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Canotila
11-04-2011, 11:51 PM
I'm trying to figure out how nomadic peoples measured time. It doesn't matter what culture specifically, just trying to get an idea of the different approaches taken.

Specifically for my story, I need a way of saying "one month". The lunar cycle is pretty important to the people's survival in this story, and so they'd notice it. It feels weird for the character to think in terms of months though, and whenever I try to use something like "lunar cycle" or "moon cycle" it leaves a new age flavor in my mouth that feels really wrong for the story. Blah.

Keyan
11-05-2011, 12:21 AM
Sounds like it's a problem of terminology ... why not the traditional "moon"? (E.g. It had been four moons since he last saw her...)

And for years, seasons work if you have the kind of world that actually has seasons. (I'm guessing you do, otherwise why would your people be nomadic?) So it could be something like "Rains" or "Winters" or "Summers" depending on which season was most important to them.

Williebee
11-05-2011, 12:31 AM
"Suns", "Moons", "Darks", "Full moons", "Snows", "Winters" or some kind of event that impacts the entire tribe -- "gatherings" of some sort.

"When next the father, Nah-ka-cee, turns his face full unto us again and we know that we must be in the place of sheltering before he looks fully upon us again. We have twenty seven suns to complete the journey or he will be angry and bring the frozen winds to bear and teach us his lesson anew."

Canotila
11-05-2011, 12:34 AM
Maybe it's just a personal hangup then. I type "moons" and instantly those campy noble savage stereotypes of American Indians pops into head.

I had a boss once who was born into an Afghani nomadic tribe. She didn't know her birthday or how old she was. Only that she was born in winter. Wish I still had her e-mail.

Kitti
11-05-2011, 02:28 AM
A lot of time systems are actually based on the passage of specific moments, e.g. it had been ten dawns, two winters, six nights, last new moon, last full moon, fourteen high tides, etc. That's where fortnight - fourteen nights - and sennight - seven nights - originally came from. This as opposed to what we generally mean when we say days (encompassing the full 24 hours, not just the part where it was daylight).

Alternatively, some calendars were actually based on constellations as opposed to the moon or the sun. Or you could fall-back on the moon: lunisolar calendars were extremely common, even in Europe and north Africa, until good ol' Julius Caesar.

I literally just yesterday finished reading about a dozen books on calendars and time-keeping methods. They're still sitting in a pile on the floor behind my desk, so if you have any specific questions, feel free to PM.

Siri Kirpal
11-05-2011, 03:17 AM
Maybe it's just a personal hangup then. I type "moons" and instantly those campy noble savage stereotypes of American Indians pops into head.

I had a boss once who was born into an Afghani nomadic tribe. She didn't know her birthday or how old she was. Only that she was born in winter. Wish I still had her e-mail.

Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

I know a guy who was born in tribal Kenya. All he knew was that he was born during a time of heavy rain. He hasn't been answering his email recently, or I'd try to contact him for you.

I also met a guy who was a member of a nomadic Persian tribe (I won't say "Iranian" because they're mostly wiped out now). Quasquai. This was a VERY long time ago. But I'm remembering how important their horses were. So, if your group has horses or similar animals, you could base time on the animals' cycles.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Williebee
11-05-2011, 04:14 AM
I like the animal's cycles idea. That has some cool possibilities.

The SFF in my head is imagining a culture that based time on unusual astrological events, like streaks across the night sky. Come to find out that they were the heat trails of landing ships on the other side of the planet.

:)

Canotila
11-05-2011, 08:29 AM
Thank you so much for the responses everyone, you've all got really good ideas. I like the idea of a a lunar/solar calender, and using animal cycles. For now I'll probably just use placeholder words while hashing it out.

frimble3
11-05-2011, 08:56 AM
I had a boss once who was born into an Afghani nomadic tribe. She didn't know her birthday or how old she was. Only that she was born in winter. Wish I still had her e-mail.
Maybe that's part of it: we're probably more obsessed with measuring time than people who couldn't do it accurately. Pre-clocks, we wouldn't expect anyone to meet at a particular hour - who could tell? It would be dawn, noon, dusk, or when the sun passes a tree or tower.
No-one would make a big deal about birthdays, if there was no way to identify the date. On the other hand, the seasons and solstices would be big deals.
Presumably you could record age if you made a mark for each year, at a specific time, and never lost track. Say, every midwinter, or midsummer. You might end up like race-horses, where everyone moves up a year at New Year's. One big party, less individual celebration.

mirandashell
11-06-2011, 12:24 AM
In my last WIP, my MC had to meet a homeless guy at 8pm-ish. So he was told to meet her at a certain place when the sun dipped behind the supermarket over the road.

So the sun is a good way to measure time over a day. Assuming it's not cloudy, obviously.