The Atha'an Miere, or Seafolk, are a group of people whose ancestors fled to the sea to escape the chaos of the Breaking and who now live almost exclusively at sea, spending little time on land. Those who do spend time on land, such as the governors of the various Sea Folk Islands will return to sea to give birth, even if this is on a small row boat (TSR, Ch. 19). In both the Aryth Ocean and the Sea of Storms, there are many Islands under the control of the Sea Folk, the Sea Folk Isles. Porcelain from them is highly thought of, though in fact, this so called "Sea Folk porcelain" is made by the islands inhabitants, the Amayar.
They have a strict hierarchy and each knows their place and would not step beyond it. Their rank is usually signified by chains and rings on them (ACoS, Ch. 1). All their vessels are captained by women, who have the right to say when and where it sails. Trade however, is the province of men, so they usually choose their destination in conjunction with their cargomaster (TSR, Ch. 19).
Unless stated otherwise, all information herein is taken from TWoRJTWoT, Ch. 19.
There are four classes of Sea Folk Ship, in order of size, darter, soarer, skimmer and raker. Rakers are also the faster, with three masts. Skimmers are also three masted and as long as rakers but slower. Soarers are two masted, while darters can have one or two masts. Ships are usually owned by the clan, not the Sailmistress, but may occasionally belong to another clan, if the crew and clan fall into too much debt They refer to their boats as he (TSR, Ch. 19).
- Main article: Windfinder
Traditionally, Aes Sedai or not allowed on board and many believe it is unlucky to do so. The true reason however, is to hide the fact that Windfinders, their navigators, can channel and that the ability to channel is strong amongst the Atha'an Miere. To help further the image of a group who channel only weakly, they occasionally send girls to the White Tower, who are strong enough to become Aes Sedai, but not strong enough to draw attention. At the end of the Aiel War, when Rand was born, there were four Aes Sedai and one Accepted, by the time he has proclaimed himself, the Accepted has been raised and there are three Aes Sedai, Zemaille, Aiden and Nyein. None can channel strongly and all are Brown Ajah, working in the Tower Library, where they have access to the Thirteenth Depository (WH, Ch. 11; CoT, Ch. 21).
As they spend so much time at sea, manipulating the winds and waves to ensure good sailing, their ability with Cloud Dancing exceeds that of the Aes Sedai. For this reason, and the fact that none of the sisters in Ebou Dar had much ability in the area (TPoD, Ch. 16), Nynaeve and Elayne chose to use them to use the Bowl of the Winds and fix the weather (ACoS, Ch. 13; TPoD, Ch. 5). That this came off badly reflects poorly on them, but in truth, the Sea Folk are famed bargainers, Elayne recalls a joke about a Domani, Sea Folk woman and an Aes Sedai in which both the Domani and Sea Folk trader get the better of the Aes Sedai (TPoD, Ch. 5).
The Sea Folk consist of a number of clans, each headed by a Wavemistress. The twelve highest of these elect their overall leader, the Mistress of the Ships. Beneath a Wavemistress, a ship is captained by the sailmistress. The males have a similar heirachy, the Master of Blades being the companion of the Mistress of the Ships, chosen by her and is responsible for defense and security of the Atha'an Miere as a whole. Underneath him, are the Swordmasters, each in overall charge of defence and trade for a whole clan and on individual ships is the cargomaster. Often, when a woman is chosen Wavemistress, she will appoint her cargomaster to be the clan swordmaster (TWoRJTWoT, Ch. 19)
They are very dark, skin a deep chocolate colour and considered alluring and beautiful, the years spent balancing on rigging giving them uncommon grace. Typically, their hands are tattooed brightly, marking their clan (TWoRJTWoT, Ch. 19). Out of sight of land, both women and men strip to the waist so have more freedom around the rigging, but in sight of land, they abide by mainland customs (TSR, Ch. 19).
Several clans are known, these are
- Catela, Wavemistress Zaida din Parede Blackwing
- Shodein, Wavermistress Harine din Togara Two Winds
- Somarin, Wavemistress Malin din Toral Breaking Wave.
Other Wavemistresses are known, but not their clan
They consider bathing with a person an honour (TSR, Ch. 19).
They do not charge for passage as such, but consider it a gift, to be exchanged for a gift of equal value (TSR, Ch. 19).
Sea Folk initially have two names and gain a third, which they refer to as their "salt name" with experience (ACoS, Ch. 5).
Sea Folk marriages try to ensure a balance between the two, whoever has the right to command in public, must obey in private (TPoD, Ch. 20).
- Main article: Jendai Prophecy
Their Jendai prophecy spoke of the Coramoor, who would be the herald of a new age , that they were to wander the waters until his coming then serve him (TSR, Ch. 19). Before Rand took the Stone and fulfilled the prophecy, many of the Sea Folk had started spurning trade and were instead seeking the Coramoor (TEotW, Ch. 24). Little was known about the Coramoor, and even the Sea Folk Aes Sedai would say little more than he was coming (TGH, Ch. 4). Once he had proclaimed himself, some felt that the old ways had changed and allowed what they believed to be Aes Sedai on board, though Nesta din Rees disapproved of this quite strongly (ACoS, Ch. 13). The agreement which binds the Sea Folk to the Coramoor, was known as the Bargain, and negotiated with Harine, by Merana and Rafela. Neither side was pleased with the outcome (TPoD, Ch. 27; KoD, Ch. 22).
- Main article: Sea Folk Character List
"A ship is alive, and he is like a man, with a true man's heart. Treat him well and care for him properly, and he will fight for you against the worst sea. He will fight to keep you alive even after the sea has long since given him his own deathstroke. Neglect him, though, ignore the small warnings he gives of danger, and he will drown you in a flat sea beneath a cloudless sky." Jorin din Jubai White Wing (The Shadow Rising, Chapter 20).