And with that, I think we possibly need to draw the episode on Yokudans to an end. I do hope you’ve enjoyed this rather rambling recap of their history with me, and we’ll be looking at the Redguards’ arrival on Tamriel next time.

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