Written by: Dark Starr
Images by: Their respective owners.
The Rencers live their lives in the Delta from birth to death and have evolved the means of survival in the deadly conditions that exist. The Delta is a hazardous area filled with wildlife of which the Rencers rely on, such as the Marsh Gant, the Vosk Gull, the abundant fish life and the Tarsk raised on their floating islands. Of the predatory dangers in wildlife they face the nine gilled marsh sharks, carnivorous eels, salt leeches, tharlarions, needle flies and the winged Ul which is a dragon like the tharlarion. To highlight the nature of the dangers of the Delta and the strength of the Rencers one must only look to Players of Gor where the forces of Ar and Cos enter the Delta. Ar sent 50,000 men into the Delta of which less than 5,000 escaped.
The Delta itself is a tidal marsh, mostly of salt water except to the East where the Vosk river empties into the Delta which is fresh water. Navigation is difficult by anything other than the Rencer boats made of the reeds of the rence plant which are moved by poles. The depths of the Deltas water vary from a few inches to many feet with an average depth of 3 feet. Another navigational obstacle to those who have not lived their lives in the Delta are sandbars. Add quicksand and the obscuring height of the rence and the entire Delta is an ever changing maze to non natives. The Vosk Delta itself in its size and descriptive shape is the Nile Delta.
Take an image of the Nile Delta and turn it 90 degrees counter clockwise and it is the Vosk Delta.
Possession of the Delta is officially claimed by Port Kar, the only city of the Delta which lies on the banks of the Tamber gulf and the Thassa but the true possession of the Delta is that of the Rencers. It is impossible to sail a regular ship through the Delta and the bargemen of the Vosk River will not enter the Delta.
The Rence Plant
At the center of their lives is the rence plant, the Rencers have found uses for every part of the plant. Rence is the Gorean name for the Earth plant, Papyrus. Other researchers have falsely assumed the rence is a plant indigenous to Gor but the plant in its entirety from the physical description, the myriad uses and the creation of the paper from it is entirely that of Papyrus.
Rence is a tall, robust, leafless aquatic plant that can grow 13 to 16 ft high. It forms a grass-like clump of triangular green stems that rise up from thick, woody spreading roots up to four inches in diameter that buttresses itself with smaller support roots. Each stem is topped by a dense cluster of thin, bright green, thread-like stems around 4 to 10 inches in length, resembling a feather duster when the plant is young. Greenish-brown flower clusters eventually appear at the ends of the rays, giving way to brown, nut-like fruits.
The plants have many uses, virtually every part of the plant is used. The thick woody root, besides being used as a tether, is carved into tools and utensils. When dried, the root can be used for fuel for fires. The reed stem is used to create boats, a form of cloth, mats and cords. The pith, the soft white inner portion of the reed, can be eaten raw, mashed into a paste and cooked into a cake that is sprinkled with the seeds of the Rence, it is fermented into beer from the pith and crushed seed and, even sometimes used as caulking for boats. The most well known and important use of rence, outside of survival in the Delta, is the making of Rence paper.
Rence paper is made by slicing the stem into thin, narrow strips; those near the center of the plant are particularly favored; one layer of strips is placed longitudinally, and then a shorter layer is placed latitudinally across the first layer; these two surfaces are then soaked under water, which releases a gluelike substance from the fibers, melding the two surfaces into a single, rectangular sheet; these formed sheets are then hammered and dried in the sun; roughness in removed by polishing, usually with a smooth shell or a bit of kailiauk horn; the side of a tharlarion tooth may also be used in this work. The paper is then attacked, sheet to sheet, to form rolls, usually about twenty sheets to a roll. The best paper is on the outside of the roll, always, not to practice deceit in the quality of the roll but rather to have the most durable paper on the outside, which will take the most weathering, handling and general wear Rence paper comes in various grades, about eight in all. The rence growers market their product either at the eastern or western end of the delta. Sometimes rence merchants, on narrow marsh craft rowed by slaves, enter some pasangs into the delta to negotiate the transactions, usually from the western edge, that bordering the Tamber Gulf. —Raiders of Gor
The Rencers are a Caste just above that of the Peasants, in probably to the specialized nature of their livelihood, that of growing rence and creation of the highly valued Rence paper. Rencer men did not go on raiding expeditions to acquire slaves, they were not powerful enough to attack cities like Port Kar and in the Rencer culture, women were almost the equals of men.
Rencers live on islands of woven rence mats, floating dwellings of no larger than 250 feet long and eight to nine feet deep with the top three feet hovering above the water line. As the lower layers rot away, new layers are added to the top, a constant process that without they would soon dissolve to nothing.
On these islands the Rencers construct huts of rence, on top of the woven mat islands, that stand around eight feet long and five feet wide with a wall that curves into the ceiling. They are small in height being not more than four feet tall. These huts are used for little more than sleeping and storage of the little personal items the Rencers possess. A common Rencer hut might contain small copper implements such as a bowl, cups, wooden ladle, tharlarion oil lamp, clothing, boxes and throwing sticks used for hunting in the marsh gant. Late in the year, remaining rence that is usable is cut and stored on rafts until spring when they are woven into new mats for the islands and for winter stores of the pith for food.
The islands are held in position by tying tethers to the larger roots of the rence plant by heavy marsh vines. Due to the aquatic predators, this is a dangerous job for a diver, who usually is surrounded by other men who make noise and motions under water to drive away the tharlarion and sharks. Failing that, they are armed with the three pronged marsh spear. In Second Life the marsh spear is best depicted as the trident.
Moving the island is possible but no easy feat. The Rencers sever the tethers and divide people into two groups, those who will use poles to move the island and those who will clear the way ahead of the island. This is difficult given this island is from half to full size of a football field. Islands are moved for various reasons but most often in the face of imminent attack, the most common being the threat of attack from the “Taxes” of Port Kar, who come to collect Rence paper, sons for oarsmen and girls for pleasure slaves.
At the time of the books Rencers had not attacked another Rencer island for over fifty years. Although the reasons for such an attack were not specifically mentioned, it would be assumed to have been for territory or goods as Rencers did not keep slaves at that time.
Sometimes the entire island must be abandoned. It would be set on fire and the community will take off to a new location on their rence skiffs, these skiffs later become the base for the beginning of a new island.
Rencers communicate and leave non verbal messages to mark their territories with strips of white or red rep cloth tied to the stems of the Rence plants. White marks the boundaries of an islands territory and Red marks the inner reach where if a trespasser crosses they will meet the usual penalty of death. Rencers can communicate with each other through different codes that mimic the sounds of the Delta Marsh Gants and Vosk Gulls.
Rencers fish, hunt marsh gants with throwing sticks and raise some domestic animals – notably tarsk. Gants can also be domesticated. While wild gants cannot be tamed, a hatchling not allowed it to see an adult gant for its first week of life, can. It will accept the rence island as its home. If, however, the island is destroyed will it revert to the wild.
The women of rence growers, when in their own marshes, do no veil themselves, as is common among Gorean women, particularly of the cities. Moreover, they are quite capable of cutting rence, preparing it, hunting for their own food and, on the whole, of existing, if they wish it, by themselves. There are few tasks of the rence communities which they cannot perform as well as men. Their intelligence, and the work of their hands, is needed by the small communities. Accordingly they suffer little inhibition in the matters of speaking out and expressing themselves.
—Raiders of Gor , pp 17-18
The dress of the Rencers is a simple affair, made of undyed rence fibers and to withstand the rigors of life within the Delta. Jewelry and strips of cloth are obtained probably through trade or taken from captives as cloth not made of rence could not be manufactured in the Delta. Men and women wore their clothes off the shoulders and sleeveless, women went without veils and the skirt above her knees around her thighs. Such a thing in a city would be like a simple slave camisk.
She wore a brief, sleeveless garment of yellowish-brown rence cloth; it was worn well away from both shoulders to permit her freedom of movement; the brief skirt had been hitched up about her thighs that it might in no way bind her in her hunting. Her hair was tied behind her head with a strip of purple cloth, dyed rep-cloth.—Raiders of Gor , p 9He wore a sleeveless tunic of rence cloth, like most of the rence growers.—Raiders of Gor , p 15
There are two festival times for the Rencers. The first of Se’Kara is the largest festival time. During this festival, a few different Rencer islands will meet to celebrate together. All of the summer work will have been completed by this time and great supplies of Rence paper will be ready for sale. The festival is a time of many games and contests, of Rencer girl dances and merriment. There will be races of rence watercraft and tests of skill with the net and throwing sticks.
After this festival, the paper will be sold. Se’Var is the next festival but it is limited to each individual island.
Normally, as I may have mentioned, these communities are isolated from one another, but it was now near the Autumnal Equinox, and the month of Se’Kara was shortly to begin.
For rence growers, the first of Se’Kara, the date of the Autumnal Equinox, is a time of festival. By that time most of the year’s rence will have been cut, and great stocks of rence paper, gathered in rolls like cord wood and covered with woven rence mats, will have been prepared. Between Se’Kara and the winter solstice, which occurs on the first of Se’Var, the rence will be sold or bartered, sometimes by taking it to the edge of the delta, sometimes by being contacted by rence merchants, who enter the delta in narrow barges, rowed by slaves, in order to have first pick of the product.
The first of Se’Var is also a date of festival, it might be mentioned, but this time the festival is limited to individual, isolated rence islands. With the year’s rence sold, the communities do not care to lie too closely to one another; the primary reason is that, in doing so, they would present too inviting a target for the “tax collectors” of Port Kar. Indeed, I surmised, there was risk enough, and great risk, coming together even in Se’Kara. The unsold stores of rence paper on the islands at this time would, in themselves, be a treasure, though, to be sure, a bulky one.
–Raiders of Gor , p 16
The younger men and woman formed opposite lines, shouting and jeering at one another delightedly. And sometimes one or the other boy, or girl, would rush to the opposite line to strike at someone, laughing, and run back to the other line. Objects were thrown at the opposite line, as well as jocose abuse. The smaller children played together, the boys playing games with small nets and reed marsh spears, the girls with rence dolls, or some of the older ones sporting with throwing sticks, competing against one another.
From where I was bound, over the low rence huts and between them, I could see something of what went on. There was much laughter and shouting, and cheering and crying out. There were races, poling rence craft, and skill contests maneuvering the small light craft, and contests with net and throwing stick. It was indeed festival.
At last, after an Ahn or so, the group, the girls, the men watching, the judges, turned their several rence craft toward the island, beaching them and fastening them on the woven-mat shore.
Then, the entire group came to my pole, with the exception of Ho-Hak, who went rather to speak with some men carving rence root and talking, on the other side of the island…
The men sat cross-legged in the outer circles, and, in the inner circles, in the fashion of Gorean women, the women knelt. There were children about the periphery of the circles but many of them were already asleep on the rence. There had been much talking and singing. I gathered it was seldom the Rencers, save for those on a given island, met one another. Festival was important to them.
Before the feast I had helped the women, cleaning the fish and dressing marsh gants, and then, later, turning spits for the roasted tarsks, roasted over rence-root fires kept on metal pans, elevated about the rence of the island by metal racks, themselves resting on larger pans…
…I had carried about bowls of cut, fried fish, and wooden trays of roasted tarsk meat, and roasted gants, threaded on sticks, and rence cakes and porridges, and gourd flagons, many times replenished, of rence beer…
…Then, suddenly, the crowd stopped clapping and singing.
There was silence.
Then there came a drumming sound, growing louder and louder, a man pounding on a hollowed drum of rence root with two sticks, and then, as suddenly as the singing and clapping, the drum, too, stopped.
And then to my astonishment the rence girls, squealing and laughing, some protesting and being pushed and shoved, rose to their feet and entered the clearing in the circle.
The young men shouted with pleasure.
One or two of the girls, giggling, tried to slip away, fleeing, but young men, laughing, caught them, and hurled them into the clearing of the circle.
The rence girls, vital, eyes shining, breathing deeply, barefoot, bare-armed, many with beads worn for festival, and hammered copper bracelets and armlets, stood all within a circle.
The young men shouted and clapped their hands.
I saw that more than one fellow, handsome, strongfaced, could not take his eyes from Telima.
She was, I noted, the only girl in the circle who wore an armlet of gold.
She paid the young men, if she noticed them, no attention.
The rence communities tend to be isolated. Young people seldom see one another, saving those from the same tiny community. I remember the two lines, one of young men, the other of girls, jeering and laughing, and crying out at one another in the morning.
Then the man with the drum of hollow rence root began to drum, and one fellow had bits of metal, strung in a circular wire, and another a notched stick, played by scraping it with a flat spoon of rence root.
It was Telima who began first to pound the woven rence mat that was the surface of the island with her right heel, lifting her hands, arms bent, over her head, her eyes closed.
Then the other girls, too, began to join her, and at last even the shiest among them moved pounding, and stamping and turning about the circle. The dances of rence girls are, as far as I know, unique on Gor. There is some savagery in them, but, too, they have sometimes, perhaps paradoxically, stately aspects, stylized aspects, movements reminiscent of casting nets or poling, of weaving rence or hunting gants. But, as I watched, and the young men shouted, the dancers became less stylized, and became more universal to woman, whether she be a drunken housewife in a suburb of a city of Earth or a jeweled slave in Port Kar, dances that spoke of them as women who want me, and will have them. To my astonishment, as the dances continued, even the shiest of the rence girls, those who had to have been forced to the circle, even those who had tried to flee, began to writhe in ecstasy, their hands lifted to the three moons of Gor.
It is often lonely on the rence islands, and festival comes but once a year.
The bantering of the young people in the morning, and the display of the girls in the evening, for in effect in the movements of the dance every woman is nude, have both, I expect, institutional roles to play in the life of the rence growers, significant roles analogous to the roles of dating, display and courtship in the more civilized environments of my native world, Earth.
It marks the end of a childhood when a girl is first sent to the circle.
Mostly these girls, saving for a moment or two to humiliate me, danced their beauty for the young men of the circles, that they might be desired, that they might be much sought.
After a time I saw one girl leave the circles, her head back, hair flowing down her back, breathing deeply, and scarcely was she through the circles of Rencers, but a young man followed her, joining her some yards beyond the circle. They stood facing one another in the darkness for an Ehn or two, and then I saw him, gently, she not protesting, drop his net over her, and then, by this net, she not protesting, he led her away/ Together they disappeared in the darkness, going over one of the raft bridges to another island, one far from the firelight, the crowd, the noise, the dance.
Then, after some Ehn I saw another girl leave the circle of the dance, and she, too, was joined beyond the firelight by a young man and she, too, felt a net dropped over her, and she, too, was led away, his willing prize, to secrecy of his hut.
The dance grew more frenzied.
The girls whirled and writhed, and the crowd clapped and shouted, and the music grew ever more wild, barbaric and fantastic.
—Raiders of Gor , pp39
As Tarl commonly does whenever he meets a culture, he stirs up the men to act like the men of the Cities, abandoning the ways that they had long lived with.
The short-term changes seem effective but at the cost of their culture. Rencer men who once relied on the Free Women of the Rencers began to collar them with cord collars marked by a disk naming the owner. Branding, irons for branding and the selling of their women outside of the Delta become more common.
Another change is that the Rencers almost universally adopt the use of the Peasant Bow for hunting and defense. Finally the Rencers have an effective tool for defense against predation from Port Kar, being accepted as a Caste, even acting as auxiliaries in Port Kar’s military in a Mercenary capacity.
What long term ramifications are in store for the Rencers is not explored as is common in the books, but the life of Rencers are certainly never to be the same.
Reproduced with permission from Home Stone Magazine.
Past issues are not currently available to view online as
they were printed as the publication has been defunct since 2010.