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The Ferrypeople.

(An article by Yeh-lu Chu'tsai Ears.)

"In reviewing the lives of ruder and less civilised groups of people, we should give them every benefit of the doubt and remember that all we creatures are caught in the one huge net of Time and do interpret it as well as our upbringing permits. Let us then consider the Ferrypeople, or Ferryists as they are otherwise known. Their homes are simple barges and their world is the river upon which they live their lives and perform their duties as the country's messengers. There are those among them who have never set foot on dry ground.

Each family inhabits a single houseboat. To the outermost edge of this houseboat will be attached small rafts or skiffs which they use when travel takes them away from their more cumbersome, less manoeverable, homes. The youngsters practice on these rafts almost from the moment of birth. I myself have seen a tot, who was barely able to stand upright without assistance, being handed the pole and shown the proper method of propelling one of these nimble craft from one place to another. It is scarcely surprising that the adult Ferryists are able to keep their footing under conditions that would unseat any land-born person immediately.

They regard boating and fishing as the only activities with any merit and pity those whose talents lie in other areas. Literature and other land-crafts are not of any importance to them and their ignorance of the world beyond their river is disarmingly genuine. Their speech is natrually infused with it. Accordingly it is well-nigh impossible for a land-born stranger to pose as a Ferryperson without being caught.

A Ferrychild will master reading solely so that it may decipher the names on parcels when it is a grown messenger. In each family there is one member who never learns to read or write, and their disability is regarded with respectful awe for it is believed that they are true children of the water, free from any connection to onshore society. This person does not work and must be supported by other members of their family. They spend much of their time in the water and it is their duty to communicate with the aquatic animals and plants. Thus, when hippopotomi are known to be swimming in the area of the family barge, the illiterate person will speak persuasively to the water (happy in the belief that the hippopotomi can hear) asking the animal to abstain from any attack on their loved ones. The family is then satisfied and may go about their business without fear.

The illiterate is regarded as the family's link to the universe. According to a common Ferryist slang phrase they are 'the real people.' Other land-based commentators have condemned this culture which views ignorance with reverance, but we must realise that all actions are rooted in a cause. I believe it would serve these critics well to remember that our Ancestors were likewise illiterates who felt themselves to be part of everything at the one time. How can we be sure that the Ferryists' beliefs are not a form of Ancestor-worship, which is entirely natural, even commendable? The sincerity of their belief cannot be doubted. When an illiterate becomes demented or unstable of wit they react with fear, believing that the instrument with which they access the truth of nature has been corrupted. The duration of the dementia matters not. I have seen the ravings of a victim of common hypothermia, such as may be suffered by anyone exposed for long periods of time to freezing water and then to freezing wind, treated as if it were a deadly cancer. And so it proves. For once a vessel has been thus corrupted it may not be made whole again, and so the unhappy person is ceremoneously murdered by their family and a new illiterate must be found.

The Ferrypeople dislike land-dwellers, but they reserve especial hatred for the people of Mud-bum. The Mud-bummians live in the branches of mud-bum willows in that area of the Kadmudia Gouache mudflats which borders the river. The Ferrypeople believe that the people of Mud-bum are members of their own tribe who deserted their boats long ago and became feral. There is no evidence to support this story, but it has become Ferryperson folklore and they believe in it firmly."