The Aiel clan belongs to the vast desserts where Sunagakure no Sato is found. They possess a special hijutsu inspired by the great Ichibi, which enables them to control sand to the point where it has become second nature to them.
- The Tribes
The Aiel are not a clan in the traditional sense of how most regard clans, they are less a single clan and more a separate ethnicity in themselves. They are divided up into various tribes that are scattered along the deserts, canyons, and wastes of Kaze no Kuni to the extent where if it isn’t built on and settled they will most probably pass on through. They are rarely at war with one another in the traditional manner, though if one tribe strays too far into another's territory that usually means conflict to some extent with the warriors of both tribes clashing in hit and run attacks.
Tribes are completely autonomous from one another and eke out an existence of the nomadic sort by leaving an area when the hunting in it becomes scarce to another area where they hunt until they have to move again; which usually leaves them moving from six to eight times a year. There are three large tribes, the Shaido, the Taardad, and the Chareen. The nature of the people means that they don't have one last name, though when among those not of the Tribes they will usually just give their family name as that of their people as most wetlanders and those of static home can hardly tell the difference; and on top of that the business of family is for that of those that have lived and grow up among the tribes rather than those that are contemptuously called ovog bol(without tribe).
Aside from the three biggest tribes there around two dozen smaller ones, the total population of Aiel came to around 150,000 though after two shinobi wars in quick succession and trouble with Ame for Suna they are closer to 65,000 still scattered amongst the lands of Kaze no Kuni. Each tribe is split into bands of about 400 people due to the necessity of not living where there isn't enough food, in essence they would starve if a tribe was to gather together all it's numbers at once. The three biggest have around 5,000 people each while the others have on average 2,500 each though pre-war the numbers were far in excess with two other tribes able to stand alongside what are now the three great ones.
The Aiel all hold to animism, every one of their youths are given a soul name when they are born that the land is to know them by; usually this is connected to an event or sight seen near the time of birth and so can usually lead to names such as "Coyote in the storm," or "hunting falcon," the tribes all hold to this practice though there is some variation to it slightly among the various tribes. They all believe that everything holds a spirit, with the great spirit above all being the desert and the Ichibi which they believe to be one and the same for what else could be the desert manifest if not the mighty One-Tail? They regard Jinchuriki of the Ichibi as figures to be respected as bearers of the mighty desert spirit, they will provide aide unconditionally to the Jinchuriki whether it is wanted, demanded, or refused but they won't bow or scrape as they worship the spirit imprisoned rather than the body that has the good fortune to bear it.
There are many subtle variations and major differences in ways that worship are carried out by tribes that include tribal dances and large hunts to simply not doing any hunting on a certain day and fasting instead to show gratefulness to the desert and the various spirits that protect and look over a tribe. The great desert and wild places the tribes live are considered their overarching great spirit, they put it above all others and so if certain holy sites are threatened the tribes will put aside rivalries and blood feuds to protect their spiritual places. These include certain areas where they witnessed the Ichibi carry out miracles and even large oasis that they covet and hold against those that are not of the tribes. The oasis and caves are clearly marked for their holiness, some even leave the tribes to join and protect the wise women whom guard and teach of the holy land; those that do that keep the peace when tribes pass through and give their lives in its defence if the need arises.
The holy sites have very strict rules that are held up by all, the spiritual leaders of the people are the Wise Women that answer to no Tribe and have no Tribe answer to them; instead they have holy law and writ on their side that none but the most crazed or without any control would seek to break. They keep the history of their people and have the protection of the holy place which ensures that no Tribe would even think of attacking or threatening them. The laws include that all Tribes that go to partake in the Wisdom of the Wise Women must provide tribute in the form of food and renew vows to protect the holy if need be, and must also promise to abide by the laws of no violence to be committed by the Aiel on the Aiel while they stay within the only static settlements of the people. This means that all blood feuds are set aside, an enemy Tribe that have had years of war with your own will sit and eat side by side without so much of a raised voice in anger, then once they leave and are out of sight of the holy lands they then can proceed to once again hate and jeer and stab at one another with abandon.
Holy laws are the only constant law, each tribe has different means of punishing crimes though Holy Laws are the only ones that bring with them death sentences. Tribes can't afford to lose Hunters and so if a Hunter kills another one they will instead face having to give up their horses and their best weapons to the family of the one they killed along with other material goods to pay a blood debt.
Aiel Society and Customs
Aiel Society has a few constants from Tribe to Tribe across the massive desert, they practice certain things across the width and breadth of every nomadic group of them. The major practice that is a constant is Polygamy, The tribes practice this for a very simple reason, and that reason is for the purposes of practicality. It is impossible to ensure enough warriors and hunters that each tent can have one to provide for those that are not martially or hunting inclined. So Polygamy is a simple solution, it ensures that every household can count on having a male warrior to provide for the women; this isn't the only way around it works but usually this is the far more common occurrence as opposed to women having multiple husbands though mainly this is because practicality and because that form of polygamy doesn't expand the numbers of a Tribe any faster and instead opens up for a female warrior to be unable to fight or hunt while pregnant which could leave a household hungry if the males were to be the ones that mainly stayed at home.
Children aren't too closely paid attention to in the tents of the Aiel, mainly because as long as they are safe and fed the philosophy of most parents is that they will pick up their skills by playing among themselves, observing and following the warriors, and by simply practicing and going out on expeditions themselves into the desert once they reach a certain age, though with other youths of their own age. A tribe of Aiel won't attack a group of youths straying far from the camp, mainly because it's seen as a horrific crime to do so and partly because there's no honour in killing the young that haven't become full warriors left. It's down to the adult fighter and hunter of the tent to teach them the skills of survival and ensure they turn out strong, meaning that there is some formal training at a young age though it doesn't take the appearance of lessons found in the academy and instead is far more subtle and less explicit in its purposes.
All Aiel Hunter Warriors have a lust to prove their bravery in battle, bravery that are expected from their elders and their peers and is vital for ensuring the continued survival of a Tribe. While killing an enemy in battle is thought of as a worthy act and a significant show of battle skill greater honour is claimed and earned by warriors who can get close enough to his enemy to touch a vital spot with the tip of one of their weapons in a mock death blow and then return to safety; all without hurting the one they touch in this manner. This is known as a coup (war count). Coups are always carefully counted during warfare and war trophies were put on display such as the notches on a warriors spear or by valuable status symbols such as eagle or hawk feathers to put into ceremonial headdress. War paint is used to daub Tribal markings on the side of a warrior's horses to indicate the number of coup counted by them, enemies killed and horses captured in their time. If a warrior has a coup performed on them they are shamed, and when spoils of war claimed they must make a gift to the one that embarrassed them so, or their household must if they are later killed and the goods passed on. In war with other Aiel Tribes there are rules that they all accept, unofficial but if broken will earn much resentment by all Aiel kind, children and Elders and other non combatants are not to be harmed. Only a fifth of total goods and material possessions may be taken as spoils of war from another Aiel tribe excluding prizes taken as tributes from individuals due to Coups. These rules are simple and small, though they are iron, and although merely convention breaking them would mean certain doom for the Tribe. However these rules only apply when fighting other Aiel Tribes, with other wanderers not Aiel there are no rules, merely that of strength as such civility is regarded as only for War between the true sons and daughters of the desert.
Death is a constant threat in the tents, the threat of hunger or the threat of no water causing them to die of thirst in their tents though they are surrounded by lots of game. As a result water is taken very seriously, as a valuable necessity that literally means the difference between life or death in a far shorter term than food deprivation means that Aiel treat water and Oasis with great respect. It is forbidden to jump in or wash oneself in a pool of water no matter the circumstances. The Aiel bathe when they have to through the use of steam, taking buckets of water inside thick tents on cold nights they strip down and allow the steam to make them sweat and so use that and the water that beads on them to scrape the dirt from their skin. This results in the most serious of oaths for the Aiel, they will swear oaths over water; and these are oaths that if not kept they are sure will result in bad omens to follow the oath breaker and their descendants, as well as this it is reckoned that it shows ungratefulness for what water the desert provides and so will earn the ire of the great desert spirit. Though death itself is treat very matter of factly, for warriors it is seen as a good death and their body is burned with honour and their worldly goods pass down to their youth. For elders some may weep but usually the fact they had such long happy lives outweighs that and so they merely sing dirges for the deceased and grieve little.
An unusual thing is that warriors by some unwritten code never sing, this is true across all tribes and though songs of grief for parents and elders may be sung they only break this unwritten rule for the glorious war dead and for singing songs of war and glory. This usually means that Aiel war songs are rather badly sung to outsiders, especially in the more guttural sounding of the Tribal languages though they are all rousing and the words themselves are unusually poetic for the most part.
In Kaze no Kuni in the ancient times before the feudal lords and the formation of ninja villages had even occurred to anyone there was a very large tribe. Numbering tens of thousands in number it couldn’t farm in the wastes and it sucked the hunting dry as quickly as it could move. In essence it had grown too large yet none knew what they could do about it. The years ticked by slowly, with much hardship but much spiritual fulfilment and far more freedom than static villages could give to the dwellers on the plains. The people of the desert were skilled in there arts, their hunting was motivated by desperation and so they became adept early at moving far and wide around the great tent villages of their families to try and get the meat and water necessary for survival. There were other great tribes at that point, many hostile peoples whom spoke different languages that attacked and were attacked by the Aiel, it was a hostile time that saw many lie dead in war on the plains over the valuable and sparse water supplies and the even sparser hunting in some areas. Their greatest chieftain however pushed back the majority of these tribes, securing a wide slab of territory for the Aiel to roam in, pushing out uncontested as the situations called for it with his warleaders blazing the trail and striking at enemy tribes from all directions but the one they were expected to come from.
It was ironic then that what has since been seen in legend as almost tragic was in fact the greatest thing that could happen in order to preserve their beloved way of living: Their great and powerful leader died in his sleep, the five candidates that wanted to replace him both had roughly equal numbers of followers in the camp. They were all strong, proven war leaders that had many pledged to them that they had led against the rival tribes of the plains numerous times. The people were divided, angry, and almost at blows. But none were willing to settle the matter with bows and spears in the wake of the death of their greatest of leaders, especially when the Shaman condemned any that even thought of drawing the blood of their brother and sister tribesfolk in the wake of such tragedy. Would it not spit on the memory of their beloved leader to fight in the wake of his death over something as petty as leadership?
The solution was simple, if they could not be united then they would abandon the name Aiel as one tribe, instead that would be the name of their people; it would unite them as they split between their allegiances for the prominent five leaders to avoid war and infighting. This was the formation of the first 5 Tribes, which since have always been the strongest of the number.
When the Ichibi showed up in the desert, the Aiel were thrown into disarray. They wondered what it was but their way of life allowed them to stay out of its way with no trouble. The answer was obvious to the wise men though, and their answer was to change the fabric of Aiel society forever. The idea of the Ichibi being the incarnation of the spirit of the desert was a pleasing one, and one that no-one could find a way to disagree with due to the skill of the beast at manipulation of sand. So they followed the beast, attempting to try and learn from it. Though they couldn't be taught, the thing itself was learned from and where it rested became their holy sites. Those that learned and copied from it evolved into legends, it went from merely watching from a distance and trying to copy to them having approached it and it deigning to teach it's children.
Through the centuries they learned more, and when the hidden villages formed they scoffed. Especially when Sunagakure formed. What was the point in having a static set of houses? You couldn't follow the hunting or search for fresh untapped oasis like that. Eventually however they saw the shinobi wars, and after the first they began the tradition of sending young from their ranks to learn at the Academy. This bolstered the ranks of Suna soundly, and when the shinobi returned to their Tribes it meant they could pass on their knowledge and serve as even better warriors and hunters. It became a symbiotic relationship.
In the most recent War the Aiel population took a hammering, having Taki forces ranging into the desert many warriors died slowing their advance and protecting holy lands. Eventually however Taki extended its supply lines, and in that lay their defeat. Two Clans stood to bar the way of the army and while the fierce battles raged on across the sands the supplies were cut and the Aiel then pulled back for good. They only engaged to hamper the movement of the army. And as a result, the tired, ever increasing thirsty forces succumbed. To date that is the largest operation Aiel have taken part in as a people, and is one they value as a large success despite the massive losses.
The Tribes of the Aiel elect their chiefs via a popular vote by all those whom are considered adult (which is something that varies massively amongst the different Tribes) and once a chief has been elected they are at most first amongst equals. They rule via respect though they can't force a Tribesmen to do anything they don't want to; in essence at most they are Primus Inter Pares "First amongst Equals," and a Chief that doesn't stick to that and instead tries to assert themselves as a dominant force over their Tribe without question will soon find their authority in tatters. All in all this means that a Chief is only as powerful as his Tribe allow him to be, which usually means that ironically the ones that don't try to force their way usually end up getting more easily followed than those who aren't as laid back in exercising their powers.
The Elders of a Tribe form a council that also includes the Tribal shaman and the medicine man and other figures of import, and using their wisdom they advise a Chief on important decisions such as where to migrate to, whether to accept peace or fight on in war, and even whether or not to go to war in the first place. A Chief will never go with a course of action without consulting these bountiful fountains of wisdom, and to even think about pursuing a course of action that could have far reaching consequences for the Tribe without talking it over with the Elders would not only look bad but almost tyrannical. The Tribesfolk definitely wouldn't support the action if they heard, at least not until this process has been gone through.
They are far from a kratocracy, they recognise in their Tribes that the strongest warrior isn't always going to be the best leader, and so while brave fighters may be showered with praise and given positions of leadership of raiding parties in times of war Tribesmen and women really let a reputation as a good warrior blind them to whether or not someone could in fact be good enough to lead their tribes to prosperity.
Sand Manipulation is the ability for the Aiel to control at will any sand that is available to them, this allows them to perform various Jutsu with it but without doing that they can have rudimentary control of it to some extent though not quite enough to be considered a proper offensive. They can merely try and buffet with sand or create basic objects with it, this doesn't require lots of concentration as it is an instinctual thing they picked up from the Ichibi; and so once they have learned to utilise this Hijutsu it quickly becomes second nature.