Of all the things that confound well-meaning people about Shikhari – the animals that want to eat them, scratch-mint—Stamm has to be the greatest conundrum. The Staré sort themselves by size and color, and enforce a set of brain-twistingly complicated duties and restrictions on themselves. It strikes newcomers and horrible unfair and the worst sort of discrimination. Long-timers and those humans born on Shikhari who have spent time learning about the system of Stamm find it just as complicated, but accept it for what it is.
So, what is it?
It is a caste system with a solid biological foundation. That last is what so many humans don’t understand. A seventh Stamm person will never, ever learn to read or write, or to operate complicated devices. Their brains are not developed to be able to do complicated tasks, or to reason enough to read, write, and do math. They are also very large and very pale in color. Everyone who spends time around seventh Stamm know what their limits are, and find ways to work with those.
At the other end of the social and cognitive scale are the upper first Stamm, such as Kor and his twin brother. They are the memory-keepers and leaders of the Staré, able to retain enormous amounts of information and to connect the different bits and pieces. They can read and write once humans re-introduce the practices, and several upper Stamm people learn multiple languages (Common, plus others if they are in the military or around military people). They can do abstract reasoning. They are also smaller and darker, more compact than the others. Some versions of the Turning of the World hold that this was because they are the direct descendants of those scorched by the Turning of the World, or because they had to hide in the forests and dark places to avoid being killed by the Great Birds.
As three generations now of frustrated activists have discovered, it is impossible to teach abstract thought to Staré of mid-fourth Stamm and below. They lack the wiring. This frustrates both humans and Staré. The humans can’t sort out what is wrong with their pedagogical technique. The fourth Stamm people don’t like upsetting the humans and can’t sort out what the humans are trying to get them to do. Even Makana is very literal, because abstract thoughts take far more effort than he usually cares to expend on them. Long-time Shikhari residents pretend to be understanding and sympathetic to the would-be enlighteners of the lower Stamme. If pressed, humans of Shikhari have been known to point out that this cognitive gap is why so many Staré are hired to do so many things. Lower-Stamm people cannot multi-task, so they multi-people instead.
In times of crisis, every other Stamm works to preserve the first. They know that they can rebuild civilization and their species so long as the first Stamm survive in large enough numbers. Alas, as Rigi observes, not all first Stamm live up to their duties. After the fur-drop epidemic, the Sogdia Elders begin taking advantage of this in ways that are not good for the community. Whether this will lead to a civil war, human intervention, or Kor and Rigi doing something dramatic with the assistance of those few first Stamm who disagree with the Elders remains to be seen.
The other thing some humans don’t catch is that Stamm is not as locked as it appears from the outside. Skilled craftsmen, people who have worked as managers and supervisors and who grow in skill, and those who associate for long periods with humans can rise in Stamm. The tailor from whom Rigi bought her clothes – Master Lon – was born upper fourth but was treated as low second Stamm because of his skill. His offspring, if they show signs of having similar abilities, will be permitted to mate up into the third Stamm. Likewise Stamm can be removed. By the time of the current Work In Progress (WIP), Makana is considered low second Stamm. Lexisol would be low first, except he has broken Stamm completely, sort of. The Elders do their best to pretend that Lexi doesn’t exist, so long as his mates raise their offspring properly.
Breaking Stamm has consequences. Breaking it down, as Kor does, requires expensive purification rituals to undo. Breaking it up, however, and most especially passing ones self as higher Stamm than one is entitled to leads to very, very harsh punishments. The male that Rigi accidentally caught breaking Stamm up at least three levels died a very painful and messy death, after having been publicly shamed. The only exception is in life-or-death situations, especially things like a crop being endangered, or a beast attacking a village, or natural disaster. Then almost all Stamm rules are set aside for the duration of the emergency. Survival, especially group survival, overrides Stamm.
In Woman’s Work, Rigi observes Kor and Makana studying something. She notes that their sizes are wrong. The first Stamm ought to be larger than the others, and they’re not. Even after two generations of better diet and sanitation, first Stamm remain much smaller and stockier than the others. What Rigi doesn’t realize, because she’s not spent time around large numbers of first Stamm, is that Kor is different from the others physically as well as in almost every other way. He, like Thorna the hunter, and Lexissol, is a throwback. Tortuh is as well, but not mentally the way Kor is, just physically.
You see, the ancestors of the first Stamm were not just intellectual leaders. They had another, very specific duty, one that has long since been forgotten. Micah De Groet and Thorna have found traces of this. Kor is the living example of it, as Tomás, Rigi, and their enemies are about to discover. Lexissol’s daughter, Salmae, is another mental throwback. In her case, it was triggered by all the immunizations and biological treatments her sire got the “privilege” of enduring with the military.