The Khajiit say that a hundred civilizations are buried beneath the warm sands of Elsweyr. After spending any amount of time walking the desert dunes you might be left wondering how any civilization could have survived out here, in the vastness of the wastes. The sun baked lands of Elsweyr resembles the harshness of Hammerfell in most cases, but travel further south and the land gives way to the fertile soil of the rainforests, complete with river basins, sugarcane groves, and towering trees as far as the eye can see.
Looking at Elsweyr, one can easily see the contrast of north and south, golden sands, and lush forests; to understand Elsweyr is to understand the duality of its people.
The feline race of humanoids who call themselves the Khajiit, are some of the most interesting specimens Tamriel has ever produced. This “beast race” are as diverse and unpredictable as the shifting sands of the deserts they inhabit. If you ever hope to understand the Khajiit as a people, you must first understand the two most influential parts of their society. Masser and Secunda.
Types of Khajiit
Each and every Khajiit now living owes their very being to these two heavenly bodies in the nighttime sky. These lunar cycles are an intrical part of Khajiit religion, culture, and biology. A traveler to Tamriel will describe the Khajiit as a beastial race of humanoids. They walk on two legs, dress like you or I would, yet they are also catlike in appearance. They’re covered in fur from head to toe, their eyes are capable of seeing in the dark, and their razor sharp claws make them better bar brawlers than the hardy Nords.
What your average traveler doesn’t know, is that the Khajiit don’t only come in one variety. On the contrary, the Khajiit come in many different forms; some more beastial, while others more human. Theirs is a race that is eternally bound with the Moons, and their heavenly cycles.
It all starts at birth. A newborn Khajiit is born into this world, and appears incredibly similar to a small feline. Although born smaller than the children of Men and Elves, the Khajiit mature at a remarkably fast rate. Within a few short weeks a newborn Khajiit assumes the form Masser and Secunda has chosen for him.
There are rumored to be more than twenty forms a Khajiit can inherit at birth, but here are just a few…
- When Masser is dark in the nighttime sky and Secunda is Waxing, the Khajiit that are born during this time become Suthay-Raht. These Khajiit boast many different fur patterns, but more importantly, they are the most commonly encountered Khajiit. These Khajiit are the ones our typical travelers are likely to encounter, and they act as the face of their species seeing as they normally found roaming the land as traders.
- When Masser is dark and Secunda shines bright in the nighttime sky, the Ohmes is born. Similar in many ways to the Bosmer, these Khajiit most closely resemble humanoids. From a distance they could be easily mistaken for an Elf, but upon closer examination they are most certainly Khajiit. The Ohmes are one of the most common form of Khajiit seen outside of the province of Elsweyr. Taking advantage of other races’ preference to their appearance, they are most likely found serving as ambassadors, or traders. A Ohmes will actually tattoo their faces in order to look more like their brothers in Elsweyr.
- When Masser is Waxing and Secunda is Waning, the Cathay-raht are born. The Cathay-raht have earned their place in Tamriel’s history by being fearsome warriors. They are often called the jaguar men and are more bulky and physically imposing than the rest of their race. Despite their size, they are also known for being exceptional climbers. The Cathay-raht can be found serving as bodyguards, or frontline fighters.
- When Masser shines bright in the nighttime sky and Secunda is Waning, we see the birth of the Senche-raht battlecats. They are described as being the size of a mammoths, carrying many Khajiit as a platform of war.
- When Masser is Waning and Secunda shines bright, the unassuming Alfiq are born. The Alfiq are nearly indistinguishable from the common housecat, yet they are just as much Khajiit as their brothers. They possess a Khajiit’s keen intelligence, and can understand spoken languages, even though they can’t speak themselves. We assume the Alfiq make excellent spies. After all no one accuses a housecat of eavesdropping.
One of the most important things to remember is that all of these breeds, despite them looking so different, are in fact Khajiit. Each could theoretically interbreed and create another Khajiit who might very well look nothing like their mother and father. Their appearance is dependent solely on the phases of Nirn’s moons.
- Lastly this brings us to the Mane. Only in the event of a complete Lunar alignment, a Mane may be born. Only one Mane exists at any one time, and the Khajiit believe that the Mane is one soul incarnating into different bodies throughout the ages. Traditionally, all Khajiit would shave their hair and braid it into the Mane’s mane, but the large population of modern Elsweyr has made this tradition impractical. The Mane acts as the nonpartisan spiritual leader and ruler of Elsweyr. He does not wield the power of armies, seeing as the Khajiit have no standing armies. His power comes from the hearts and minds of the people of Elsweyr. He has often had an important role to play, both in tradition as well as religion.
Religion & Society
The religious beliefs held in Elsweyr are curious to say the least. Their deities very closely resemble the Aedra worshipped as the Divines, only their gods resemble cats rather than Men or Elves. This is only proper considering each race on Tamriel paints the gods in their own image. Their gods tend be governed by passion and wit, prized characteristics amongst the Khajiit of Elsweyr. As a race, they are quick thinkers, creatures of action. As such they are most content living a life of adventure, in pursuit of wealth or fame. A Khajiit tends to learn more by doing rather than reading. This might help explain why the Khajiit were able to construct a very civilized and advanced culture before they ever discovered the Elven invention of reading and writing.
As a feline race the Khajiit are incredibly acrobatic, quick with a blade, and as silent as a gentle morning’s breeze. Some bred of Khajiit can move through trees with a speed and agility that could make a Wood Elf blush. This, combined with their quick wit, has bred them into Tamriel’s most infamous thieves. The more bigoted citizens of Tamriel accuse all Khajiit of having sticky fingers. Some of the more unwelcoming races won’t even let them within their walls. Don’t feel too bad for the Khajiit though, this suspicion isn’t unfounded.
The Khajiit people are known for being a shifty sort. You might barter a good trade from one of their race, only find your whole coin purse missing a few minutes later. They can be the most charming people you’ll meet, or the most dangerous. Their race is known for their dual personality. Their people crave change, and this makes them much like their desert home and its ever changing landscape. Just as the sands are constantly in flux, so are the Khajiit constantly unpredictable.
Feeding into this unpredictability is a Khajiit’s peculiar diet. In Elsweyr, Moon Sugar is King. The natives refer to Moon Sugar as “crystallized moonlight”, but to the Khajiit it is so much more. As the chief export of Elsweyr, sugarcane groves can be found in abundance in the jungles where they are harvested for trade with the other Provinces. Regardless of the foreign demand for Moon Sugar, the products best customers are closer to home. Despite the extremely addictive nature of the sugar, it is an integral part of Khajiit life. The Khajiit believe that by consuming it, they are consuming a small portion of the eternal souls of the moon gods, and from the moment it touches their lips it drives them into fits of ecstasy.
Walk down any street in one of Elsweyr’s major cities, and you’ll find it strewn with catmen shivering in the grip of sugar-fits. This unquenchable desire for Moon Sugar has given Khajiit quite the sugar tooth. Candies, cakes, pudding, and sugar-meats are all staples of their diet, each enriched with the taste of Sugar. Travelers to Elsweyr are warned to steer clear of the local food. Moon Sugar might have a profound effect on the Khajiit, but it goes double for the other races.
Elsweyr supports a thriving black market. It is said, “If it can be bought, it can be found in Elsweyr”. Skooma is the addictive feel-good drug the Khajiit have perfected and supplied to Tamriel for many centuries. Skooma is an extremely addictive and hazardous, and as such it has been banned from some parts of Tamriel by order of the Empire. As we’ll learn though, even under the eyes of the Empire, the Khajiit are much too chaotic and independent to abide by any rules for any length of time.
A Brief History
When Men and Elves touched down on Tamriel’s shores in ancient times, they quickly learned that Tamriel was already home to many unfamiliar beast races. Like the Argonians, the Khajiit are considered to be the original inhabitants of Tamriel. They are one of the few native races who survived the aggressive expansion of both Man and Elf. Their knack for change allowed them to survive while other lesser native races fell under the crushing wheels of progress.
When Topal the Pilot, the Aldmer explorer, mapped Tamriel in the Merethic Era, he and his crew found themselves sailing along the crystal blue waters of the Niben River. These early Elven explorers had the misfortune of being stalked by Tamriel’s most fearsome land predators. The early Khajiit. These cat men preyed on just about everything, and caused many early Elven settlers much distress. The ancient Bosmer for instance knew to avoid certain parts Valenwood for fear of the “great jungle cat men”.
From these early encounters with the Elves, it is easy to assume that the Khajiit, though most at home in the deserts, reigned as the dominant culture across southern Tamriel in ancient days.
It is strange to think that so inhospitable a land as Elsweyr, of scorching heat and crop destroying wind, would have been the cradle for one of Tamriel’s truly great races, but alas, the brutally of life’s obstacles has a way of forging strong thriving civilizations that can stand the test of time. And thrive they did.
When the first historians began putting quill to paper the Khajiit kingdoms were already a long established cog in the Tamrielic machine. By the time the Bosmer had ushered in the First Era, there were sixteen independent realms that made up Elsweyr. Unlike typical human and elvish kingdoms, these regions did not compete with one another for land and influence. Rather the early Khajiit recognized each others strengths and weaknesses. These sixteen kingdoms worked together in harmony, finely attuned and ruled by the heavenly bodies in the nighttime sky.
For centuries the Kingdoms shared the province by weathering every storm the foreign powers threw at them. This rare and unparalleled unity made this race of natives simply untouchable. The Alessian Empire of Men elected not to expand into modern day Elsweyr for fear of retaliation, and the Bosmer of Valenwood likewise knew how far eastward they dared to extend their kingdom. No one Empire wished to risk open warfare with a people as organized as the Khajiit.
Sadly Tamriel demands that all good things must end, and in the later years of the First Era the terrible and devastating Thrassian Plague destroyed the balance the Khajiit had cultivated.
Refusing to be wiped out entirely, the cat men of Elsweyr were reduced to two kingdoms, each representing one of their sacred moons, and each very different from the other. One a desert kingdom with a tribal warrior culture, and the other a jungle kingdom with a culture built around the persuasive power of coin. With no ruling power to keep them in check, the two kingdoms fought for supremacy without either ever getting the upper hand.
It wasn’t until the 309th year of the Second Era when, through a diplomatic marriage, the two Khajiit Kingdoms were drawn together. Fully recognizing just how historical this event was, the Khajiit Kingdoms renamed their land after what we assume to be an old Khajiit proverb, “A perfect society is always found elsewhere”. Henceforth, the land would be known as Elsweyr. Just as the Khajiit nobility were attempting to mend the land after centuries of inner struggle, outside forces were hard at work; endeavoring to destroy the land that watched them grow.
Following yet another horrific plague called the Knahaten Flu, the Khajiit were staring death in the face when Molag Bal’s undead host sought to enslave Tamriel in the 2nd Era. In their darkest hour their people were saved by an unexpected ally. Ayrenn, Queen of the High Elves assisted Elsweyr by restoring order in the chaos that followed the plague. After saving their home, and quite possibly them from extinction, the Khajiit of Elsweyr pledged their unwavering loyalty to the High Elves of the Summerset Isles, and by association, the Bosmer of Valenwood. Their newfound friendship formed the First Aldmeri Dominion.
Under the Dominion the Khajiit formed the boisterous front lines of every battle. Their versatility of race, and proficiency with a blade, as well as their own claws, earned themselves a reputation as warriors of superhuman skill and ability. It is little wonder why the Khajiit have been welcomed back into the Dominion fold at each incarnation.
The many centuries following Molag Bal’s ill attempt at domination has seen an Elsweyr constantly in flux. Like it’s people, Elsweyr never seems to rally under any one banner for too long. The only authority the Khajiit seem to recognize for any length of time are the Moons and their heavenly dance, also the Mane. Every few centuries a Mane may come along and offer up a time of peace, but these golden ages always seemed to be short lived.
The Khajiit would find some security in being absorbed into the Septim Empire of Man, only to later rebel. It’s safe to say the Khajiit will always crave change, but what happens when change does not favor them?
In the early years of the Fourth Era, Khajiit society would be turned on its head when Masser and Secunda suddenly vanished. The Khajiit, whose very being are attuned to the heavens and their lunar cycles, were thrown into disarray.
Two years later when Masser and Secunda reappeared, the Thalmor of the Aldmeri Dominion announced that they had used powerful magic to restore the moons. And what do you think happened after that? History, as it does, repeated itself. The Khajiit praised the High Elves as their saviors yet again. As popularity for the Dominion increased, and support for the Empire diminished, the Thalmor led a coup against the Imperial-backed government in Elsweyr. Now serving gladly under a reborn Dominion the Khajiit will assist the High Elves in enforcing Elven interests across the land. With their feline friends in tow, the High Elves of the Summerset Isles pose a very real threat to Man and his dominion over Tamriel. But that- is a story for another day.