Moieties and of the Pig Island Orcs

by B. Thorn
The Pig Islands are a volcanic chain of islands (think Hawaii or New Zealand) named for some of their most dangerous and edible fauna. They're inhabited by both humans and orcs; by and large humans are concentrated in the coastal regions and orcs further inland, but there's a fair bit of trade and occasional intermarriage between the two.

There are many different orcish tribes - usually one per island, although exceptionally large islands may host several, and some of the seafaring tribes straddle many small islands. But large or small, all of the Pig Islands tribes observe drachla, which anthropologists would describe as a "moiety" or "skin group" system.
At birth every orc is assigned to one of nine moieties (drach). Within each tribe adult orcs of the same moiety form a single family and usually live together. Depending on the scale of the community, a single moiety might occupy a hut, a neighbourhood within a large settlement, or even an island.

Pig Islands orcs breed only within their own moieties. Reproductive sex with somebody from a different moiety is strongly taboo, although the severity of that taboo depends on the exact combination. Within moieties, things are pretty open - it's effectively considered one large marriage where anybody can sleep with anybody else, as long as parties involved consent. Of course, not everybody's interested in everybody else, and it's quite possible for two orcs within a moiety to end up in a de facto monogamous pair. But it's not considered more "normal" than any other configuration within a moiety.

Orcs don't track paternity at all, and maternity is a minor curiosity; children are raised communally with all orcs in the moiety considered "mother"/"father. Among other things, this means that nobody gets orphaned as a child unless the adults in the moiety are completely wiped out (in which case you might need to go to a neighbouring tribe and recruit some replacements).

Children do not share their parents' moiety. They're assigned to another moiety based on their sex and their parents, following the diagram below (blue arrows for sons, green arrows for daughters). For instance, sons of Moon will be in Fire and daughters of Moon will be in Snake. They're raised by their mothers and fathers until they reach adulthood, and then undergo a rite of passage that ends with them being welcomed into their own moiety. Depending on the tribe, this may be marked by tattooing and/or scarification. In some regions where moieties live separately, just getting to your adult moiety may be a major part of the ritual.

An important consequence of this system is to prevent close inbreeding. As long as everybody follows the rules, none of your male children/grandchildren will be in the same moiety as any of your female children/grandchildren or yourself. In areas where the population is small, it may force orcs to travel far afield to find partners - which also helps stir the gene pool.

This system also has social ramifications. Each moiety has two parent moieties (e.g. Wood is daughter of Iron and son of Bird) and one or two sibling moieties (if you ended up in Wood, your opposite-sex siblings will be in Stone). Orcs are expected to show respect to their siblings and especially to their parents, which leads to a sort of scissors-paper-rock dynamic: if you're being kicked around by a guy from Snake you might go to his parents in Wood, or his sisters in Fire, and see if they can talk sense into him.

Each moiety has its own specialties and stereotypes. For instance, orcs of the Sun moiety are associated with farming, herding, and bee-keeping. They have a
reputation for being patient, hard-working, and stoic. (Pig Islands bees sting HARD.) This system isn't exclusive - most orcs will happily teach their lore to friends from other moiety - but respect is earned largely by prowess in the skills expected of one's moiety, so there's a strong incentive to concentrate on those.
Different tribes have different ways of handling decision-making, but most have a council of elders made up of the most respected members of each moiety. Important decisions are usually made by consensus (sometimes with a lot of shouting involved) but an elder holds more authority when the issue lies within their own moiety's sphere of responsibility.

Because the moieties feed into one another, political power flows in circles and tends to balance out over time; for instance, if an influential group of orcs rise to dominance in Stone, that influence will gradually filter down to Stone's children in Moon and Dog, and so on.

The full list of moieties:
1. Moon: associated with secret knowledge, story-telling, night and darkness. (In D&D 3.x, tends to be associated with wizards, sorcerers, bards.) Daughters of Sun, sons of Stone; has brothers in Bird, sisters in Wolf.
2. Fire: cooking, medicine, poisons. Nurturing but also hot-tempered. (Clerics, druids, occasionally monks.) Daughters of Wood, sons of Moon. Brothers and sisters are both in Snake.
3. Sun: farming, herding, bee-keeping. Dependable, stoic. (Druids, some clerics.) Daughters of Wolf, sons of Fire. Brothers and sisters are both in Iron.
4. Bird: travellers, messengers, traders, and lovers of flamboyant clothes. The Pig Islands have a lot of brightly-coloured birds of paradise, as well as bower birds that look relatively plain but know how to decorate. Charismatic, social butterflies. (Bards, some rogues.) Daughters of Snake, sons of Sun; has brothers in Wolf and sisters in Moon.
5. Wood: forestry, hunting, and wood crafts including bowmaking. Patience. (Rangers, druids.) Daughters of Iron, sons of Bird. Brothers and sisters are both in Stone, and often work with Wood on construction projects.
6. Snake: cunning, stealth, solitary warriors. (Rogues, fighters, barbarians, and sneaky rangers.) Daughters of Moon, sons of Wood. Brothers and sisters both in Fire.
7. Wolf: Leather-working and domestication of ferocious animals. Ferocity, loyalty and honour. Where Snake teaches solo combat skills, Wolf focuses on teamwork. (Fighters, some rangers, occasional paladins.) Daughters of Stone, sons of Snake; has brothers in Moon and sisters in Bird.
8. Iron: Methodical crafters (smithing and metal-working), including steel armour and weapons. After Dog and Snake, the most warlike of the moieties, but Iron concentrates less on combat skills and more on being well-equipped. Daughters of Fire, sons of Wolf. Brothers and sisters both in Sun.
9. Stone: stone-working, masonry, mining, gem-cutting. Patient and enduring, but also with a keen eye for detail and nitpicking. (Often fighters, though not as combat-oriented as Iron/Wolf/Snake.) Daughters of Bird, sons of Iron. Brothers and sisters both in Wood.
Some tribes modify this slightly. For instance, "Snake" may become "Shark" in some coastal tribes, and those that live mostly underground might replace Sun with Mushroom, Moon with Bat, etc etc. But the same rules apply to intermarriage, and neighbouring tribes will usually be aware of how the systems relate.

Designer's notes

Probably the most common representation of polygamy in fantasy is the harem: rich and powerful men collect wives as a way of showing off and enhancing their status. I thought it'd be interesting to go in the other direction, to play with a culture where marriage customs are still highly structured but polygamy becomes a social leveller rather than a tool of power.

One of the consequences of female polygamy (polyandry) is that it becomes hard or impossible to track paternity, which is a problem if you're trying to avoid inbreeding. The moiety system is one solution to this, inspired by various Australian Aboriginal kinship systems that classify people "skin groups" with restrictions on marriage. Those rules typically prevent first-generation inbreeding; designing a system that prevents second-generation inbreeding turned out to be surprisingly difficult, and with nine moieties there are only a handful of different rulesets that make it possible. (See if you can figure out some of the other possibilities - or if you're feeling really adventurous, try designing a moiety system that prevents third-generation as well!)