Kanuma, Clade

Image from Luke Campbell


The Kanumae are one of the strangest and at the same time one of the most successful of the many splice/provolve clades of Acties. The largest proportion of their genome is derived from Mormyrus kannume, an "electrical" fish species from Old Earth's Africa. They also contain genes from several related species of mormyrid fishes as well as some from other vertebrate species — mostly other Teleost fishes, especially those with electrical organs or an electrical sense. There are also some cetacean and human grafts and some neogen components related to the unique Kanuma mentality. As one of the "brainiest" of the Old Earth vertebrates (with a brain-to-body weight ratio comparable to that of human baselines), the two dozen baseline mormyrid species that were reconstructed from genetic data following the Great Dying on Old Earth have often been the target of provolution attempts.

The Kanumae are unique among mormyrid provolves in that they form group minds based on a school of highly intelligent but subsophont neo-mormyrid fish. Group minds are not unknown among Terragen clades, but the Kanumae can achieve this form of consciousness without Unityware or any other software, hardware, or bioborg implants. The connection arises naturally from the interactions of the school's members. Each Kanuma consists of a school of fish (usually between 10 and 20). The members use rapid and multi-level auditory and electrical signals to produce a composite intelligence that is comparable to anything from that of a dull normal human baseline to that of a superbright tweak, depending of course on the nature of the individual members of the school and on the nature of the task at hand.


The individuals that make up a Kanuma are rather stiff-bodied black fish, each about a metre long, with white and silvery markings. They have small eyes, a large rounded head, and a short two-fingered "trunk" that protrudes from the lower jaw. Members of the school must remain within about 5 metres of one another to remain part of the overall mind, and deep thought requires that the Kanuma gather its members together in a tight unit. The staccato clicking, scratching, and growling sounds produced by an organ adjacent to the swim bladder combined with the modulation of low voltage signals from the electrical organs near the tails of the individual fishes are the medium of communication and an important part of Kanuma thought. The individual thoughts and memories of the school members are also essential. A resting Kanuma can be fairly quiet, but one engaged in deep thought or a complex task fills the water with a small storm of electrical and audio "noise." When the school is dispersed the Kanuma mind loses cohesiveness, as first the electrical and then the sonic components of communication between members are lost.

The individual members of the school can operate perfectly well apart from their overall mind. Separately they are about as intelligent as a parrot or small monkey. They can remember their role in the Kanuma mind, perform fairly complex actions that were planned when they were "connected" or even attempt new strategies on their own initiative, but they are not capable of complex symbolic reasoning. They have a strong motivation to return to the school or, if the original school is somehow extinct, to join or form a new personality. At need Kanuma fish can survive on their own indefinitely, though they will experience a sense of loneliness and loss.

Communication, Senses, and Locomotion

Kanumae communicate with each other in a less intimate mode than that which produces their individual minds. Like their internal mental communications, this seems to outsiders to consist of clicks, grunts, moans, and growls in the auditory range combined with a wide variety of electrical signals that are less easily described. This multi-channel form of information sharing is highly efficient, however; it encodes a great deal more information than would a human baseline conversation. Usually one or two members of each school serve as a kind of communications bus between two or more Kanuma individuals, since full and unshielded mixture of two individual Kanuma group minds prevents ordinary conversation. While a more intimate sort of sharing can be achieved by fully mixing the two schools, it involves temporary loss of consciousness for the individuals concerned until the schools separate, and is useless for sharing technical information or logical reasoning. It is, however, good for sharing emotions, memories, and implicit understandings. It is used most often between Kanuma who are close friends or allies or "mates," or sometimes as a sacrament in Kanuma religious observances.

Kanumae have excellent electrical and auditory senses, of course, and can operate in muddy water or even in complete darkness using sound and their electrical senses. Their vision is rather limited and blurry by human baseline standards and has no colour sense, but they can pick out some fine details that a single-bodied intelligence would miss. The sense of touch of the individual units is very delicate and the trunks of the individual fishes in the school have a highly developed sense of smell/taste. Like all Old Earth fish the Kanumae are exquisitely sensitive to water currents.

Though they are well adapted for jumps and sudden bursts of speed, Kanumae are not capable of rapid sustained swimming. They prefer quiet waters to fast-flowing currents. The individual members of the school can crawl or wriggle slowly on land and can survive in moist air for three or four hours at a time, but the overall mind cannot maintain itself unless it is in water. Excursions onto land without special equipment mean a sort of lapse of consciousness, so of course usually only individual members of the overall mind do this sort of thing.

Lifespan and Reproduction

The individual fish that make up a Kanuma mind live no more than 30 years, but the overall personality is considerably more durable. Eventually, as new members are incorporated into the school and old members die or join other schools the process of drift may form someone who is significantly different from the original, albeit with some memories and some recognisable characteristics of the old personality. Most Kanuma regard this sort of change no differently than a human baseline might regard the differences between themselves as children and themselves as adults; barring sudden loss of a large number of members of the school, they simply experience shifts in personality over time just as a more conventional sophont might, though to a greater degree. Kanuma attitudes towards this sort of change vary considerably according to personal and cultural beliefs. Some make a strong effort to retain some of the personality that they have achieved and believe to be ideal. These Kanumae try to prevent drift by carefully breeding and training new recruits for their school. Other Kanumae readily trade school members with each other to gain new memories, skills, and personality traits that they believe are desirable. They make a point of incorporating healthy young stock into the school on a regular basis even if this means considerable personality change over time. Most Kanumae take a laissez-faire approach somewhere between these two extremes. A distinct Kanuma personality may persist for as little as two decades or for millennia, depending on circumstances.

Kanumae have two forms of reproduction: physical and mental. Physical reproduction is the Spawning. In the first provolved forms of the clade this took place in the rainy seasons; it was an instinctive reaction triggered by changes in water chemistry and temperature. All adult female members of the school developed eggs, and the males developed sperm. The members of the Kanuma community would then migrate out of larger bodies of water and into smaller streams and rivulets. Close friends and allies would migrate to the same small stream, and create nesting spots next to one another, all the while maintaining a constant stream of communication, sometimes even to the extent of trading individual school members. At the height of the Spawning the individual Kanuma minds would dissolve. While the females of each school remained at their spawning pits to lay and guard their eggs the males would visit each spawning pit of the group in turn and fertilize them. Usually, but not always, the actual laying and fertilization of eggs was restricted to certain individuals within the school deemed to have the greatest genetic potential, as agreed to by the Kanuma minds during the period of courtship and nest-building. Then the Kanuma minds would gradually re-form. The utter surrender and dissolution of personality involved in the Spawning is a central feature of nearly every Kanuma culture and religion, and the prior selection of a physical "mate" or "mates" is an intensely emotional matter. The members of the mating group would then guard the dozens or hundreds of eggs in each spawning pit from predation and infections for the twenty or so days until hatching, and later would guard the juveniles and provide them with food (a special skin slime produced by the adults of the school) for a period of two to three months before migrating back to the local lake or river.

The next phase of Kanuma physical reproduction, which is known as the Winnowing, is also full of cultural and personal meaning. The newly hatched Kanuma fry are subsapient and incapable of forming a composite mind. They remain behind in the smaller streams, learning to forage and to avoid predators, for about two years until they are large enough to migrate into the main streams or lakes. There they continue to grow and develop until they are four to six years of age, have reached adult size, and have developed the ability to create and interpret sonic and electrical signals with the kind of sophistication that allows them to form a larger overmind. At this point they instinctively seek out Kanuma schools. If no school is available the young Kanuma aggregate to form an entirely new mind of their own. Juveniles can recognize degrees of relationship by subtle chemical cues and have a strong preference for joining one of their parental schools or, in the absence of parents, towards forming a new mind composed of near relatives. Existing schools are most inclined to take in their own descendants, but they will accept particularly vigorous unrelated individuals. The mortality rate in the presapient stage of Kanuma life varies from none to very high indeed, according to beliefs and circumstances of the local culture. Most Kanumae prefer to let nature take its course and require that their offspring learn to forage and avoid predators in the ancient way of their clade. A few, though, select and train particular individual fry according to artificial criteria.

Kanumae who reproduce physically only with members of their own school are considered to be perverse by most Kanuma cultures, and of course the effects of inbreeding will be felt over time unless genetic engineering is used. A few unusual subclades of Kanumae are clones of the same physical individual. In such cases the resulting personalities, while they change much more slowly over time than normal Kanumae, tend to have rather limited abilities.

Mental reproduction among the Kanuma is much stranger and more complex. Sometimes new individuals arise "naturally" when juveniles form a new school because no adults are willing to take in new members. More often a Kanuma community creates an entirely new personality by donation of mature members from one or more Kanuma minds selected for particular traits. In this way the Kanuma can sometimes produce individuals with particular talents or prejudices; a great leader, a scientist, a simple loyal follower, a warrior, or whatever might be required. This is far from an exact science in the absence of expert software or transapient advice, but is considered to be a deep expression of the local culture. It is at once a kind of art, a kind of social and mental engineering, and a form of religious observance. The act of altering one's own psyche or creating a new one (Kanumae do not regard these as separate disciplines) is known among the Kanumae as the Shaping.

Some version of the ancient pattern of Spawning, Winnowing and Shaping is found in every Kanuma culture. The details may vary considerably according to the natural or artificial environment the local Kanumae have chosen. For instance, Kanuma communities resident in a marine reef environment go to distant "wilderness" portions of the reef to for the Spawning and leave their children there for the Winnowing. Spacer Kanumae often maintain large artificial habitats, complete with predators and prey, for their juveniles.

Environmental Requirements

The ancestral Kanuma species was a freshwater tropical fish that was adapted to rivers of nearly neutral pH that ranged from clear to very muddy. The clade as first provolved lived in a very similar environment, and most Kanumae still tune their habs to those conditions. The main Kanuma subclades have since given themselves much broader tolerances. They can thrive in waters nearly half again as salty as those of Old Earth, and with a wide range of different dissolved components. They can tolerate even nearly anoxic muddy waters, by gulping air at the surface and pumping it into an accessory lung-like gill chamber, though they do require a terragen standard atmosphere to do this. They can wriggle along on land for hours at a time in a suitably moist atmosphere, but they do not do so unless they must. They can survive drought for months at a time in a comatose state if they have access to a moist lake or river bottom. Kanumae are ectotherms and can only operate efficiently within a fairly narrow temperature range (about 20-30°C). Below 20 degrees they become increasingly torpid. At 7 degrees or below they enter a state of hibernation in which they can survive for months, but freezing temperatures are fatal. They can live in temperatures of up to 35 degrees if they have access to air but die if the temperature stays in this zone for more than a day or if it rises higher for any significant period at all. Various subclade tweaks can, of course, thrive in radically different circumstances.

Kanumae are carnivores. The ancestral species foraged for small worms, molluscs, and arthropods that lived in muddy or sandy river bottoms. That diet is still the preference of most Kanuma subclades today. Most still "farm" fields of such organisms in a suitable environment for just that purpose, over the protests of those who (especially in the Sephirotic polities) feel that no life form with even the slightest sentience should be subject to suffering and death. Where such feelings run high, or where such cultivation is too inconvenient, Kanumae can subsist on nanofactured high-protein feeds in various flavours, but most will complain that it simply "isn't the same."

Kanumae do not like sterile living quarters, even if the waters are tuned to their preferred temperature and salinity. A typical Kanuma hab looks like a labyrinth of tropical fresh water ponds, streams, and canals, well supplied with vegetation and floored with mud or fine sand, separated by strips of carefully maintained rainforest. Individual Kanumae sleep during the day and store their belongings in ceramic or diamondoid caves beneath the banks of these waterways. A minority of Kanumae prefer a simulation of one of Old Earth's tropical marine reef environments, where they rest by day in hollows among the corals. A still smaller minority of communities tune their environment to resemble that of warm but lightless deep sea vent habitats. These are the top three choices of real estate for Kanumae who live on Gaian style planets as well.


Kanuma intelligence and personality are mutable; they depend strongly on the capabilities of the individual members of the school as well as on the often unexpected side effects of various configurations. The addition of a single school member, particularly one with strong talents or who was once part of another Kanuma, can trigger a cascade of personal changes that leads, within hours or within a few years, to significant personality change. As a result the same Kanuma might, over the course of its lifespan, be a brilliant artist, an undistinguished hedonistic citizen, a contemplative monastic, a nanotech designer, and an adventurer on the Terragen Periphery, each with some distinct personality traits, while still somehow remaining recognizable as the same person. Another Kanuma over the same time span might change so radically as to claim to be a new person entirely. The shaping of one's mind is a major preoccupation for most Kanumae. It is at the same time a form of art, a kind of noetic and memetic engineering, and a key element of religious experience and faith.

Though they are incredibly diverse in their talents and personalities, there are some traits common to all Kanumae. Most are not particularly aggressive. In the entire history of the clade no exclusively Kanuma society has ever started a war, even in the wildest parts of the Terragen Periphery, though of course they are capable of prosecuting a war to completion should another clade initiate hostilities. On the other hand, they are strongly territorial and do not tolerate uninvited intrusions on their "space," whether that be a physical area or an idea. In middletech societies away from Sephirotic control Kanumae are notoriously prone to litigation and are often well versed in matters of civil law, particularly copyright and property laws. Kanumae tend to take a very long view of the future and are capable of patient planning. A perspective of centuries, through several significant personality changes, is not uncommon. Most have a powerful sense of duty towards their associates and their larger community. This feeling may extend even beyond their immediate circle of associates to a larger polity, to their whole clade, or beyond, to all sentient beings. Though they rarely become foolhardy or suicidal, Kanumae tend to become less and less fearful of personal extinction as they age, particularly if they have reproduced physically and mentally a number of times and are part of a Kanuma community that regularly exchanges school members. They are also, compared to most SI:<1 bionts, very flexible in their thinking; they adapt rapidly to new information and ideas. At the same time a mature Kanuma school, particularly after its second or third century, is notorious for its iron will and determination. This kind of singularity of purpose can be unnerving to other clades. This is perhaps a selection effect. Personalities with less staying power tend to change, change, and change again until they acquire a more durable nature.

In extreme cases the strong Kanuma will can tip over into a form of psychosis unique to the Kanumae. This produces the equivalent of an obsessive psychopath. Most of these become isolates if left untreated but a few of the wiliest have become notable criminals or tyrants, particularly in polities outside of the Sephirotic sphere. Kanuma communities are watchful for these traits and, depending on local custom, may mandate anything from simple psychotherapy to mandatory exchange of school members to complete dissolution and dispersal of the school. The last is a form of death penalty and therefore illegal in most Sephirotic polities, but isolated or unregulated communities may opt for this extreme action if nothing else will serve. The alternatives can be horrible. Communities that relent, or miss the early signs, and maintain such a wolf in their fold, may pay a steep price. To compound the problem, such individuals can sometimes be extremely difficult to distinguish from potentially great religious or political leaders and visionaries. Though this kind of problem is not, of course, unique to the Kanumae it arises much more frequently in this clade than in most others.

The Kanumae are a deeply spiritual clade, and many of them join religious orders at some phase of their lives. Though they show a lively interest in the religions of other clades (particularly Old Earth Taoism, the more mystical aspects of Old Earth Christianity and Judaism, various Omegist faiths, and, to a lesser extent, Solarism), they tend to develop religions of their own. Kanuma religions and philosophies, and their variants of non-Kanuma faiths, often have an Expiationist tinge, perhaps because of the circumstances of the clade's genesis or perhaps because of their tendency to feel a duty towards other beings. Religions as expressed by the Kanumae have at the same time a strong mystical and contemplative aspect and an attachment to ceremony and ritual (particularly at the interface between religion and the Kanuma life cycle of the Spawning, the Winnowing, and the Shaping).

The intelligence of Kanumae varies dramatically from individual to individual, and, within each individual, from task to task and from time to time. It also varies according to the separation between the members of the school. If they are all within 5 metres of one another, Kanuma intelligence is at its normal value; intense concentration for short periods of time requires that all of the members be within a 2 metre radius; the members of the school form a dense ball with their heads facing in (if the environment is entirely safe) or heads facing out (if some vigilance is required). A dispersed Kanuma loses its ability to concentrate, though if the members remain within listening distance of one another they can still perform simple tasks. With technological aid to their transmissions, of course, Kanumae can operate as a single individual over tremendous distances. Spacer Kanumae, the individual members of the mind suited up and linked by laser or broadcast communicator/translator devices, can maintain coherence at separations of nearly 300,000 kilometres (one light second), though as time delays due to light speed increase they become less and less intelligent. Beyond this limit cognition fails entirely, and the individual members must operate separately.

Kanuma intelligence varies from below human baseline level (equivalent to an IQ of 60 or so) up to the superbright range, with extremely rare (and usually transient and unstable) individuals who "spike" into the low transapient range on particular topics. Schools of 5 or fewer individuals have only the most rudimentary skills and personality; those in the 8 to 12 range are generally equivalent to a human baseline, and those in the 13 to 18 range are in the nearbaseline to superbright range. Above a school size of 18, effective ability actually begins to decline, and at 25 or more the school can function, but erratically: there are lapses of memory, sudden shifts of personality, and long periods of indecision combined with the occasional flash of superbright or even transapient level insight (usually quickly forgotten). Eventually such an overlarge school splits into two or more descendant personalities.

Kanumae are among the few bionts capable of transcensions to the next toposophic without extensive technical aid, though such incidents are still extremely rare. There are several factors which make this change of state more likely. Extensive use of communications software and hardware (with or without cyborgization), a high local frequency of the Kanuma religious meldings, participants who have studied certain details of the Triangulum Transmission, and a common threat or challenge to the local community or polity. None of these factors is definitive, and incidents of mass transcension are still an unpredictable mystery to the Kanumae themselves. The result is equally unpredictable. Usually the first stage is a tribemind of some sort, but this is apparently unstable, and over time the members tend to either dissolve into separate minds again and reform an ordinary Kanuma community or else merge into a true transapient. Kanuma transapients are notorious for the frequency with which they choose to reject transapient life and disband, usually after they have accomplished some task (not always, of course, a task that can be easily explained to subsingularity intellects). More than one transapient Kanuma has claimed that it can induce transapience in a Kanuma population simply by teaching a certain "mental concert." However, they say, they choose not to do so. Ordinary Kanumae have a similarly lackadaisical attitude towards transcension events: they rarely seek them, and they rarely take measures to avoid them either. Interestingly, there are very few post-Kanuma transapients above SI:1, and none are known to have exceeded SI:3.


For all their individual mental flexibility, Kanumae have a strong traditionalist bent, perhaps because their traditions are one of the relatively few stable common points. Local custom is slow to change and fashions may last for centuries at a time. From the most rudimentary ludd and prim communities to the most heavily cyborgized spacer clans, they all hew to some form of the ancient practices of Spawning, Winnowing, and Shaping. An important unit of society is an analogue of the ancient mating groups, those allied minds who ascended the primordial streams to mate together. Two or three to as many as ten Kanumae who are bound by memetic and genetic ties as a result of common offspring and exchanges of the members of their schools. The next largest unit of society is the Thousand, comparable to the number of Kanumae that might live in a small lake or a segment of a large river. Decisions are usually made by some form of vote, though it is possible for particularly charismatic individuals to wield great authority by manipulating popular opinion. Precedent and custom are powerful forces in Kanuma society. Where the Traditions do not address an issue the community will quickly move to plug the gap; soon there will be a custom/law (for the Kanumae these are much the same thing) that addresses the issue.

The first Kanuma provolves, like prim and ludd Kanuma groups today, used only the simplest tools. The Kanuma trunk, while it is very flexible and sensitive, has no great strength, and an aquatic environment gives limited opportunities for tool building. Simple shelters, nets, dams, breakwaters, and weirs are well within the natural fabrication abilities of Kanumae, as are wooden or stone trunk-held tools and the cultivation and feeding of "fields" of worm and midge larva-rich mud. A full nanotech and biotech culture allows a Kanuma to function just as any other citizen might. Kanuma generally prefer to grow most of their structures, relying on biological engineering, bionano or synano for their day-to-day needs. They avoid the use of metals in any of their equipment or structures because it interferes with their electrical sense. When they must operate out of water Kanumae equip the individual members of their school with nanotech suits that relay sound and electrical signals to the other members and provide an envelope of water, general environmental protection, and motility. Even so they do not like to operate on land; they tend to prefer microgravity environments. There are many spacer Kanuma polities.

Kanuma physical arts, like the art of their mind-shaping and memory-sharing preoccupations, are generally difficult for other clades to appreciate. There are two major forms. One involves the arrangement of materials and corresponds to a kind of "gardening," "landscaping," or "architecture." Some aspects of this art can be appreciated on a visual level, but each material also has its own unique "appearance" to a creature with an electrical sense according to the relative conductivities of the materials. Each material is also valued for its touch and taste. The other major Kanuma art is a form of song together with epic or lyric poetry. As a multi-channel communication with parallel electrical and sonic components which is designed to be "heard" by a multi-bodied individual, this art form loses a great deal in translation.

Image from Stephen Inniss


The Kanumae are notorious as one of the many clades created by the "mad" Deorvyn/Deorwin transapients on NewLife II and for their key role in the eventual overthrow, exposure, and destruction of "Deorvyn" and all eir copies in 5603 after more than a millennium of suffering and planning on the part of eir SI:<1 "toys." This is perhaps one of the more famous and better-justified incidents of Frankenstein Syndrome in the history of the Terragen expansion. For a time this made Kanumae the focus of a tremendous adulation among extremist bioists and anti-transapient fringe groups. Kanumae generally have disassociated themselves from such movements, and if pressed will quietly point out the salient facts: namely that "Deorvyn" was emself a bioist, that e was in the terminal stages of a form of transapient insanity at the time of the revolution, and that the Kanumae and the other plotters would have been utterly crushed had not the Kanuma population on NewLife II itself achieved intermittent transapient status during the critical few years required.

Unlike their less fortunate sibling clades from NewLife — most of whom are now extinct or living protected lives in the Utopia Sphere — the Kanumae proved to be quite successful in the broader Terragen civilization. Their mental flexibility has allowed them to achieve success in a variety of fields and to adapt to local conditions as required. Spacer subclades are quite numerous, as are various subclade tweaks adapted to a variety of planets and moons (particularly Europan moons) and to "aquatic" habs. For instance, there are large numbers of Kanumae in such systems as Zennor. They are found in small colonies in nearly any well developed Sephirotic polity and in many peripheral colonies, and some are known to have joined various Hider groups. They are particularly common in the Zoeific Biopolity and in the Sophic League. There are several trillion Kanumae in all; perhaps more in worlds beyond the Known Net. Their numbers may rise sharply if colonization efforts at Oceanus Ultimata prove to be successful.

The Kanumae are not particularly friendly (or unfriendly) with other Terragen aquatic clades, though like many Acties they tend to be rather cool towards the cephalopod and cetacean provolves. On the other hand, Kanuma xenologists have shown particular interest in aquatic xenosapients, such as the Paulans, the Singers, and the surviving Gnosags. Kanumae share some significant cultural and psychological traits with the Mirrored Owls, since both are overminds dependent on linked subsapient beings; the two clades regularly exchange information, and sometimes even members. Recently the number of transcensions involving Kanuma populations has risen somewhat, apparently in response to some new analysis of the Triangulum Transmission and the means by which the founding race of the Triangulum civilization first achieved transapient status. Rumours exist that the Kanumae intend to one day unite and create a single SI:6 individual using the "Source" mentioned in the Triangulum Transmission as a model, and thereby dominate the entire Terragen sphere. Sensible analysts discount such rumours.

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Text by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 10 September 2005.