Monday, September 25, 2017

Things I Wish They Did More With #1: The Garif of FFXII.

Figured I'd break the silence with an odd one this time around, as well as begin a series of occasional out-of-character (out-of-narrative?) posts where I write about what I think of various fantasy thingies.

The premise of this particular series will be to take a look at something that is by itself a very minor part of a larger story, whether it be campaign setting, video game, or film, and then discuss the woeful lack of lore or screen time spent on X.

Or in this case, XII. Because I want to ramble on about something in Final Fantasy 12.

But not this guy.

I never finished this game because my GameFly subscription was about to end and I was out of allowance money for the month, but I spent enough time in the world of Ivalice to find my favorite location, in the form of Bancour. It's an underpopulated region of plains and flatlands which none of the major world powers in Ivalice have taken an interest in, beyond the Henne Mines which are known to contain magic rocks. More on those later. More importantly right now, Bancour was the region within which stretched the Ozmone Plains.

Pictured: Not a geographer's best definition of a plain.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that the "plains" are just as craggy, segmented, and broken up by hills and tiny mountain ranges as any other traversable map in the game, I'm still very fond of this zone. The weather changes from sunny to cloudy to rainy and back periodically, the skybox is simple yet pretty, and the foliage just faintly hints at something of an African savanna belt inspiration. Ruined old structures and strange rock formations jut out of the ground here and there, suggesting that the place has seen a fair share of violent history. It's peaceful, without being empty or boring- assuming you stay the hell away from the Sylphi Entite on your first run through the place. Aeroga hurts on top of Silence and Sleep effects.

At the far edge of the Ozmone Plains rests a fenced-in village built in and around what I never could determine to be either a ditch, or a dried-up riverbed. But given that the land immediately around the village is much drier than that of the surrounding plains, I think there might have been a drought which didn't receive mention in-game. The village was located upon one of the elevated areas of ground, so that it had several levels, several of them connected by wide bridges. This is the village of Jahara.

Within this village are members of a fascinating species named the Garif. The Garif are powerfully built, broad-shouldered with long arms and patches of what might be reddish-brown fur here and there across their bodies. I say "might" because they wear leather and hide clothing in the classically patchy and impractical fashion of all Final Fantasy humanoids, so it is a bit difficult to determine where the clothing ends and the skin begins. They are also tall, taller than adult Humes/humans by about a head, even while they are stand with the ever-present hunches in their backs, possibly caused by their opulent headgear.

Unless those are real horns. Again, it's hard to tell.

The Garif are each given masks imbued with personal and cultural significance at a very young age, and they wear them for their entire lives, only ever removing them when alone, or in private with extremely close or intimate companions. Because of this, and my party's lack of interest in going native and dwelling among the Garif for several years instead of dealing with that Empire of Archadia or whatever the heck it was called, I never got to see what they look like beneath all of that paint and carved bone. The Garif also live sex-segregated, with men and women typically occupying entirely different villages. As such we never see a female Garif, much the same way we don't male Viera.

The Garif seem to organize and orient themselves around a tribal hierarchy of chiefs and sub-chiefs. The Great-Chief and leader of the Jahara Garif is one Uball-ka marked by his truly giant and ornate mask, but underneath him there are also several Low-Chiefs, and at least one current and one retired War-Chief. The former War-Chief had to retire after receiving serious injuries in battle, suggesting that the positions are not held for life. We can only guess at how chiefs are chosen, however. But because the new War-Chief was brother to the old, it wouldn't be far-fetched to speculate that the roles are passed down familially, and sometimes laterally.

To the Garif, the land is sacred. Their religious matters are guided by geomancers, and it is refreshing to say that "-mancer" is more accurately used here than in other fantasy contexts- although I don't doubt that a Garif geomancer could unleash a wicked Quake spell if he had to. Recall the magical rocks I mentioned back at the beginning of this ramble? In Ivalice, those are called Magicite, which are to Ivalice what Dragonshards are to Eberron: multipurpose crystalline objects that can be extracted from the earth and used to power magic, magical technology, or magic-users. The Garif however do not use them as power sources, or as weapons, unlike virtually every other sentient species on the planet. They merely worship these stones, and the gods which they believe them to be representative of.

This is because the Garif are so singularly dedicated to upholding their Old Ways of technological simplicity and closeness to the earth, that they wouldn't manipulate those powers in order to become a major player in the world. They never appear, but there are said to be many tribes of Garif, and all of them united could be a powerful force indeed. But that isn't their way, and no one has been able to convince them differently- not even their own gods, who are otherwise very successful in manipulating people with the promise of power or greatness.

I won't say anymore on that last point in case any of my Burrowers intend to play the game and have a spoiler-free experience. Although that game was released in 2006, so... you might want to get a move-on with that.

The Final Fantasy Wiki, which I've been ruthlessly gutting for every shred of information I can find as I write, includes in its Trivia section the possibility that the Garif may have been based off of the real life, multi-ethnic Garifuna people. I would say that's an extreme stretch, beyond the similarities in the name itself, and the possible West African or Afro-Caribbean influences on Garif personal names such as Kadalu, Sugumu, or Yugelu. Nothing in their material culture or mode of living strikes me as similar, and it is more likely in my mind that it was just a coincidence- the same way I inadvertently named the sadistic healing deity Najis after a state of ritual impurity found in Islamic jurisprudence.

All in all, I think the Garif are fascinating. Which sucks, because everything I've typed thus far is the entirety of what they were used for. They haven't appeared in any subsequent Ivalice-centered games to my knowledge, not even the Tactics series where other species have subsequently been made playable like the rotund and porcine Seeq. Not even the in-game lore-collecting Clan Primer which allows you to gain pages of info on background material and monsters you've fought (including one respawning Garif Adventurer) offers any more insights into the Garif, because after the first rudimentary entry about them the series gets swept up in a completely unrelated fable about a dragon picking a fight with God.

That's all a shame, because I believe that a Garif protagonist, even if he or she were just a one-off party member or traveling NPC, could offer a really different point of view on the fustercluck of a world that they live in.

I can see why they haven't figured more prominently, though. They stand out, physically and culturally, in such a way that doesn't exactly make Final Fantasy hero material, and within the context of Final Fantasy 12's storyline itself, the role of secluded, naturalistic, and vaguely elf-like wise folk was taken up and carried on by Fran's Viera buddies in Eruyt Village.

Still, one of them being in the main cast would have been better than being stuck with Vaan.

You should have died instead of Reks!

*Edit* Wiki link for your perusal.

Also added more on chiefs.

Aaand I forgot to include the Clan Primer bit.

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