- "Imagery is everything to the Tamarians. It embodies their emotional states, their very thought processes. It's how they communicate and it's how they think."
- ―Deanna Troi, "Darmok"
|Other Names||Children of Tama|
|Homeworld||Sigma Tama IV|
|Height||Same as Humans|
|Behind the Scenes|
The Tamarians, a.k.a. Children of Tama, are a sapient, spacefaring humanoid species originating from planet Sigma Tama IV in the Milky Way Galaxy. Tamarians are most well-known for their language, which is entirely structured around metaphors and cultural references used to convey meaning by means of comparison.
Tamarians are hairless humanoid bipeds about the same size as a Human. They can be distinguished by their light-brown skin, cranial ridges and elongated slit-like nostrils. Their hands are also human-like, with the exception of the thumb, which is longer than a human's and ends in a sucker tip.
Since their thought processes work differently from those of other species, it's reasonable to assume that they also have a different brain structure, which reflects on their language and self-identity.
Culture and societyEdit
Tamarians are a mostly benign race, willing to attempt diplomacy even after several consecutive failures. They seek to establish a friendly relationship with other species and have been shown to favor non-lethal attacks during conflicts.
However, their technology makes them a respectable military power, enough for Worf to consider them a potential threat before communication was possible. Like most species, they are also quick to retaliate if attacked.
- "Rai and Jiri at Lungha. Rai of Lowani. Lowani under two moons. Jiri of Ubaya. Ubaya of crossed roads at Lungha. Lungha, her sky grey. Rai and Jiri at Lungha."
- ―Captain Dathon, a Tamarian, attempting to communicate with the Enterprise.
The most notable aspect of the Tamarians is the unique way their language is structured. Because their thought processes do not allow for self-identity in the same way Humans understand it, the Tamarians communicate by referring to individuals, places and incidents from their mythical and historical records. For example, the phrase "Shaka, when the walls fell" means basically the same as "defeat" and can also be used to convey "failure" or even "death".
One advantage of this language seems to be that it can be used to convey highly complex ideas in extraordinary simple terms. For instance, the concept of forging friendship with someone by means of cooperation and overcoming an obstacle can be expressed by the phrase "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra", which in turn might even be shortened to just "Darmok". The reason for this is that Darmok was a great hunter and the story of how he and Jalad learned to cooperate and overcome an inimical Beast while stranded in the island of Tanagra on the planet Shantil III is well-known.
The great disadvantage, though, is how this language can't be properly understood by other races, as the universal translator can only translate the words themselves, but the context that explains what these historical images refer to is not translatable. Since the Tamarians think differently from Humans, they cannot communicate in any other way and haven't developed a proper vocabulary that doesn't rely on narrative imagery. The translator might easily understand that a Tamarian is talking about "Shaka[, when the walls fell]", but has no means to know that this is the metaphor for "defeat", because that requires context which comes only with a familiarity with the story itself. It's reasonable to assume that Tamarian children either learn about these stories by reenactments, or have some form of inherited memories.
Some other examples of Tamarian phrases and the meanings they appear to convey:
- "Temba, his arms wide" = a gift or request for one to share something. Might be shortened to just "Temba" if the context is clear. Might be answered with "Temba, at rest" if the person politely declines the gift.
- "Mirab, with sails unfurled" = departure. Might be shortened to "Mirab" if the context is clear.
- "Sokath, his eyes uncovered" = comprehension of something previously not comprehended.
- "The river Temarc in winter" = silence, possibly calm (as a request for someone to calm down).
- "Zinda, his face black, his eyes red" = anger or pain, possibly incoming death.
- "Uzani, his army at Lashmir" = attack. Might be shortened to "Uzani, his army". A variation: "Uzani, his army with fist open" appears to mean to lure the enemy, and "with fist closed" to attack after doing so.
- "Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel" = a new phrase, either created as a near-synonym for "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" or to mean successful communication with an alien culture.
It should be noted that all of these meanings are approximations taken from what can be understood of them while Picard is learning to communicate with the Tamarians. For example, Picard assumes that "Uzani, his army with fist open" means a strategy to lure the enemy, but from the context it could also mean something like "wait for the enemy" or "prepare for combat".
Technologically, Tamarians appear to be on par with the Federation, as of the 24th century. Their ships are equipped with warp drive, phasers and transporters. They also have developed means to release a particle scattering field into the atmosphere of a planet, which serves to inviabilize transport to and from that planet while still allowing sensors to pick up information.
Prior to the Enterprise incident of 2368, the Tamarians were considered an enigmatic race. For the whole previous century, only seven occurrences of contact have been documented, all of which happened without incident, suggesting a non-hostile species. However, in each occasion, the Federation was unable to establish diplomatic relations with the Tamarians due to failure to communicate. Captain Silvestri of the SS Shiku Maru referred to them as "incomprehensible", and others seemed to agree. Commander William T. Riker mentioned that he has heard rumors about the mysterious Tamarians for years.
In that year, a deep space Tamarian cruiser in the El-Adrel system emitted a subspace signal containing a simple mathematical progression. This was picked up by the USS Enterprise-D, whose crew correctly assumed the Tamarians were attempting to communicate. Once again, however, all further attempts failed, as the nature of the Tamarian language resulted in them trying to convey ideas solely by referencing individuals, places and events, all of which the Enterprise crew was entirely unfamiliar with.
Frustrated, the Tamarians decided to attempt a different kind of diplomacy and abducted the Enterprise captain, Jean-Luc Picard. Both Picard and the Tamarian Captain Dathon were instantly beamed down to the planet El-Adrel IV, inhabited only by a dangerous invisible monster. They also used a particle scattering field to prevent the Enterprise from recovering Picard, and even went as far as to non-lethally disable an Enterprise shuttlecraft intended to rescue him.
Although the Tamarians appeared to be acting with hostility, Commander Riker realized that they seemed to have something else in mind and kept monitoring the signals from the planet which indicated that Picard and Dathon were not fighting each other, but appeared to be cooperating in fighting off the invisible creature. In truth, this was the Tamarians' intention as they hoped that friendship could be achieved between two people who overcame obstacles on a hostile place and fought against a common enemy. This situation is easily comparable to the story of Darmok and Jalad at the island of Tanagra, which is part of the Tamarians' cultural heritage. Eventually, while stranded on the planet with Dathon, Picard realizes the nature of the language and manages to learn some phrases. Sadly, Dathon ends up being killed by the creature.
Meanwhile, at this point, the Enterprise had managed to shoot and damage the Tamarian vessel just enough to lift up the field-generator and beam up Picard, who promptly uses his newly-acquired knowledge of the language to explain to the Tamarians what happened. The Tamarian first officer allows Picard to keep Dathon's dagger and coins a new phrase: "Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel", indicating that this incident would from then on become part of their cultural heritage as well. After the Tamarians depart, Picard muses to Riker that it's too early to tell whether they can be considered "new friends", but that at least he can be sure that they aren't "new enemies".
- Star Trek: The Next Generation - s05e02 - "Darmok" (1991)