Gamma World, The Zona Nomads, in the Mead Valley and in Vegaz
The nomads of the Zona region are much like their distant forebears, the American Indian tribes who were found in this region by the Spanish. They live a traditional Nomadic lifestyle, moving about from place to place as the fodder and water conditions dictate, seeking the best places for their beasts to graze.
They have a low population density. At this time, there are more fields of pasture available in their territory than there are separate groups to occupy it. They do not live in towns (let alone cities), preferring instead to build temporary hutments when they find a good pasture, and moving on when their beasts have grazed it.
They do build some permanent buildings at especially good and reliable pasture lands. It is common that a village-building will be built in proximity to several good winter fields; these buildings are sealed (to keep out wild beasts) when spring comes, and the temporary occupants then move on. Some other group will move to the building when the next winter comes. Other buildings, usually made of mud-brick, serve as travel shelters or as ceremonial centers for a group to perform some specific ritual that requires solitude.
There are various races represented in Zona. Mutated Animals, Humanoids, and Pure Strain Humans can be found in roughly equal proportions. These races are better able to make a living off the products of their beasts’ bodies (milk, hides, &c) than are Mutated Plants. Some of the Mutated Animals are carnivorous; they take care not to eat while upwind from their herds, lest the herds spook or stampede. Most of the Mutated Animals are herbivore-based and actually have a slight advantage over Human-based mutants in determining which are the good-quality fields. By and large, all the races recognize that they must cooperate to keep the flocks and herds alive and healthy, and do not allow inter-racial competition to exceed recognized bounds.
The Nomads’ language is based on the Ancient language of Anguish, as are most of the languages and dialects to be found in Meriga. They can speak and understand it as the Common Tongue. Their dialect has a significant number of words that are of Spanish and Indian (mostly Navaho or Hopi) origin. This may reflect the origin of their ancestors, the human survivors of the Final War. Literacy is very low; only leaders will have been able to devote any time to learning to read and write, and they will not be able to do so very well. As a result, they have come to trust a man’s (or whatever’s) word as his bond.
The Zona peoples are rated as Tech Level 1. They do not have the apparatus to work metal. This may be simply because they do not want to spend the time and effort to carry it around with them. Their tools are simple, sturdy, and to-the-point. Heavy and/or fragile items tend to collect in the ceremonial and winter shelters, mentioned above. Light, rugged, and easily-replaced items can be found in the hutments or packed in their baggage while moving about. They have access to the TL 3 items of Mead Valley. This used to be only via raids, but now there is a scheduled trade convoy to Fenix about 4 times a year. The Mead Government does not allow the traders to take gunpowder weapons. There are other restrictions, on a case-by-case basis. The point is to keep military superiority for Mead, not to impoverish the Zona peoples.
The nomads are governed by a matriarchy; the women of the household make decisions about what needs to be done, where to move the flocks next, how to handle conflicts, dealing with intruders, &c. Each group uses a different method to decide who shall be pre-eminent. Some vote, some defer to the oldest, some allow the position to be inherited, and so on. In the vast majority of cases, a group will also be an extended family and the leaders will be great-grandparents to the youth of the group. Most of the groups are racially mixed, so there are actually several families in a group. However in a social fiction each group is considered as ‘one family’. Each family has relatives (cousins, brothers/sisters) in other groups, thereby creating a network of kin relations that bind the whole people together. This organization has come about over several generations, and relies on ties of birth and marriage.
Sometimes conflicts between persons get out of hand (as for instance when two groups want to use the same pasture at the same time). When it comes to a fight, the nomads form themselves into raiding parties of a dozen members. These are exclusively males, and usually from the same family or the same hutment. Usually they prefer to raid or ambush individuals. But when under duress (for instance, facing an organized army) they have been known to surround the enemy encampment with stealth and then stampede a herd of cattle into it, then pick off the individuals who flee from before the beasts.
There has grown up the custom of ‘counting coup’, where two individuals who have a grudge to settle will have a formalized fight at some neutral ground with family of both contestants as witnesses. If different races are involved (this happens as often as not), some measures will be taken to produce a ‘fair fight’. For example, a physically stronger contestant may have one hand tied behind his back, or a carnivore may have its teeth muzzled. This fight often is held near the ruins of Fenix, since few want to settle permanently in that barren region. Besides, sore losers can be forced into the Hot Desert just to the west, to take up a quarrel with Nature instead of bothering other sentients.
The Zona nomads, like many other nomadic peoples, do not recognize lines-on-a-map boundaries to their territory. In general, they can be found in the Verde River basin and Colorado Plateau of northern Arizona. Their boundary to the southwest is the Hot Desert; to the north only a few have crossed the Colorado River. The limits of their travels to the south and east are not clear. They have not yet reached the Rio Grande, or discovered the sources of the Yuma River.
Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2019 by Brian Judt, all rights reserved. Permission is granted to use this information, and the maps for personal (non-commercial) use only.