Continuing our series of excellent guest articles on Tamriel Foundry, we bring you a fantastic submission from Rial, who thoroughly examines the philosophy, culture, and stereotypes related to one of Elder Scrolls’ most iconic races, the Khajiit. In addition to describing the way that Khajiit view the world, Rial also clarifies their cultural position within the Aldmeri Dominion during the Second Era. I learned a tremendous amount from this article, and I’m certain you will all appreciate the comprehensiveness of Rial’s insights.
Most fans who eagerly anticipate Elder Scrolls Online are familiar with many fantasy worlds and their inhabitants. We recognize the fair and magical elves, the noble and versatile humans, and the wild and pugnacious Orcs, but every franchise has a few species which aren’t included in the stereotypical “build your own fantasy world” kit.
One of those species is the Khajiit. These cat-like people who hail from the barren deserts and lush jungles of Elsweyr have been part of the Elder Scrolls universe since the very first game, Arena, was released in 1994. Not much is known about them, but their portrayal in past Elder Scrolls games has painted a clear picture. The Khajiit are a despicable people. They are without morals and conscience. They are thieves, frauds, liars and drug addicts who care for no one but themselves. They are the scum of Mundus. Or are they?
No Honor Amongst Thieves?
Khajiit seem tailored to fit the stereotype of the sneaky-stealthy-stabby-thiefy rogue. After all, one of their most revered heroes (and later god) Rajhin was a legendary thief in the Third Era who is said to have stolen a tattoo off the Empress Kintyra’s neck. Throughout Tamrielic history, there are many occasions when the Khajiit had a nation – or several – of their own. If most Khajiit were thieving backstabbers who solely cared for themselves, such a thing simply wouldn’t have been possible. Just like every other society, Khajiit live their lives as farmers and merchants, warriors and healers, monks and hunters and none is worth less than any other.
Ta’agra, the language of the Khajiit, gives us the word jihatt, which means mercenary. Everywhere in Tamriel, such a word wouldn’t hold negative connotations, but in Elsweyr it does. A mercenary is someone who fights for money rather than his clan or the Mane. In the eyes of the Khajiit, that is a bad thing. Khajiit didn’t comprehend the concept of money and wealth at all when first confronted with it; then proceeded to mock it openly. A proper Khajiit cares nothing for money and, if given some, would trade it as fast as possible for something actually useful. If a Khajiit should decide to live the life of a thief, making the accumulation of wealth his highest priority, he will soon find himself shunned by his people. The Khajiit of the trading caravans we meet in Skyrim openly admit they are no longer welcome in Elsweyr.
So why is it that the stereotype of the thieving and lying Khajiit is still firmly held in the minds of Tamriel’s people? For one, it is because the lowest of their species are found mostly outside of Elsweyr, but to really answer this question, we have to enter the mind of a Khajiit and see the world through his eyes.11
J’Zara has been carrying crates for a merchant all day long. Tired and hungry, he enters the inn where he has rented a room. Before going upstairs, he notices a cooked fish lying on a table. Happy to have found such a delicious meal, J’Zara eats the fish. The innkeeper catches him with a full mouth. He shouts at the Khajiit, calls him an ungrateful thief and throws him out. J’Zara has no idea why the innkeeper would treat him like that. He never did the man any harm.
Khajiit have an understanding of possession very different from our own. J’Zara saw the fish just lying there, with no one holding or eating it at the moment. According to Khajiiti logic, the fish belonged to no one and J’Zara saw nothing wrong in eating it. Of course, people will grow accustomed to him stealing and he will be stigmatized for his crimes. The Khajiiti mind is not made for self-reflection; when (or if) he finally realizes that what he does is wrong, he will come to the conclusion that even if he stops stealing, people won’t think any better of him. Therefore J’Zara continues lest he miss out on the good stuff.
There is a glitch in Skyrim that causes our favorite Khajiit, M’aiq the Liar, to become stuck in the player’s house indefinitely (bug or boon, you decide). While this probably wasn’t done on purpose, it demonstrates the Khajiiti concept of ownership nicely. M’aiq found a house and decided to live in it. But he won’t mind if the player lives in it, too. There’s enough room for the both of them.
As for lying, they make no excuse, Khajiit lie and don’t see anything wrong in it. Only their actions show their true intents – hence the phrase “When I contradict myself, I am telling the truth.” According to the Khajiiti creation myth, the dying Fadomai gave Azura (spelled Azurah by the Khajiit) the task of creating the Khajiit. They were to be not only the best climbers and survivors, but also the best deceivers. Therefore, Khajiit believe that lying is a fundamental purpose of their race. They practice secrecy and deception according to that belief. A Khajiit’s words cannot be taken seriously and a Khajiit will never take a word at face value.
Our Sugar Is Yours, Friend
Say one thing about Khajiit, say they have a sweet tooth. And nothing is sweeter than sweet, sweet moon sugar. Moon sugar can only be grown in the fertile south of Elsweyr, along the shores of the Topal Sea. The few clans that own plantations hold much power and wealth because of that. Let it be clear that, while most mortal races easily succumb to the addictive effects of moon sugar, Khajiit are much more resistant to it. To them, it is just like alcohol. If a Khajiit knows his limits, the occasional pinch of the sweet sugar won’t harm him. But we have to be realistic, Khajiit are not made for self-reflection and not many know when to stop.
A very different matter is skooma. Moon sugar is a key ingredient in this narcotic which causes addiction in man, mer, and Khajiit alike. While moon sugar alone might have a chance on the free market, skooma is too hard a drug, and deemed dangerous. Thus, its main ingredient has been banned from trade, as well. Of course, moon sugar is still spread over the whole of Tamriel by smugglers, not all of whom are Khajiit.
The sugar isn’t only of recreational value to the Khajiit. It is a heavenly gift to their people, the crystallized light of the twin moons and there are few things of more religious importance to the Khajiit than the moons. Moon phases determine which sub-species a newborn Khajiit will grow into. From mer with tails and humanoid cat-people to elephant-sized tigers, Khajiit range widely in physical attributes. Because of its connection with the moons, sugar has become such an essential part of Khajiiti life, many acts of courtesy and social rituals use it and the word is often used as a metaphor for soul or life force.
Though they may not seem like it, the Khajiit are a religious people. Apart from the moon sugar, their greatest warriors are monks, trained in the ancient weaponless arts of the Whispering Fang or Rain of Sand styles and despite their hedonistic behavior, Khajiit cover their torso fur – they believe to show it would be shameful. The traditional chest garment, the budi, has become the epitome of Khajiiti clothing, even their word for tailor incorporates it: budiit.
The I of the Tiger
Their exotic view on possession is not the only aspect that differentiates the Khajiiti mind. There is one massive difference that isn’t easy to comprehend. Khajiit don’t have a full concept of self. In a sense, they see their lives – at least on a non-physical level – like we see them, as characters in a computer game. There are needs to be fulfilled, work to be done, but there is a certain remoteness between the player and his virtual avatar. This is why Khajiit don’t refer to themselves in the first person, but rather as “Khajiit”, “this one” or their own name.
Khajiit also lack the ability of self-reflection. That makes it hard for them to question their own thoughts and actions and learn from their mistakes. It also makes them shameless and unscrupulous to an extent, just like players who are not afraid to slaughter whole cities or go on pickpocketing rampages. Of course, Khajiit know they can’t just reload when something goes wrong, so they are considerably more cautious. Since Khajiit will never be as conscious about their own actions as man or mer, they are less influenced by peer pressure and more individualistic. It is hard to find a Khajiit that is the odd one out when every Khajiit acts a bit weird. Except the weirdness goes against the social norms, of which Khajiit have few. Any kind of rule or law, be it social or official, strikes them as foolish and they will just ignore it, if not break it just because they can.
True to their heritage of lies and deception, Khajiiti logic is bizarre. It involves thinking around corners and interpretation. The word Khajiit itself, for example, derives from khaj, meaning sand or desert, and -iit, the suffix for someone who does something. Since one can’t do sand or desert, the exact combination doesn’t make much sense. However, according to Khajiiti logic it is obvious that the only plausible thing one can do with sand or a desert is to walk on or through it, respectively. Therefore the word Khajiit most appropriately means “desert walker”.
A Cat Among Eagles
Now we have learned a lot about the lives and thoughts of the Khajiiti people, but before this article comes to an end, let us take a look at what role the Khajiit will play in the Aldmeri Dominion and how they got there in the first place. Elsweyr has never been the most stable of nations, considering the Khajiiti mindset. For a long time, the Khajiit lived in autonomous clans, undisturbed by any form of higher authority except for their gods.
At the beginning of the First Era, Elsweyr was already split into sixteen realms. The ancient Khajiit didn’t fight each other for total dominance, rather they tried to complement each other as best as they could. The realm of Ne Quin-al for example was famed for its warriors. Ne Quin-al would lend aid to any Khajiiti realm in need of strong fighters. Even the overall rule of Elsweyr was shared, with every realm in turn being assigned dominance over all others during a certain phase of the moons. All of that changed, though, when the Thrassian Plague afflicted Tamriel at the end of the First Era. A great number of Khajiit perished and many realms could no longer fulfill their ancient role, forcing others to compensate. In the end only two realms remained: Ne Quin-al (now commonly called Anequina), stretching across the deserts and dry plains of the north, and Pa’alatiin (Pellitine) in the lush southern jungles.
The relationship between the two new nations was far less harmonic than the one between their sixteen predecessors; dislike and prejudice were widespread. In 2E309, Kiergo of Ne Quin-al and Eshita of Pa’alatiin tried to unite the Khajiiti lands into the kingdom of Elsweyr – a name taken from either the Khajiiti proverb “a perfect society is always found elsewhere” or the Khajiti paradise of Llesw’er. This unification caused a civil war between the Khajiiti nobility and commoners. During the following centuries, many Manes have tried to calm their people and restore peace in Elsweyr, but never with lasting success.
Then the Khajiit were hit by another plague. The Knahaten Flu, said to have originated from deep within Black Marsh, spread across Elsweyr and again many Khajiit perished. Already weakened from two and a half centuries of civil war, this seemed to be the end of the once great Khajiiti people. Whether the Altmer helped the Khajiit of their own accord or if the Khajiit came begging for help we do not yet know, but the Altmer might have saved them from extinction. Deeply thankful for the help the elves provided to their plagued nation, the Khajiit didn’t hesitate to join the war effort of the Aldmeri Dominion. With the Altmer favoring arcane combat and the Bosmer, due to their woodland habitat, unseasoned in large infantry battles, that job falls to the Khajiit who are described accordingly on the official website as “the strong arm of the Aldmeri Dominion.” They are, however, not predestined for the archetypal warrior.
Traditionally, Khajiit prefer light, flexible armor and equally light weapons. They favor ambushes and hit-and-run tactics over open confrontation. Most Khajiiti sub-species aren’t even built for strength and endurance, but quickness and agility. They also prefer to run away, rather than sacrificing themselves for the greater good in some glorious last stand. After all, if they run away, they can come back later and finish the job. They see no purpose in wasting lives to prove a point. Khajiit are not the optimal infantry, but they are the best the Aldmeri Dominion has and its enemies would do well not to underestimate the fierceness of the Khajiiti warriors. Still, the Dominion must to be careful when wielding the deadly weapon that are the Khajiit. They are just as strange to them as they are to us, but their battle prowess and their cunning planning can become a huge asset to the Dominion forces, if used correctly.
And thus we have arrived at the end of our little trip through Elsweyr. I hope you now see that the Khajiit are more than the licentious and ruthless rogues they are commonly portrayed to be. Rather, they are an exotic and deeply fascinating people. I hope you are ready to welcome our furry little friends into your heart. May your food be sweet and your bed be warm.