Understanding the Shadow: The Shiekah Way

By Megan O'Shea

Part II - Customs, Traditions, Culture


            Janwais’s first journey was to a Shiekah tribe in the swamps of Moldera late in the year of 3080 HR. She lived among them like her forebears before her prior to starting her journal in February of the following year. Unlike the researchers before her, however, Janwais decided to focus her diaries mainly on cultural observations she made while abroad.

            The tribe that Janwais found herself in numbered large. Consisting of approximately 300 members, the group was ideal when it came to observing the everyday lives of a mysterious people. In spite of their swelled numbers, Janwais found to her amazement they were able to avoid notice by their Hylian neighbors.

            “I remember feeling nervous that the group would encounter conflict. They numbered too many, at least in my mind, for it to be safe. Tension was still clear between the races, and in spite of laws that said otherwise, violence between them was not unheard of. Yet they surprised me by remaining clear of [the Hylians] traveling mainly at night and during the day only when it was necessary.”

            The first thing Janwais recorded in her diary was the mode of dress that the Shiekah often used. Being a traditional people firmly rooted in their beliefs, their patterns of dress had not changed much since their discovery many centuries before. Being somewhat versed in the Shiekah language, Janwais sought to uncover why this was so. Her discoveries were thus:

            “…I spoke to the Elder Nandara about why her tribe dresses traditionally. After receiving odd looks and a moment’s pause, she answered, ‘It is the best way we pay homage to the people that come before us. Aside from ceremonies to their spirits, this is how we keep them close to us.’”

            Janwais also observed that Shiekah society, like many, clothed themselves according to station and occupation. She wrote that women, unlike Hylian society, were garbed much in the way of the men. Dresses and shifts were considered impractical for every day life because of the way the Shadow People lived; fighting and traveling long distances to meet needs was common. However, she also saw that the Shiekah took dress more seriously than their Hylian counterparts, never failing to don special outfits when the time called for it. One night around the closing of her first year with the tribe, Janwais received a surprise.

            “I had heard that the Shiekah perform rites to close out a year in what they view as the proper way. I woke up late in the night to their chanting. As I emerged from the stone home they had provided me, I could see that they were clothed in outfits that were intricate and beautiful; at home the best tailors could have sold such things for hundreds of rupees. The women were dressed more like I was used to seeing the female form—in dresses made of fine material. It was one of the few days of rest a year the Shiekah allow themselves, and I was privileged to see it…”

            She goes on to record more of the ceremony, which will be detailed later.

It will be noticed that everything a traditional Shiekah wears carries their symbol—a weeping eye that appears to shed blood. Going without this mark in traditional tribes is considered disrespectful, although in recent times the more lax tribes have begun to adopt Hylian methods of dress sometimes.

            An everyday Shiekah outfit for both man and woman consists of pants that are usually form-fitting, as well as a shirt of the same design and sometimes wrappings for the fingers to prevent blisters and injury from handling weapons frequently. Colors vary according to tribal tastes. The feet are encased in sturdy boots or some equivalent thereof. Shiekah who live in harsher climates, such as sandy or snowy places, sometimes place dressings around their heads and faces to keep the damp or sand from their hair and mouths. This is especially common while traveling. It also adds a measure of comfort and security for some Shiekah, who find that at nights it makes them much more difficult to distinguish.

            Variations on the outfit are usually according to profession and not necessarily personal liking. Those that are fighters usually wear armor over their clothes and sometimes around their hands. There appears to be no visible belts to a Shiekah—they generally eschew them because of the danger they may pose in close-quarters fighting.

            If a Shiekah is in the magic profession, he or she will often wear robes over their typical clothing, their heaviness varying to suit the season. Thick gloves are sometimes employed to protect the hands from coming into direct contact with the stronger magic reagents. Unlike their warrior brethren, large weapons like swords or spears are not generally carried. If unable to rely on their magic ability, the Shiekah mage often has backup — swift reflexes and small, sharp daggers.

            Changes and modifications in dress come with age. Children are often dressed in a simplified version of what adults wear, but like their elders their clothing also carries the ever-present eye. Children that are training for an adulthood profession will also wear what is required of them to be in that trade. It is not uncommon to this day to see young Shiekah trainees with small swords or small Shiekah mages with simple powders and potions.

            Early adulthood, starting sometimes as early as eleven seasons, brings a change in everyday wear. The clothing resembles more what the youth will wear in full adulthood, which is considered beginning as early as sixteen seasons or sometimes as late as nineteen, depending on the tribe and the individual.

            Full adulthood dress is attained after a ceremony declaring one as an adult, and has been described above. This mode of dress is worn longest by a Shiekah, and is changed once again should a special rank or position be obtained. A warrior will modify his clothes by striping them with how many kills s/he has attained in battle. A mage will do something of a similar fashion. Young men and women who have been named as future Elders to their tribe will adopt similar dress to them, but in different colors to show they are not fully of that rank.

            Elders themselves are garbed the most ornately in a tribe aside from the Oracle and the Oracle’s caretaker, and are easy to recognize. Often wearing robes of a dark blue or black to signify their declining years, stitching is often done in traditional gold or silver. Patterns are more elaborate.

            A Shiekah also styles his or her hair according to rank and occupation. Men and women warriors often keep their hair styles short or tied back for ease in fighting, and mages have a tendency to allow theirs to grow out. Superstition once held that a mage’s hair length corresponded to his or her power, but many do not seriously believe this anymore.  Men generally keep their hair shorter than the women, not allowing it past their shoulders. Women decorate their hair in plaits and sometimes with combs and when they can get them, ribbons. Women also allow their hair to grow much longer in general, sometimes allowing it to sweep the ground when unbound. In ceremonial occasions, feathers are sometimes used to show rank by type of feather used and how many are there.

            The Oracle and the Oracle’s caretaker are the most integral members of a Shiekah tribe, and often dress as such. The caretaker, a cross between a warrior of sorts and bodyguard, usually wears the typical Shiekah outfit that is different in pattern or design to delineate him or her from the others. The armor a caretaker wears, when he or she uses any at all, is generally lighter and more flexible than that of a warrior’s. Skilled in the use of both weapons and magic, a caretaker is often revered as someone who lives a fine line between many occupations.

            The Oracle, beginning his or her occupation at a young age (anywhere from four to seven seasons old), can be immediately told apart as the highest ranking member in a group. The clothing is the most ornate, and even in childhood, painstaking care is taken by Shiekah tailors when it comes to outfitting the Oracle. Like the caretaker, everyday dress is mostly the same as other children or adults depending on age, varying only in pattern. Ceremonial dress is the most elaborate for the Oracle, who is often called on to speak to the Gods during these times. Feathers are often placed in the hair, and robes to rival the Elders’ for quality and design are donned. The caretaker is expected to dress him/herself similarly.

            It is also easy to notice the patterns of face paint the Shiekah put on their faces before going to battle or performing ceremonial rights. These likewise change according to tribe, individual preferences, occasion, and age. The younger a Shiekah, the less ornate the facial paint, unless he or she is either the Oracle or caretaker. Janwais wrote on one occasion:

            “…it was the evening of the solstice ceremony, and I was invited in to see the Oracle being prepared for the occasion, as I had made friends with her caretaker. As I walked into her dwelling, I saw the little girl already in her heavy robes, sitting patiently as her caretaker and a few attendants mixed dyes and worked with care to make intricate designs on her cheeks and forehead, under her eyes. The other children in the village hadn’t looked so, and I marveled at the small Oracle’s patience.”

            It is also noted in later years that Janwais’s adopted tribe is different in another way—it had a female Oracle. While not unheard of, tribes that boast a female Oracle are rare. More will be discussed about the Oracle later below.


            In the early days of the world thousands of years ago, linguists project that all the world’s languages were very similar with minor differences. Combined together, this shared language is hereafter referred to as the ‘root tongue.’ As peoples evolved and spread, isolating themselves and defining racial and cultural boundaries, languages took on distinct qualities to further define them.

            The only remaining variation close enough to the root language in today’s world is Ancient Hylian, named because the ancient Hylian people spoke it. There is evidence that the early Hylians had contact with the early Shiekah in anthropological findings as well as behavioral and speech patterns.

            While the Hylians eventually evolved their language to change with their rapidly changing societies, the Shiekah tongue has been far slower to change. After the wars that mixed the races the most significantly, the Shiekah language evolved, picking up more modern Hylian words and adapting them to suit their own needs.

            The Shiekah have a language that seems odd to people that do not understand their culture from an insider’s perspective. More formal than their Hylian neighbors as well as more rooted in custom, their language takes patience and study to learn moreso than even Ancient Hylian in some instances.

            It has been described as a lyrical language, harsh on the tongue for its twists but beautiful when properly spoken, as with its sister language Ancient Hylian.


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