I'm writing a story about Earth before the industrial revolution, but without continents, where all the countries are placed on separate islands, and all of them are extremely isolationist and xenophobic. They kill any foreigners that steps on their land, and the navy sinks foreign ships sailing near their coast. Any citizen that leaves their home country or has a relationship with a non-citizen becomes rootless.

The trade between countries is done by these rootless, who are allowed to dock in designated ports, and trade their goods. Each country allows only short stays. Rootless are not allowed to buy property, and leaving the gateway port or overstaying means swift death. If a child is born from a rootless parent it becomes rootless itself.

I'm having trouble how would their culture look like? Especially how would women & young children survive if they have to move constantly.

The closest thing I could find in our world are Moken

  • $\begingroup$ How did this overall situation come about? What made all the cultures so xenophobic? How did this relate to the spread of people from island to island? $\endgroup$ Oct 23 '16 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ If trade between countries are done by these rootless, they would necessarily have to talk with people from those countries? What do you mean "relationship"? I am hoping you mean just romantically, because otherwise ridic. and impossible to trade. By property I hope you just mean land, because otherwise they would all be naked and would not be able to trade. $\endgroup$ Oct 23 '16 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ prop·er·ty ˈpräpərdē/ noun 1. a thing or things belonging to someone; possessions collectively. "she wanted Oliver and his property out of her house" synonyms: possessions, belongings, things, effects, stuff, gear, chattels, movables; More $\endgroup$ Oct 23 '16 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds very much like the Gypsies. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 23 '16 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ I see one problem... Humans aren't inherently xenophobic. Xenophobic tribes only happened when foreigners came and tried to assimilate them. One classical example is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentinelese_people#Incidents_of_contact $\endgroup$
    – Bloc97
    Oct 24 '16 at 3:15

By the fact that everyone else in the world keep their distance from them, these rootless would necessarily have to rely on each other (maybe having zero or few internal factions or tribes), thus creating a society of their own, with laws and traditions that are theirs (living only at sea changes your culture), but with influences by all the cultures of those expelled from mainland. Thinking about it, maybe being always at sea allowed them to explore more of the world, and find an unclaimed island to live on and keep secret? Addendum: Instead of an island, they could have one or more floating bases or cities, built from scratch or connecting several ships.

  • $\begingroup$ This is very plausable. Such a hyper-xenophobic culture would naturally be exceedingly risk averse, so there would be plenty of opportunities to skirt around the culture if you're willing to take any risk at all. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Oct 23 '16 at 16:09

You can expect very close-knit communities formed around a single ship. Those ships would trade between each other and actually would potentially end up quite wealthy as they are the only way for trade to happen between the various islands.

However the lack of any fixed abodes would make it hard to spend that wealth, and keeping it on boats would be very risky. This is particularly the case if there are certain times of the year where storms are more likely.

It's entirely possible that the Rootless would follow "good weather" around in a migratory fashion, for example heading south during the northen hemisphere's winter, then north again once summer has returned.


I'll make fallowing assumptions that I hope are in the spirit of the question:

  • Any country has Green-water navy much stronger then Rootless
  • All the useful land is already taken
  • Rootless aren't allowed to own any land

I expect a very close knit community centered around a life in a ship. Since Rootless don't have to compete with the states on overseas trade I expect many of them to do quite well. They're not allowed to own any land so they would spend their money on ships. The wealthiest families own 1000 tons Carracks, manned by hired hands, the middle own Caravel which they sail themselves & the poorest work as hired hands. They spend most of their life on the seas while travelling the merchant routes. Since no country has blue water navy, piracy is problem in many areas, so their ships are armed.

Life for the families would be hard on the sea but since the ships don't carry any passengers, there will be enough accommodation for women & children. I think the hardest problem is the drinking water and scurvy. Lack of vitamin C killed more men then battles. In fact of the 184,899 sailors enlisted by Royal Navy during the Seven Years' War, 133,708 died from Scurvy.

The Rootless would quickly learn to run clean ship, under strict discipline and frequently resupply with fresh food & water.

The other thing is risk, the sea is unpredictable for Sail Age technology, I expect parents to not want to put all their children in a single ship. When the children grow up many will leave their families to sail the world on other ships, and who knows maybe one day own one themselves.

Good eye for a trade, knowledge of customs and cultures of their customers, and most of all accepting their fate as child of Poseidon, would make for a race quite unlike the land dwellers.


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