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Kushites

  The Kushites were the black-skinned tribesmen most often encountered in Kush, Darfar, Keshan, Punt, southern Stygia, and the Black Kingdoms, although their tribes dominated the entire far South. The peoples of the Black Kingdoms were barbarians like the lighter-skinned Cimmerians and the Picts, who lived in loosely organized tribes in their small villages hidden away in the jungles of the south. Notable exceptions to this were the magnificent but savage kingdoms of Keshan, Darfar, Punt and Zembabwei, as well as the Stygian-influenced kingdom of Kush itself. Kush was the northernmost of the Black Kingdoms located to the south of Stygia. But because the Hyborians of Conan’s time knew so little of the black lands, they often used the term “Kush” to refer to all lands which had dark-skinned inhabitants indiscriminately. This term would have included the states of Darfar, Keshan, Punt, Zembabwei and almost all of the others. Little is known of these lands. Darfar was an inland kingdom known for its cannibals who filed their teeth and shaped their hair with mud, building up a hornlike headdress. Darfari are cannibal warriors with sharp, filed down teeth. They are fierce, aggressive hunters and have started moving upwards through the Black Kingdoms towards the heart of Stygia. They had conquered a half-forgotten fortress in Purple Lotus Swamp and made it their own. Probably the most distinctive feature of Darfari culture was their religion, which was focused around Yog, the god of empty abodes. Practically all Darfari were followers of the foul god Yog and took part in vile ceremonies involving human sacrifice and cannibalism in his name.

There may have been other denizens in this land with less repulsive habits, but sharp-tooted Darfars often retained their taste for “long pig” even after they had been carried off by slavers from Shem. Bordered partly by the River Styx, the kingdom of Punt was blessed with an abundance of precious metals that could be found in its portion of the great river. Its people worshiped a goddess whose idol was crafted from pure ivory. Punt was often subjected to slave raids by slavers from Stygia and Shem. Zembabwei was perhaps the most powerful of the Black Kingdoms of the South and was said to be ruled by “twin kings.” Virtually nothing more is known of this rising empire in the south, although some legends say its people worshiped the Stygian serpent-god Set under the alternate name of Damballah.

The country named Kush, the capital of which was at various times given as Meroe or Xuthal, was comprised mostly of villages that lay along the shore of the Western Ocean. Plunging a few miles inland, careless travelers would have encountered first a band of almost impenetrable rain forest, followed by a broad savanna which was bordered on the east by rugged hills. Those in Kush who thought about such things counted the great Southern Desert, which lay beyond those hills, as part of their kingdom, but the supposed “kings” of the Black Kingdoms exercised no control over that vast wasteland. South of Kush lay a land largely unmapped by Hyborian cartographers. There was only one city along this vast coastline, called the Black Coast, whose existence was confirmed by the Nemedian Chronicles: Abombi, a town sacked by Conan and Belit, the Shemite pirate who was known as the “Queen of the Black Coast.” Two other cities of the Black Coast, Kulalo and Yanyoga at the southernmost tip of the Hyborian continent,  were spoken of in later legends. The extreme southern tip of the continent near Yanyoga was said to be range of massive fiery volcanoes known as the Fires of the South. Their glow was said to be visible for hundreds of miles out to sea at night.

Several large tribes of Kushites dwelt among the deserts along and below southern Stygia, but most of these people were nomads, who wandered from one area to the next. The Black Kingdoms were dotted with huge pre-Cataclysmic cities. Some were abandoned, empty ruins buried in impenetrable jungle; others retained small remnants of their original populations, sometimes horribly changed and mutated over the millennia; yet others were occupied by small groups of modern people who fled from the “civilized” lands and took refuge in the ancient citadels.

The peoples of the Black Kingdoms were black-skinned, with many variations in height, skin color, etc. They were often strong, tall and usually very lean, although some chiefs were grotesquely fat. They had little chronic disease, as those who got sick in the Southlands quickly died because of the sheer intensity of Southern pathogens and parasites. In Kush, the common people were dark-skinned, but the Set-worshiping ruling class were the light-skinned descendants of Stygian lords who cowed the land with their powerful sorcery.

Tribal Kushites were adept at the use of the bow and the spear. They were governed by the whims of their tribal chieftains and witch-doctors (a type of shaman), who they followed without fail unto death.  They worshiped many strange gods and beasts, many of whom were known only to specific tribes and  were more like demons and monsters than true deities. Most of these “gods” were believed to dwell near the villages of their worshipers and came forth to protect the tribe, or punish it, should the need arise. Each tribe had a distinguishing ritual scar or tattoo which identified its members; in a society where little clothing was worn, such marks made it difficult to infiltrate an enemy tribe.

Names:  The southern Black Kingdoms tend toward African names, particularly Zulu. Examples: (male) Aja, Ajonga, Amra, Askia, Bajujh, N’Gora, N’Yaga, Sakumbe, Yasunga. Suggestions: (male) Nkosi, Sabelo, Sipho; (female) Khanyisa, Lukanyo, Nande, Serigne, Thula.