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So a while ago when I was browsing through some articles, I happened upon some information about the indigenous people of Japan, the Ainu. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ainu_people
I'd never even heard of them and continued to read some other resources about them. I thought their culture was extremely interesting and had the idea of including a (fictional) human race (technically ethnic group) based upon them in my fantasy work, as I wanted to ensure my work had some 'non-white' races (to avert some of the tradition of Mono Chrome Casting in fantasy) and it would be better than having simply one huge ethnic group of people who are vaguely Asian. But most of all, because they had an interesting culture that I had never seen before.
I'm still in the process of world building for this, but I've run into a few problems. Although this specific ethnic group isn't a main focus of the story, I haven't been able to find many resources online for research.
I know that there's literally no way to ensure that no one finds your work offensive (I'm on Tumblr. I've seen it happen) But giving a notably offensive depiction of a group that many viewers will have never encountered before would be all kinds of terrible (there's also the fact that they have been oppressed by the Japanese in the past)
Any feedback would be appreciated
Don't mystify or vilify them and make the people diverse and not all the same. Don't define them solely by what makes them different from the main culture but define them on their own. That advice applies to every culture or group actually.
Don't just take the copy-and-paste approach where you change the names but nothing else. (cough coughRangers Apprenticecough) Change minor details, based on what makes sense for your story's world.
edited 17th Mar '14 9:50:32 AM by Kesar
I've found out recently that there's a whole book about this kind of thing, Writing the Other: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1760104.Writing_the_Other
I haven't read it though (although I intend to). Sorry I can't be much help.
One other thing you might think about is whether you can find out what the Ainu themselves have stated is off-limits?
For example in Australia, an Anglo author said he consulted with indigenous elders about how he could sensitively write a story about Indigenous mythology, and they flat-out told him that a non-indigenous person taking their mythology was unacceptable (so he didn't do it). This may be inaccessible, but maybe you can find similar accounts of Ainu being offended at specific ways to portray their culture?
It really depends on exactly what you want to take from them. Instead of just carbon-copying the race, just take the parts you want and make up the rest. Hard as it is to believe, the Ambiguously Brown, desert-dwelling, red-eyed Ishbalans from Fullmetal Alchemist are based off of the Ainu, at least according to Word of God.
Considering my most valuable resource in the situation (work written by the people themselves) is unavailable to me, how should I move forward?
Since you've done all the research you can, if you think you know enough to avoid caricature then I wouldn't worry to much.
Like Antiteilchen says there are diverse people in every culture, Avatar The Last Airbender portrayed this variation pretty well with its Inuit Fantasy Counterpart Culture. If the culture is more in the background like in Avatar, people can get the sense that this is a unique ethnicity without wondering whether that portrayal of the complexities of the social hierarchy is very fair or whatever.
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How well does it match the trope?