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Just like the title says. To give a bit of background, the group in particular is a group of feral cats with human intelligence. Only a few of the cats ever step onto the surface world (And only do so at night), and the rest live deep in the caves. Their homes aren't total darkness, but most of their time traveling the caves are pitch black. They don't leave the cave for religious and cultural reasons.

They simply don't leave the caves since their ancestor's ghosts are in the caves, and they aren't on the surface. The surface contains humans and predators, and they don't have their ancestors to defend them there, while the caves are safe and familiar, with their ancestors to guide them. They essentially worship their ancestors, and to some extent, the night/darkness.

We're also handwaving any complications that come with living in caves. They are a bit between cats with human intelligence and humans in a cat's body, think the "Warrior Cats" series by Erin Hunter with more uses of body language. They have a few physical differences from cats in our world, but not a massive amount, mostly having slightly opposable thumbs (They can grip objects in a pinch, but don't expect them to hold tools, and they prefer just using their mouth), and sitting on their haunches like squirrels for brief periods of time.

They don't interact with humans, and while some few selected cats leave the caves at night for trade and if the cave cannot sustain the cats fully, that would complicate this question. The condition of the caves greatly varies, due to them being semi-nomadic and moving spots often so they don't collapse the ecosystem of the cave. But, the caves are often windy, and they usually try to set up camp near a water source like an underground stream.

For a bit of a cultural starting point, they are low context in communication (Very straight-forward, as you need to be when you can't usually see the body language and expression of others to infer), communitarism (Individualism isn't prioritized, group responsibility for choices, and emphasism on cooperation, and they primarily make leadership decisions with the help of their ancestors (The leader is actually just a cat trained to decipher signs and omens from their ancestors, as well as communicate with them, their ancestors make the majority of major decisions, and even minor decisions usually have the input of living elders). And, as a note, the ancestors are held on such a pedestal that disrespecting them horribly is enough to get you exiled from the caves. I originally planned on them placing a taboo on eating bats, believing them to be their ancestors and the night's messengers, but another question has brought to light that bats will likely be a heavy food source of theirs.

And, if appearance plays any role, they are small but stocky cats with large ears, spectacular night vision, powerful haunches, larger than average claws, and dark pelts. They also have quite a few cats with the ability to fish, and look vaguely like a Singapura cat, without as small of a size and without all the genetic defects and pelt color.

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  • $\begingroup$ Their reason why they don't leave the caves matters. It affects whether those who need to venture out are branded as heroes or heretics. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 17 '20 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen Very true. They simply don't leave the caves since their ancestor's ghosts are in the caves, and they aren't on the surface. The surface contains humans and predators, and they don't have their ancestors to defend them there, while the caves are safe and familiar, with their ancestors to guide them. $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Oct 17 '20 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like those who go up to do something required are heroes, but if they do it too much, might be considered tainted for wanting to leave behind the guidance of the ancestors. Depending on how visibly dangerous it is for those who go up (it is easier to consider taint if you are just told it is dangerous but everyone comes back okay than if cats frequently coming back without limbs, or not at all.) One promotes things to progress to be more persecutory while the other praiseworthy. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 17 '20 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen That's... actually a really good point and idea. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Jay
    Oct 17 '20 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ I think this question is a little vague? You're asking us to figure out what kind of culture would develop for a certain group, based on the fact they are cats who live in caves, but I feel like that's broad enough it could go any number of ways. What was their cultural starting point? Are they normal cats only human level smart, or are they essentially humans in cat bodies? (if they still have most of their normal cat-instincts then living in caves is probably gonna drive them nuts, btw, without some special accommodations). Any physical differences from normal cats? What are the caves like? $\endgroup$
    – MarielS
    Oct 18 '20 at 2:55
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Sounds like those who go up to do something required are heroes, but if they do it too much or are too eager, might be considered tainted for wanting to leave behind the guidance of the ancestors. Depending on how visibly dangerous it is for those who go up (it is easier to consider taint if you are just told it is dangerous but everyone comes back okay than if cats frequently coming back without limbs, or not at all.) One promotes things to progress to be more persecutory while the other praiseworthy.

There's also probably some horrible fate to those who die on the surface than in the caves away from the spirits.

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What role do your cats play in the Environment?

The exact cultural effects of a cave will be what the effects of any ecosystem will be on a species. What does your species need to do to survive?

Food scarcity will drive social development, but in different ways depending on what you want. In an environment where there is just barely enough to survive, your species will have pressure to either gain more resources, migrate, form a new social efficiency, or become ruthless.

  • Migration: This means leaving the cave to forage, possibly bringing back food for others/mates. The ones leaving take risks to make their society function, and may be entitled to special privileges (mates, status, and so forth). It could also mean there is pressure for groups to leave the cave, never to return so the available resources are able to go around.

  • New social efficiency: Your cats may develop a new system to increase the efficiency of their environment. A pond constantly flowing pond scum down a hole gives nutrients, and your cats develop snail farming, which stabilizes the food supply. Trained rats are sent out of the cave to retrieve food and bring it back to their masters (possibly dragging it back by strings/ropes binding the rats to their cat masters). Or perhaps the cats have bred a high-protein fungus and farm these with what nutrients are available, maybe even undermining the surface to retrieve soil and roots to feed the fungus.

  • Ruthlessness: It's a cat-eat-cat world. Literally. Males kill babies of other males for food and to drive females back into reproduction. The elders are killed and eaten when no longer needed. The top cat either kills or drives off rivals, and maintains the position at the top with brutal efficiency. The top cat forces foragers out onto the surface as punishment, and only bringing back food allows the punished to return. Tribes raid other tribes to kill & eat, to steal, or gain territory.

Hunting strategy will also similarly affect social development.

  • If the prey are aggressive, large, or clever, then the cats may need to use pack mentality to organize so they can bring them down.
  • If prey are small and widely dispersed, Hunters are lone creatures, and there is little pressure for individuals to come together except for breeding. They may be suspicious of others and territorial.
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