Kipa Qanaviaro Zabuion (KEE-pah kah-nah-vee-AH-roh zah-BOO-ee-on)
My son, do not fear. You go to a great calling. You are blessed to have the traning from the Kumei. Now it is time for your passage forward. Go, and bring honor upon our family."
The Zabuion Sunulawe are a highly respected monastic order whose temples and monasteries are located in the passes and upper reaches of the Dragon's Spine in northern Dangoang. A family whose child has been accepted into the order as an acolyte considers it a blessing from the dragons that live aling the Dragon's Spine. But just being accepted into the monastery as an acolyte does not make a child a monk. That comes when the acolyte reaches the level of Kumei, of teacher. This can only happen after the Kipa Qanaviaro Zabuion or Day of the Dragon Follower. On this day, which comes once per year, the acolytes will begin a process of being tested by their teachers in all the subjects they have been taught. These include magic, prayer, martial arts, and concentration. While the criteria for passing a test are kept secret, the tests themselves are a public event. If a child has passed all the tests, regardless of age, they will be elevated to Kumei, and become an aide for an existing Kumei. The testing begins three days before the first day of autumn. Those who pass are then ready to prepare for the cold winter, the final rite of passage into the rank of Kumei. In this rite, they will climb higher into the mountains, near the peaks, and settle in to survive the harsh winter alone. Those who return will have fully achieved the rank of Kumei. And if they are visited by a dragon during this time, they are considered highly blessed. The rite began after the Zabuion Sunulawe were created, as a means of growing the ranks of the order that devotes itself to good deeds and protection of dragons. Many wished to become part of the order, but the original council of monks wanted to be able to determine the most worthy, the most capable individuals to protect the villages and the secrets of the dragons. Thus, they came up with a series of tests to sort the wheat from the chaff. These tests have evolved over time, and are judged by the Kumei and Peki Baqen.
The day begins with the acolyte/candidates gathering in front of the monastery's front steps. They are asked to kneel facing the temple. They wear their light yellow acolyte robes with a red sash. During their time of teaching, their sashes are blue, indicating the process of learning. Red is the color of testing. The Peki Baqen emerges from the temple, followed by the entire cadre of Kumei. Lastly, the non-testing acolytes emerge from the temple, facing the ones being tested. All kneel and follow the Peki Baqen in prayer. The prayer has no defined length and is based on what the Peki Baqen feels this class of acolytes needs as blessings and reminders of their teaching. Following the prayer, meditation is led by the Kumei. The meditation is actually the first test. As they meditate, the Peqi Baqen observes. The acolytes have all been taught very specific forms of meditation, designed to focus the mind and exclude outside influence. The Peqi Baqen begins to move among the acolytes. He is looking primarily for one thing - the acknowledgment of his presence. Those that recognize his presence are tapped on the shoulder. The testing is over for them, and they must remove the acolyte robe and join the onlookers. For if they recognize the presence of the Peki Baqen, then they have not achieved the level of meditation for which they have trained. There is no shame at all in the removal. All the acolytes know of the test. Some simply cannot pass it. They rise, remove the robes, and are embraced and blessed by the Peqi Baqen. After the review of the Peki Baqen, the meditation continues. The Kumei encircle the acolytes and begin a more thorough test of the mediation. This can be through the use of sharp loud sounds, intense heat, firing arrows just above the heads of the acolytes, or any number of other ways of distracting them short of actually touching them. Any that react are tapped on the shoulder and are removed. They too remove their robes, walk to the Peki Baqen, and are embraced and blessed. When all the distractions have been delivered, the mediation continues for a time determined by the Kumei, to give the acolytes time to gently and effectively return to a full awareness of their surroundings. The next test involves prayer. Each acolyte has already been assessed by the Kumei. In this manner, the Kumei already know their weaknesses. The acolytes move one at a time to the top of the temple steps. They are given the beginning of a specific prayer passage, chosen specifically for them. IF they are able to complete the prayer as prompted, they move to take a place in front of the temple, facing the onlookers and kneel. This is, however, no easy task. The more difficult prayers may be hundreds of words long, and the acolyte's response must be word for word from the prayer book. Again, those who fail are embraced, first by the Kumei testing them, then by the Peki Baqen, blessed, and sent to watch with the onlookers. Next begins a series of magic tests. Again, these tests are chosen individually for each acolyte by the Kumei. Most acolytes spend years in training for this moment As such, through the use of meditation, they have had the opportunity to finely hone their magical skills and abilities. They are asked to demonstrate their most "impressive" magical ability. And in this, there is a second test, that of humility. Many acolytes will unleash an impressive display of magic, perhaps creating illusions that produce fantastical creatures, or blast through the air. All the acolytes complete their demonstration and return to kneeling. At this time, the Kumei pass through the group and tap individuals on the shoulder. Many of the onlookers gasp when they are removed from the group, as the individuals removed are often those with the biggest, most extravagant display of magic. Also removed are those whose attempts failed. The criteria for removal of many of the acolytes is the request for "impressive" magical ability. To the Kumei, this is not a flashy display. To them, impressive means that they have truly understood the mastery of their magic ability. It means using magic in a way that is unique and filled with thought and awareness. As each leaves, they are again embraced, blessed, and returned to the onlookers. The remaining acolytes must then demonstrate their physical prowess in the martial arts. Each acolyte must battle a Kumei in hand-to-hand combat with no use of magic. If there are more acolytes than Kumei, then some may fight twice. The key to the Sunulawe combat style is to be non-confrontational. It is based on the conservation of movement and using the opponent's energy against them. Therefore, again, those with the flashiest moves, the more visually striking style, will fail. The goal is not to defeat the Kumei, it is to neutralize their attacks. If an acolyte is taken to the ground or is excessive in their attack, they will fail. All the acolytes are tested before those who failed are removed, Amazingly, the vast majority of acolytes pass these tests. Those who remain are called to the temple steps. Kumei remove the yellow robes from the acolyte and replace them with a red robe and black sash. They are now considered Kumei but must pass one final test, perhaps the most difficult and challenging. They are given a small pack with rations and water, as well as a few tools. They must head higher into the mountains and survive among the peaks and frozen snowdrifts. They are all blessed individually and as a group, one final time, and they head off into the mountains. Those who return in the spring are then considered Kumei.
The Peki Baqen presides over the ceremony for its entirety. They decide the exact date, the time, and the invited guest list, which is necessarily small. Invited guests are seated on a raised area to one side and in front of the temple so they have a clear view of the ceremony. Villagers and other onlookers have the most space, and are the closest to the ceremony, leaving just enough room at the bottom of the stairs for the prayer and meditation to take place. The Kumei of each monastery are the individuals who handle the majority of the activities. They plan the details for each event, and ensure, with the help of their aides, that the tests are sufficient to determine which acolytes will make the best monk and Kumei. The acolytes are not chosen. They submit themselves for testing. This can happen at any age they feel they are ready. However, no acolyte can remain an acolyte after they have reached their 21st year. If they do not test, they are sent back to the village. This is rare but has happened. There is no shame. Only recognition that the individual knew they were not ready. Invited guests are few, and represent either local dignitaries, benefactors of the monastery, or high-ranking visitors from outside Dangoang.
The event is held annually, and is seen as a coming of age ceremony for young acolytes.
All Images created BY Kahuna the Elder, with source materials from Pixabay, Pexels, Unsplash, Artbreeder and public domain sources.