May 13, 2008

I, Sangheili (I)

> — Vociferous @ 7:42 am

Anyone who has experienced Halo: Combat Evolved or Halo 2 know that Elites represent a level of refined cunning and deft combat skill that made them the ultimate enemies in the first half of the trilogy. In certain segments of Halo 2 and throughout all of Halo 3, the player can appreciate this exact same attribute from the opposite end of the spectrum – fighting alongside the Elites against the Covenant.

Out of all of the alien races and characters represented in the Halo trilogy, my personal favorite are the noble princes of Sanghelios. Ensconced in honor and regality, the Sangheili represent a diametric opposite to the other categorical and philosophical elements of the Covenant. They are loyal, they are honorable and their code of living most closely represents that of our own.

The purpose of this article is to close the gap between what the average Halo fan knows about the Elites and what their story is, as well as speculate based on the data about what details have remained hidden. It should serve as an exegesis of the culture, history and future of the Sangheili race. Rich and rife for further propagation, the story of the Sangheili is not only compelling, but it is also inspirationally sublime.

It is a story about a fervent belief in something greater, about broken covenants and executed betrayals. It’s about cold-blooded vengeance and a culture’s ability to loosen and rend that which has held them back. Their story is an important story to tell, not only within the scope of the Halo trilogy, but in the things it says about our own humanity, our vices, our own sins and as in the case of the Sangheili, the deliverance from them.

  • The Elites were bred a warrior race. Their education and eventual vocation revolved around service for the Sangheilian military.

The Sangheili’s roots trace back to their homeworld, Sanghelios. The fourth planet in a three-star system (Urs, Fied and Joori) with two moons (Qikost and Suban), their world had a considerably higher temperature than our own. Despite it being a far more dry and arid realm than Earth, the planet shared many topical similarities to humanity’s world. It had large bodies of water surrounding continental land masses – flora, fauna and all of the trappings of a fully operational ecosystem. That being said, sentient life on their planet clearly fell along drastically different physiological paths.

Looking at their phenotypic makeup from an evolutionary perspective, we see that these creatures were born as natural predators. Their haunched and feral posture, their low-level serpentine head, their tooth-filled mandibles and their muscular hind-legs are all ingredients of a beast which hunts for flesh. A predator.

At some point, despite this savage instinct, they developed reasoning, built an intellect around it and then formed a culture as an extension of their cooperative reasoning.

Their species quickly became a warrior race, but much like our own culture, they no doubt suffered from some of the consequences of such an antagonistic trait. Class was significantly important to Sangheilian society, even more so than to humans, so friction between members of a feudal and tribal segments would be expected, particularly in an aggressively patriarchal culture as theirs was. Their slow rise through the various tiers of technology may have been a somewhat violent one, but eventually an overriding purpose united their cause.

This was no doubt the discovery of Forerunner artifacts and herein their religion was born.

This common bond would have no doubt created a catalyst for the renovation of their class-based system, and it was then that they established a planet-wide government and military. It is not known whether they discovered these artifacts in space or whether they uncovered Forerunner relics on their own world, but either way the discovery would have rocked the very foundations of the Sangheili social structure.

The irony of the fact that the Forerunner technology became a catalyst for their religion, was that much later they would learn that the Forerunner’s own religious predicament is what caused the ancient culture’s demise in the first place. The Sangheili, nevertheless, held a deep spiritual connection to the artifacts, one which in hindsight eventually served the advent of the Reclaimer and the fulfillment of their own prophecies.

Within the race, there was a political internecine regarding the sanctity of the Forerunner discovery. Should they attempt to activate and use the technology or should they keep it locked away, hallowed and sacred? Fearful that they would defile the holiness of the relics, the Sangheili avoided interaction with them. They locked them away and began crafting an elaborate religion around the very little which they knew.

  • The Forerunner Dreadnought would have brought the Sangheili race to extinction, if it were not for the Writ of Union and the formation of the Covenant.

Time passed and their faith continued to be emboldened by new discoveries until they ran headlong into another race with the identical goal of scouring the galaxy for Forerunner artifacts. On a reliquary world inside their own territory, the Sangheili found a race called the San ‘Shyuum – the Prophets. Both the Elites and the Prophets came from artifact-rich planets and had achieved advanced forms of space travel largely in an effort for the recovery of more relics. But when their abject differences in their interpretation over the use of Forerunner properties became clear, their encounters quickly turned hostile. The Elites saw the Prophets’ practical use of Forerunner technology in their ships and equipment as a heresy without parallel.

The Sangheili physically dwarfed the San ‘Shyuum in every relevant metric for infantry and space warfare, but the Prophets were cunning in the latter, effectively using a Forerunner Dreadnought to bring overwhelming causalities to the Elite’s fleets. Deadlocked in a war which seemed without end or victory, the Sangheili realized that their kind would be finished if they did not compromise. So they began using the Forerunner technology on their own fleets; to avoid extinction, they did the unthinkable.

At some point, the government of the Sangheili made a decision to work toward a truce. When this happened, the leadership met with the San ‘Shyuum and a deal was struck. The two races, both clearly conceding that the Forerunner relics were holy items to be sought after, joined forces forming two parts of what would eventually become an unbelievably dominant imperial war machine.

The Elites and the Prophets forged a promise which would tie their two races together in an effort to locate, secure and reverently use the items left behind by those they considered gods. This resulted in the actualization of the Sangheili’s acceptance that using Forerunner relics for the benefit of seeking out other relics was perfectly acceptable.

So began the Covenant.

[Proceed to Part II]

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