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Portrayal over time
In the original series (TOS), Star Trek modeled the conflict between the Federation and the Klingon Empire on the Cold War between the Western countries and the Soviet Union. TOS Klingons were not given many cultural traits, either original or Soviet-like, beyond a generic need for domination and tyranny. However, they were typically portrayed with bronze skin and facial hair suggestive of North Asian peoples such as the Mongols (in fact, Gene L. Coon's only physical description of them in his Errand of Mercy script is "Oriental, hard-faced"). In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Klingons were "reimagined" or retconned, and were depicted with ridged foreheads, new uniforms, and a distinctive Klingon language. Gene Roddenberry said that the movie-era Klingons are closer to his original vision, but could not be realized in a low-budget television show.
With the advent of Star Trek: The Next Generation and subsequent series the Klingons became allies, and the portrayal of their culture changed to resemble a warrior code similar to the samurai (or, rather, Western imaginations of them) and Vikings. Klingon starship crews have also been compared to motorcycle gangs. Certain elements of this retconned Klingon culture, such as a general influence of Japanese culture with honor at the forefront, were actually first explored with the script for the planned two-part "Kitumba" episode for the unproduced 1978 Star Trek: Phase II series. Writer John Meredith Lucas said, "I wanted something that we had never seen before on the series, and that's a penetration deep into enemy space. I started to think of how the Klingons lived. Obviously for the Romulans we had Romans, and we've had different cultures modeled on those of ancient Earth, but I tried to think of what the Klingon society would be like. The Japanese came to mind, so basically that's what it was, with the Sacred Emperor, the Warlord and so on."
Their culture centers on honor and combat. The High Council, led by a Chancellor, governs the Klingon Empire. The position of Emperor was re-established in the 24th century, largely as a figurehead.
Klingon mating rituals involve dominative and combative attitudes and rituals. parmaqqaypu' (singular parmaqqay) are chosen mates for dedicated recreational sexual congress. As the Doctor from Voyager commented, it is considered a good omen if during the wedding night, a clavicle is broken. A Klingon biting someone indicates they desire to mate.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Dauphin", Worf states that the mating ritual consists of a woman roaring, throwing things at the male, and occasionally clawing at him while the male reads love poetry and "ducks a lot". Klingons are known to have sexual relations with humans, with the character B'Elanna Torres being an example of a Klingon-human hybrid. However, Torres is a Klingon on her mother's side. In The Next Generation episode "Justice", Worf states that he must resist his urges for "general sex" as the only women available to him are human females, who are more "fragile" than Klingon women.
According to legend, Kortar, the "first" Klingon, and his mate were created in a place called QI'tu'. The two destroyed the gods who made them and turned the heavens into ashes. This event is recounted in marriage ceremonies through the following, singular passage: "With fire and steel did the gods forge the Klingon heart. So fiercely did it beat, so loud was the sound, that the gods cried out, 'On this day we have brought forth the strongest heart in all the heavens. None can stand before it without trembling at its strength.' But then the Klingon heart weakened, its steady rhythm faltered and the gods said, 'Why do you weaken so? We have made you the strongest in all of creation.' And the heart said... 'I am alone.' And the gods knew that they had erred. So they went back to their forge and brought forth another heart. But the second heart beat stronger than the first, and the first was jealous of its power. Fortunately, the second heart was tempered by wisdom. 'If we join together, no force can stop us.' And when the two hearts began to beat together, they filled the heavens with a terrible sound. For the first time, the gods knew fear. They tried to flee, but it was too late. The Klingon hearts destroyed the gods who created them and turned the heavens to ashes. To this very day, no one can oppose the beating of two Klingon hearts."
In the episode "Barge of the Dead" on Star Trek: Voyager, B'Elanna Torres envisioned the Barge of the Dead in penance for the dishonour her Klingon mother, Miral, felt for not raising her half-human daughter to be a Klingon warrior of the Way of Kahless. As she attempted (successfully) to escape going to Gre'Thor, realm of the dishonoured dead, B'Elanna met Kortar, whose fate when he died was to ferry Klingon souls over the River of Blood, to Gre'Thor's gates, where the demonic being Fek'lhr waited to consume particularly loathsome souls.
In the TNG episode "Rightful Heir", the clone of Kahless refers to a Klingon legend, telling of his return near a star that is visible from the night sky of the Klingon homeworld. This, combined with the Klingons' strong religious tradition, could suggest that religious beliefs might have been a driving force behind early Klingon space travel. However, several sources from the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine universe have stated that space travel was one of the legacies left behind by the marauding Hur'q, who pillaged the Klingon homeworld of Qo'nos, taking with them the sacred treasures of the Klingons, including the Sword Of Kahless. Kahless's star has at least one planet orbiting it, and the first Klingons who landed there built a monastery. Warriors that came after have visited, hoping to receive enlightenment through a vision of Kahless.
Klingons who follow the Way of the Warrior, the belief system developed by Kahless the Unforgettable, value honor above all else. Those who die with purpose and honor are said to join Kahless, who had been the first Klingon emperor and a messianic figure in the Way of the Warrior, in the Black Fleet in Sto'Vo'Kor, a paradise where battle and feasting can eternally be shared and won. Sto'Vo'Kor is similar to Valhalla of Earth's Viking culture.
The honored dead are not mourned, but celebrated. The eyes of a dead warrior are opened, and all fellow Klingons present roar to tell the warriors in Sto'Vo'Kor that the warrior is joining them. The body of the dead warrior is viewed mainly as an empty shell to be disposed of; particularly well-respected warriors have their companions accompany the body for interment or disposal, "just" to keep away predators (though a privately held act of respect for the departed). Warriors who may have a question about whether they will be worthy to enter Sto'Vo'Kor, such as not having died in glorious battle, may have a dangerous quest held in their name by their surviving mate and his or her companions. If they win their stated deed or battle, they win honor for their late warrior and entry to paradise.
Klingon beliefs were recorded in a series of scrolls collectively referred to as the paq'batlh, or Book of Honor. One prophecy, possibly taken from this book, was of the Kuvah'magh, a religious figure predicted to appear at some future time. Miral Paris, daughter of Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres, was thought by some expatriate Klingon cult members in the Delta Quadrant to be this new spiritual leader.
Gre'Thor (in Klingon, ghe'tor or 'ghe''or) is the Klingon afterlife where the dishonored go when they die. It is the Klingon equivalent of hell and is guarded by a fearsome demon, Fek'lhr (roughly pronounced "Fek-Lar"; in Klingon, veqlargh). Those unfortunate Klingons who find themselves in Gre'Thor are faced with eternal torture by Fek'lhr and his demons; however, Klingon legend allows for souls to be saved from Gre'Thor, usually by heroic sacrifices performed by friends and family (Kahless, for example, once willingly journeyed to Gre'Thor to save his brother, Morath, and send him to Sto'Vo'Kor).
If a Klingon dies and is fated to journey to Gre'Thor, they will find themselves on the Barge of the Dead, which travels the "river of blood" on its way to Gre'Thor. Klingon souls on the Barge are tempted by siren-like voices, masquerading as friends and family, who try to lure them off the edge and into the river.
Under normal circumstances it is difficult for the souls of dead Klingons to leave Gre'Thor, as in the expression "I will surrender when spirits escape from Gre'Thor!", but the legend of Kahless does allow for such things. Another example is the mother of B'Elanna Torres, who was initially sent to Gre'Thor due to her daughter's misdeeds but was eventually released.
Klingon opera is a well-known genre of traditional Klingon music with certain dramatic and stylistic similarities to Human opera. Typical themes include passionate tales of doomed courage and star-crossed love. Its strident tones are considered ear-shattering by most non-Klingons.
Klingons are passionate about opera, which they use to combine battle with art. The opera 'u', retelling the legend of the battles of "Kahless the Unforgettable", is the first (real) Earth production of a Klingon opera.
- bahgol - Beverage best served warm.
- Klingon bloodwine - A red wine of which Worf had programmed the replicators on the Enterprise-D to create a close approximation. It was also available at Quark's on Deep Space Nine. It is best served warm, and is the traditional beverage consumed by warriors being inducted into the Order of the Bat'leth.
- bregit lung - A traditional Klingon dish that William Riker said he enjoyed when he briefly served aboard the Klingon ship Pagh.
- chech'tluth - Alcoholic beverage Worf offered to Danilo Odell, the leader of a Bringloidi colony, when hosting that colony's population.
- fire wine - Alcoholic beverage Worf once unsuccessfully tried to order in a fictional tavern in a holographic Old West simulation.
- gagh - serpent worms. Klingons prefer to eat them live.
- pipius claw - Traditional dish that William Riker sampled when studying Klingon culture before his brief assignment aboard the Pagh.
- racht - Klingon serpent worms, larger than gagh, but served in a manner similar to them. Like gagh, they are best served live.
- raktajino - Klingon coffee available at Quark's bar on Deep Space Nine, sometimes served iced. Station personnel who were fond of the beverage included Commander Benjamin Sisko and Major Kira Nerys, who liked hers extra hot with two measures of kava.
- rokeg blood pie - Traditional Klingon dish. The crew of the Pagh served it to William Riker when he briefly served aboard that vessel, as a sort of initiation rite. Riker proved his mettle by stating that he enjoyed it. It is also a favorite food of Worf's, whose adoptive mother mastered the technique of making it when he was a child.
- Klingon skull stew - Delicacy sold at the Replimat on Deep Space Nine. The dish's name was not mentioned onscreen, though a photo of it, created by scenic artist Doug Drexler, was seen on a Replimat wall.
- warnog - A Klingon ale that dates back at least as early as the time of Kahless.
- zilm'kach - A segmented orange food eaten by Klingons.
The main reference book to Klingon culture as depicted in tlhIngan Hol is Klingon for the Galactic Traveler by Marc Okrand (Pocket Books, New York, 1997). A collection of Klingon proverbs and sayings reflecting and describing Klingon culture is contained in The Klingon Way. A Warrior's Guide, by Marc Okrand (Pocket Books, New York, 1996).
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- Okuda and Okuda (1997), p. 399.
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- Okuda and Okuda (1997), p. 415.
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- Okuda and Okuda (1997), p. 246.
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