"We Centauri live our lives for appearances, positions, status, title. These are the things by which we define ourselves."
The Centauri are bipedal humanoids, in appearance similar enough to humans that the species could easily pass for one another under casual inspection (apart from distinctive differences in hairstyling and attire). During The Third Age of Mankind, the average lifespan of Centauri was around 150 Earth years.
The cardio-vascular system of Centauri has two hearts instead of the single heart that humans have. The right heart is a solid mass of muscle which provides most of the force behind the body's blood circulation. The left heart is much more complex, made up of an intricate system of thousands of veins that help cleanse the blood in a manner similar to the human kidneys. As a result, a heart attack in the left heart is a very serious matter because it is very difficult to repair. Their network of blood vessels is also somewhat different than in humans, as they do not have major blood vessels in their wrists.
The most blatant external difference between Centauri and humans is the reproductive system. The outer reproductive organs of Centauri males consist of six tentacle-like genitals that extend out from the sides of the body and fold in over the solar plexus when not in use. The males can stretch the tentacles out to several feet. Females have six narrow receptive orifices, three on either side of the base of the spine, just above the hips. During sexual intercourse the male places the tentacles in the female's orifices individually. The level of pleasure during intercourse increases with the number of insertions.
The Centauri have extrasensory perception to varying degrees, generally manifesting as precognitive abilities. Most Centauri have limited perceptions, enjoying only rare fleeting glimpses of the future. However, some Centauri will experience vivid prophetic dreams telling them of the time and the circumstances of their deaths. A rare few Centauri, exclusively female, have very strong prophetic abilities. These females are often given a special status in Centauri society that is much higher than would normally be given to a female. The widow of Emperor Turhan, Lady Morella, is said to have had extensive precognitive abilities, to the point where she was considered a great prophet and could see glimpses of someone's future just from the touch of their hand. She also acts as if she speaks for both herself and her late husband.
Some Centauri have telepathic ability. Like humans, the degree of telepathic ability varies with the individual. The Centauri Emperor Turhan always had four female telepaths in his court, who had been trained since birth to be continuously mind-linked. When he traveled, two went with him and two remained at the royal palace, allowing rapid communication between the Emperor and Centauri Prime.
Culture & Society
The nobility is the centre of all power and influence within Centauri society, and advancement is only possible for an individual if they are either a member of a House or connected to one. The patronage of a noble is the easiest and often only way for a commoner to achieve success, and the trading of favours for mutual profit is par for the course. The more influence a noble is seen to have, the more sought-after and consequently the more expensive are his favours.
The Houses themselves constitute the Republic's chief societal unit and are formed from old families of varying power, wealth and influence. The Noble Houses are the "Old Guard" while the so-called "Great Houses" serve as a middle class, though many of the Republic's leadership come from such houses. The "Lesser Houses" make up the lower servant and working classes. Most Centauri are allied to one House or another by way of blood relation, arranged marriages or in service as retainers. The few families that have no such alliances - known as Houseless families - are considered beneath contempt. Such unfortunates often end up in such predicaments when they refuse to play the game of inter-House politics—gathering secrets, gaining leverage and trading in favours to form alliances—and it's not uncommon for members of these families, and women in particular, to end up as contractual slaves. By law, any Centauri subject - even non-Centauri - may own a Centauri as a slave, but they must abide by the Republic's laws governing slavery. For example, an owner is considered responsible for the actions of their slave and is held accountable for any crime their slave might commit.
Traditionally, a Centauri's social standing is displayed by the length of their hair crests, with longer hair denoting a higher position while the shorter crest is intended only for the proletariat. This only applies to males. Centauri females, who have no social standing or official positions within society, typically shave their heads, sometimes with a knot or ponytail of hair at the crown.
This total lack of social standing for Centauri women is unique among the civilized races. While the noble women are often spoilt and pampered, the common women are a protected and treasured resource, often working behind the scenes and usually filling roles as teachers and nurturers for the young and old alike. The few Centauri women who are ambitious in political or industrial circles have a better chance to find opportunities beyond the borders of the Republic. Male Centauri are typically the leaders and workers of society; serving in the military and doing all of the physically demanding tasks, with the commoners naturally tending to dominate the latter professions.
"I'm to marry the ugliest woman on Centauri Prime. She is to marry a man as old as her grandfather!"
"Ugly and old, yes? Then their families must be rich and powerful. I commend your parents on fine choices. But I still don't see the problem!"
Family and lineage are of great significance to the Centauri, most especially because of their rich traditions and thousands of years of recorded history. Marriages arranged in early childhood have been commonplace among the Noble Houses since around the thirteenth century, with considerations such as the wealth, influence and House allegiances the respective families stand to gain from such unions typically being the only contributing factors. The prospective couple's feelings towards one another are considered irrelevant, and love very rarely plays any part. Indeed, for most old school Centauri the two most important indicators of the wealth and power of a prospective spouse's family are how ugly and how old they are. Once common for all Centauri at all levels of society, in recent years such arranged marriages have fallen out of favour in all but the Noble Houses, with whom it is considered nothing short of a sacred duty.
As the Centauri are by tradition polygamists it's not unusual for a noble male to have several wives - all by arranged marriages - the better to cement more House alliances and acquire greater influence. If a noble family doesn't approve of a union, if for instance a male marries beneath his station to a commoner for such a trivial motivation as love, that family can force him to divorce with the threat of being cut off from the House. With the prospect of no money, position or title, very few nobles, even the young foolish kind, are willing to endure life as a social outcast for the sake of a woman. Though divorces for marriages of passion are relatively simple, a divorce from an arranged marriage is much harder to come by and can often only be sought from the Emperor himself. Regardless, for the sake of appearances it's considered unseemly for a noble to be completely unwed, and at least one wife is required to be at his side, if only for state affairs.
For the nobility, marriage ceremonies themselves are considered solemn, sober occasions filled with moments of reflection, regret, disagreement, argument and mutual recrimination—the idea being that once you know that it cannot get any worse you can relax and "enjoy" the marriage. To celebrate a union with joy and exuberance is considered to be a very bad sign for the future. By contrast, state funerals are generally considered to be positively festive.
Fosterage is an old tradition by which one or more young nobles, with the permission of his or her parents, are taken in by a member of an allied house. While there, they are tutored in Centauri culture and the proper decorum for those of their rank. When they come of age, the noble that fostered him or her can decide that the young Centauri may choose whomever they wish to marry, regardless of their families' wishes. The more powerful the noble willing to take the child in, the greater honor on his or her family. Once a common practice, it has fallen out of use, but is still considered legally binding.
Under Centauri law, while a Centauri is still too young to speak for himself or herself they may fall under the guardianship of an adult, who need not necessarily be a relation, who speaks on all matters of importance for that child.
One of the most significant times for a Centauri male is his Day of Ascension and anniversaries of the day. At such a time, a sufficiently influential Centauri may even receive a congratulatory note from the Royal Court and an imperial favor from the Emperor himself. The traditional celebration takes the form of a great festive party with the giving of gifts to the "ascendee." By tradition, attendees are required to attend barefoot. To do otherwise is considered a grave insult, though the ascendee can choose to overlook such an affront when an offending party is a good and dear friend and/or a Narn.
After the Centauri made contact with Earth, the game of poker became extremely popular throughout the Republic. During the period from 2262-2278, when the Republic was estranged from all Interstellar Alliance members, including Earth, a cultural purge was attempted of all foreign influences, in line with the new policy of aggressive pro-Centauri isolationism, but poker was too beloved by the Centauri to give up. The cognitive dissonance was resolved by claiming that the Humans must have gotten the idea for poker from the Centauri.
Centauri religion is polytheistic, centering on a Pantheon of Gods, each of which is believed to hold dominion over a given afterlife. Centauri belief is that by sufficiently appeasing one's patron god during their lifetime, that god will accept them into that afterlife in preparation for the time when all the "heavens" unite into one. Those that do not appease their gods sufficiently are thought to be reborn and must choose a new god, repeating the process until one accepts them. The pantheon itself is made up of a mixture of old household gods, deified Emperors and the Great Maker as the chief creator deity. This makes the Centauri unique among Maker religions, as all others are strictly monotheistic. As more Emperors are gradually elevated to godhood, the exact number of Centauri gods is given to change, but by 2258 the total stood around fifty - though even that is dependent on whether or not one believes Zoog should be included.
As with many Earth cultures, the Centauri have a number of ancient and varied legends and folklore. According to some of these ancient folk tales, if a great "higher spirit" of a reborn Centauri finds itself in a body totally and utterly unworthy of its presence, it can choose to cause the body to die so that it can then move on to a more worthy host. The body can, however, fight back and even prevail in a great struggle that, if the person survives, leaves them permanently changed. Another tale tells of an evil monster called Rokbala, who hides under beds and swipes away the souls of naughty children.
Glossary of Centauri Terminology
- Other Sources
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