While Illi is recognized as a single settlement by the Empire, there are many small drifting
communities that comprise Illi. The few hundred people of Illi live directly on the marsh
waters on pontoon barges connected with vine rope and wooden causeways. It is inhabited primarily by the native Ungozan Marshfolk who prefer their own ways to that of the Cirsovan heartlanders.
Some stories say that before the imperial road was built, Illi’s location was not fixed, the
Ungozans moving their village about the marshwaters as need demanded. In some ways, this is still true in that each structure and causeway may be unlashed and moved on the water.
Nowadays, where the imperial road arrives at “Illi”, a particularly large wooden octagon, some 200 feet across, serves as a fixed core to which other barges and causeways may be joined. The native Ungozans do not refer to the settlement as Illi, some going so far as to insist that there is no settlement, but rather refer to the central platform as “the Illi”. During the day, people may be found trading crafted goods (food is never traded for but always shared), trading stories and news of the Marshes, and doing carpentry work that would require a greater allotment of space than would be available on the smaller barges.
At the center of the Illi is a giant iron dish, the Gulloda, which is 8 feet across and one foot
at its deepest, suspended over a shallow stone cooking pit. All manner of things are added to the dish, including saltwater crabs, fish, waterfowl, turtles, snakes and occasionally voles or muskrats. The day’s finds are brought in by hunters and fishers in the early afternoon, where they are slow-cooked into a stew called Gullodana. In the evenings, braziers are lit at each of the eight corners of the Illi, with a series of additional smaller torches going in towards the Gulloda. Any native Ungozans and visitors who are present on the Illi are welcome to partake in the nightly feasting. The native marshfolk are said to have such a sophisticated palate that they can tell from a single taste of Gullodana the exact composition of that day’s stew, how many of what was added and its relation to what was left from the previous night’s Gullodana. Most visitors to Illi are the adventurous sorts, who are particularly interested in sampling this unique cuisine of the northern Marshfolk. Natives may often extend a friendly challenge to visitors who would also attempt to guess the composition of that night’s Gullodana. Outsiders who guess most closely to the truth may be offered the privileges of an intimate cultural experience.
Illi has a very simple division of labor: hunter/fishers who gather food, those who work with wood to make homes and boats, and women who take care of most everything else. Illi also has 8 “Storymen”, who serve a priestly shamanic role for the community, offering homilies and maintaining their traditions orally. Each of the 8 Storymen have their barge perpetually docked to one of the 8 sides of the Illi. Anyone may go to them for wise counsel at any time, including outsiders (those who have guessed what is in the Gullodana are encouraged to do so for their reward, though it is not requisite). Over the course of 8 nights, beginning with the new moon, each Storyman will take a turn to tell a story to the people of Illi from the causeway of his barge. On the night of the full moon, a special story will be told, followed by ritual and song.
Based on some of the tales told by the Storymen, the Marshfolk of Ungoza were aware of the Northern Civilization, perhaps even as far back as a time prior to the abandonment of Elefloe. A theory that the Native Ungozans are descended from or intermarried with refugees escaping the ice sheet was briefly in vogue among anthropologists in the decades following the discovery of Elefloe. Today, the northern parts of Ungoza, particularly the areas near the ice sheet, are considered taboo-land by the Natives, who rarely leave the northern boundaries of the EasternMarshes.
The Marshfolk of Illi maintain a relatively amicable relationship with the Empire. Occasionally, one of the Storymen will tell a tale of how they came to be part of the Gatian Empire, but their allegiance to Orrin Tormant and Cirsova likely do not often cross their minds. Indeed, the Empire did once send a mighty army to subdue and subjugate any northern threats, however outside of the old pirate colony of Galbarrow, the empire found little to subdue or subjugate in the way of the Illi. A testament to the magnanimous nature of the Cirsovan people, the Empire built roads through the marsh and allowed the native Ungozans to pay only token tribute to the emperor (generally paid in canoes loaded down with cowry shells) through the magistrate in Agalla. The Ungozans long ago yielded their greatest treasure when their Storymen revealed to the Cirsovans the location of the Ungoza Crater.