Now that I've introduced individuals from all three main regions of my version of Cardassia--and now that I've drawn an example (here
on the Trek Art forum) of regional costume, here's some background to explain some of the terms you've probably picked up on by now.
One thing I don't see dealt with in most of the alien cultures is ethnic variation. Plus I also needed to reconcile certain things from "The Wounded" (TNG episode) with the future appearances of the Cardassians--I decided not to gloss over it.
There are three main ethnic groups on Cardassia. In the Hebitian days, the differences were much clearer in terms of culture, dress, and language; however, following Tret Akleen's (Ilojan transliteration: Tret Aykliyn
) consolidation of the Cardassian Union, all territories were required to adopt a single language which for the most part was derived from one widespread through the planet's dominant region.
Still, even on a very united world, Cardassians proved very loyal to their ancestral homes and lands, due to the tendency of three to five generations to live under one roof. Therefore these days, the only way you will typically be able to determine a person's region of origin is by appearance or that person's statement about where they live. Though there are small clues to be had from accent or a person's name (which originally Akleen wished to force people to change to fit a Rivšalda mould but was talked out of this by his advisors), unless one actually travels to Cardassia, noticing the accent tends to be uncommon due to the standardized nature of the outlying colonies (settled after the centralization of the Union) and the intense pressure on officers, as they rise in the ranks, to adhere to standard speech.
This is the most populous group by far, and the one that most people picture when they think "Cardassian." This is in part due to the sheer population density of the Rivšalda, as well as the fact that in pre-Cardassian-Union days, their nations were extremely active in colonization efforts due to financial and other resources--this has exaggerated an already notable population advantage to the point where many foreigners with only casual knowledge of Cardassia have never seen a non-Rivšalda.
It is the language of one of the greatest pre-Union Rivšalda nations that was eventually enforced upon the Cardassian Union as the standard tongue for the entire empire. It is also Rivšalda kănar
that many people think of when picturing the drink--a thick, dark brown, almost molasses-looking drink.
Rivšalda typically have a cool grey cast to their skin, with varying levels of hue that can become almost white in those from the northernmost regions [think of Garak--sometimes he seemed quite pale]. The macroscales tend to be sharply defined on the eye and the ear/jawline ridges, as well as down the sides of the neck. Height and build are quite variable depending on subregion.
As the Rivšal regions continue to be the most financially-influential on Cardassia in addition to the most populous, notable Rivšalda are quite numerous and include people such as Dukat, Damar, Tekeny Ghemor, and Elim Garak.
Cardassians of Nevotda origin appear very similar to the Rivšalda except for a few small differences: their skin generally takes more of a "warm grey" cast with a darker preponderance of hues than the Rivšalda, particularly on the jaw ridges. This hue is often described by Cardassians and foreigners alike as "shale-grey" even though it never actually becomes that
dark. There are also differences in the facial structure, though the extent to which this is actually noticeable varies. The eyes tend to be very dark brown if not almost black. Because the ridging and scaling patterns are generally very similar to the Rivšalda, however, foreigners may not necessarily recognize that the person they are speaking to hails from Nevot rather than Rivšal.
While Nevot is distinctly behind Rivšal in population and economic power, the situation was actually worse before the founding of the Cardassian Union. In the days of the Union, a person of Nevotda origin will typically find few social hindrances among the Rivšalda majority. While not as prosperous as the people of Rivšal, there are many well-to-do Nevotda families, especially since Nevot retains some small areas of arable farmland. Those who own such land tend to be very well-off, such as the Va'Kust family.
Many who grew up in the region of Nevot have a slight but noticeable accent--Nevotda vowel pronunciation tends to be crisper, with less tendency to slur or de-emphasize non-accented vowels than the standard Rivšalda pronunciation. As a result, many students of the Cardassian language, whether intentionally or not, tend to speak with what native Cardassians will often identify as resembling a Nevotda accent while learning. Unless a student comes to Nevot or a planet settled by people predominantly from that region, though, this tends to shift as the student learns Rivšalda pronunciation. Still, it is often advised that if a student's native language is relatively vowel-poor, that he or she seek out recordings of speakers from the Nevot region (or better yet, actually enroll in a class taught by someone who is either of Nevotda origin or who has spent an extended time in Nevot) and focus on cultivating an authentic Nevotda accent.
One of the most notable Nevotda recently is Legate Broca, the man who temporarily assumed leadership of the Cardassian Union under Dominion rule. Though this has led to some ribbing aimed at the Nevot region, most of the rhetoric is aimed specifically at Broca himself and therefore has not incited any form of ethnic conflict.
[Other Nevotda you've seen in the story so far: Zebreliy Va'Kust, Sekdain Istep.]
Perhaps the Cardassian ethnicity least frequently seen offworld is that of the Hăzăkda.
The region of Hăzăk is in Cardassia's southern hemisphere and in Hebitian days primarily relied on an agricultural economy. When the planet's climate shifted, Hăzăk suffered the blow most severely as their entire livelihood was wiped out, taking an entire continent's economic infrastructure with it. This, coupled with the fact that the Hăzăkda had historically been disadvantaged (comparatively speaking) even in the planet's days of plenty, has often hindered the advancement of Hăzăkda in Cardassian society despite constant initiatives by the Detapa Council and even Central Command to alter this situation.
Some of these efforts, however, have been halfhearted--in pre-Union days, the Hăzăkda were sometimes victims of discrimination and mistreatment of varying types, especially in the pre-spacefaring era.
Part of this has stemmed from the noticeable difference in appearance between the Hăzăkda and natives of Rivšal and Nevot (who are much more similar to each other than they are to the Hăzăkda). The macroscales of the typical Hăzăk native are far less defined than those of the other two groups, and they tend to exhibit prominent ridge patterns on their foreheads and temples. The ear-to-jaw ridges also take on a very different pattern, with additional ridges being seen in the upper ear and the lower-ear ridge flowing less smoothly towards the jaw. Finally, the skin tends to exhibit an almost beige hue mixed in with the usual Cardassian grey (an acceptable description of this tone is "sandstone-beige") and the hair is more likely to exhibit a noticeably brown color as opposed to the black or dark brown common among other groups.
The combination of all of these features often led to rude speculations (all disproven by genetic analysis) that the Hăzăkda either represented a subspecies or genetic throwback, not "true" Cardassians. In fact, the truth is that the population of Hăzăk simply became isolated to their continent in the planet's prehistoric times (much as large landmasses like Earth's Greenland, Australia, and Antarctica are from other major landmasses) and spent thousands of years with no real contact with other regions, allowing them to develop more distinctive features than the Rivšalda and Nevotda, who had more contact with each other and therefore more similarity in features with each other.
In modern times, certain prejudices against the Hăzăkda still exist, even though it is illegal in Union law to treat any Cardassian differently because of the place of their forebears. Though the "different species" and "throwback" theories have been conclusively refuted, terms like "inbred" and other insults similar to the Earth insults "redneck" and "trailer trash" are still not erased from the Cardassian cultural consciousness, insults derived from the low Hăzăkda socioeconomic status, perceived lack of cultural sophistication, and "outdoor"-focused culture (a holdover from their agricultural days). Remarks about Hăzăkda appearance are generally regarded as unacceptably crude...though in the rougher areas of Cardassia, one may hear uncomplimentary descriptions of Hăzăkda ridging patterns--most especially about the women.
Hăzăkda success in Cardassian society has therefore been more limited than that of their Rivšalda and Nevotda brethren, though particularly within the military structure, there have been Hăzăkda who have achieved real success, and it has been observed (an observation to which there is much truth) that the people of Hăzăk, once achieving success, show great dedication to helping others from their area succeed and will sometimes go out of their way to mentor and promote other Hăzăkda where possible, though outright favoritism, just like outright discrimination, is banned under Union law. [In the story you will have observed this with the Ghiletz
, though referred to by the same word as the better-known alcoholic drink, is made from a different plant and therefore has a blue appearance not unlike Romulan ale (which despite common misconception, is not a component of the beverage). Hăzăkda kănar
, while still more viscous than the typical alcoholic drink, is not as much so as the more common variety and therefore tends to be more successful with offworlders. In the parlance of Federation colonies near or within Cardassian space, this drink tends to be referred to as "Cardassian pale ale."
Perhaps the most notable Hăzăkda in a position of power is Gul Macet.*
[Daro and Telle are also Hăzăkda, as is Gul Speros.]
*Interestingly, Macet is the cousin of Gul Dukat--and although technically Macet is only half-Hăzăkda, he identifies with that group as one who has been on the receiving end of the appearance-based bias (not to mention a rocky relationship with the Dukat side of his family).