"Frank Herbert even used lore of and bits of information from the people of the Gobi Desert in Asia, the Kalahari Desert in southwest Africa, and the aborigines of the Australian Outback. For centuries these people have survived on little amounts of water, in environments where water is more precious than gold." (B. Herbert 181)
Brian goes on to list other peoples who were known for their effective guerilla war tactics, their use their home environment against invaders, and their ability to withstand intense conditions and live upon scarce resources. Of course, the religions and spiritual faiths of these peoples are instrumental in their attitudes to their environments.
The Fremen are also like any number of peoples who throughout history have concealed themselves in an inhospitable mountain or desert regions, using them as bases of guerilla warfare against more powerful occupying forces. The Turks did this after World War I when their country was occupied, while the Yemenese Arabs and Algerians did it after World War II. The tactic has been particularly effective against colonial powers, making occupation too expensive to continue. The Germans and the Spanish resisted Napoleon's occupying armies in this manner. So did the North Vietnamese, driving American forces from Vietnam. The Fremen of Dune do this as well, resisting the occupation of the Imperial Empire and its franchise holder, the Harkonnens.
In creating the Fremen, Dad called upon personal memories of the Great Depression, in which the hardy, stubborn personality survived best against adverse conditions. The author understood the survivalist mentality, the ability of human character to overcome difficult circumstances
Under his interpretation, the behavior of such people in extreme situations such as those found on Arrakis became inseparable from religion. It was ingrained in their personality, in their ethics. And the religion of these people was in large part based upon the mystical practices of societies of people whose spiritual belief systems originated in desert regions-- Muslim Sufis, Jewish Kabbalists, Navajo Indians, Kalahari and Gobi primitives, Australian bushmen . . . and more." (B. Herbert 182)
While Brian Herbert does list a good majority of people from around the world who might have inspired the Fremen, or who bear similarities with the Fremen, he neglects to mention one important people in Asia who were unbelievably effective in their guerilla wars, seem like they exist in vast numbers, who are resilient and proud, who probably may have lived in conditions where the resources were scarce (or scarcer in comparison to neighboring peoples), who have survived to exist in a number of locations, and have refused to be conquered.
Here's rather lengthy excerpt from Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down, and incredible and depressing book about cultural clashes and cultural misunderstanding which goes into length about the people I want to introduce to the Fremen section of the forum. I apologize to others of this sietch who may feel that reading this would be like wandering in the deep desert without a stillsuit, and I admit that the excerpt is overlong. Nonetheless, the whole excerpt is important for my topic, and for the comparison I wish to make afterwards.
"For as long as it has been recorded, the history of the Hmong has been a marathon series of bloody scrimmages, punctuated by occasional periods of peace, though hardly any of plenty. Over and over again, the Hmong have responded to persecution and to pressures to assimilate by either fighting or migrating-- a pattern that has been repeated so many times, in so many different eras and places, that it begins to seem almost a genetic trait, as inevitable in its recurrence as their straight hair or their short, sturdy stature. Most of the conflicts took place in China, to which the prehistoric ancestors of the Hmong are thought to have migrated from Eurasia, with a stopover of a few millennia in Siberia. These northerly roots would explain the references to the Hmong rituals, including some that are still practiced during the New Year celebrations and at funerals, to a Hmong homeland called Ntuj Khaib Huab, which (according to a 1924 account by Francois Marie Savina, a French apostolic missionary who served in Laos and Tonkin) "was perpetually covered with snow and ice, where the days and nights each lasted for six months; the trees were scarce and very small; and the people were also very small, and dressed entirely in furs." European ancestry would also explain why the Hmong have fairer skin than other Asian peoples, no epicanthic folds beneath their eyelids, and sometimes big noses. It would not explain why Ssuma Ch'ien, a Chinese scholar of the Han dynasty in the second century B.C. Described the Hmong as a race "whose face, eyes, feet, and hands resembled those other people, but under their armpits they had wings, with which, however, they were unable to fly." It would also fail to explain why, as late as the nineteenth century, many Chinese claimed the Hmong had small tails.
The Chinese called the Hmong the Miao or Meo, which means depending on which linguistic historians you read, "barbarians," "bumpkins," "people who sound like cats," or "wild uncultivated grasses." In any case, it was an insult. ("Hmong," the name they prefer to call themselves , is usually said to mean "free men," but some scholars say that, like "Inuit," "Dine," and many other tribal names the world over, it simply means "the people.") The Hmong called the Chinese sons of dogs. The Chinese viewed the Hmong as fearless, uncouth, and recalcitrant. It was a continuing slap in the face that they never evinced any interest in adopting the civilized customs of the Chinese culture, preferring to keep to themselves, marry each other, speak their own language, wear their own tribal dress, play their own musical instruments, and practice their own religion. They never even ate with chopsticks. The Hmong viewed the Chinese as meddlesome and oppressive, and rebelled against their sovereignty in hundreds of small revolts. Though both sides were equally violent, it was not a symmetrical relationship. The Hmong never had any interest in ruling over the Chinese or anyone else; they wanted merely to be left alone, which, as their later history was also to illustrate, may be the most difficult request any minority can make of a majority culture.
The earliest account of Hmong-Chinese relations concerns a probably mythical, but emotionally resonant, emperor named Hoang-ti, who was said to have lived around 2700 B.C. Hoang-ti decided that the Hmong were too barbaric to be governed by the same laws as everyone else, and that they would henceforth be subject to a special criminal code. Instead of being imprisoned like other offenders, the Hmong who were not executed outright were to have their noses, ears, or testicles sliced off. The Hmong rebelled; the Chinese cracked down; the Hmong rebelled again; the Chinese cracked down again; and after a few centuries of this the Hmong gradually retreated from their rice fields in the valleys of the Yangtzee and Yellow rivers, moving to more and more southerly latitudes and higher and higher altitudes. "That is how the Miao became mountain people," wrote Father Savina. "That is also how they were able to preserve their independence in the midst of other peoples, maintaining intact, along with their language and their customs, the ethnic spirit of their race."
Around A.D. 400, the Hmong succeeded in establishing an independent kingdom in the Honan, Hupeh, and Hunan provinces. Since even among themselves they were (as Father Jean Mottin, a modern French missionary in Thailand, has put it) "allergic to all kind of authority," the power of their kings was limited by a complex system of village and district assemblies. Though the crown was hereditary, each new king was chosen from among the former king's sons by an elaborate of all the arms-bearing men in the kingdom. Since the Hmong practiced polygyny, the kings had an especially large number of wives, the pool of candidates was usually ample enough to afford an almost democratically wide choice. The Hmong kingdom lasted for five hundred years before the Chinese managed to crush it. Most of the Hmong migrated again, this time toward the west, to the mountains of Kweichow and Szechuan. More insurrections followed. Some Hmong warriors were know for using poisoned arrows; others went into battle dressed in copper and buffalo-hide armor, carrying knives clenched between their teeth in addition to the usual spears and shields. Some Hmong crossbows were so big it took three men to draw them. In the sixteenth century, in order to keep the Hmong from venturing outside Kweichow, the Ming dynasty constructed the Hmong Wall, a smaller version of the Great Wall of China that was one hundred miles long, ten feet tall, and manned by armed guards. For a time the Hmong were contained, but not controlled. Gabriel de Magaillans, a Jesuit missionary who traveled through China in the seventeenth century, wrote that they "pay no tribute to the emperor, no yield to him any obedience. . . . The Chinese stand in fear of them, so that after several trials which they have made of their prowess, they have been forced to let them live at their own liberty."
The Chinese tried to "pacify" and "sinicize" the Hmong by telling them that they had to surrender their arms, that they had to wear Chinese clothes, that the men had to cut their hair short, and that they were forbidden to sacrifice buffalos. Those who submitted were called the "Cooked Miao"; those that refused were the "Raw Miao." There were a lot more Raw Miao than cooked ones. In 1710 or thereabouts, hundreds of Hmong warriors killed their wives and children, believing they would fight more fiercely if they had nothing to lose. (It worked for a while. Thus unencumbered, they seized several passes, severing Chinese supply lines, before they themselves were all killed or captured.) In 1772, a small army of Hmong squashed a large group of Chinese in eastern Kweichow by rolling boulders on their heads while they were marching through a narrow gorge. The Manchu emperor, Ch'ien-lung, decided he would be satisfied with nothing less than the extermination of the entire Hmong tribe, a goal whose unsuccessful pursuit ultimately cost him twice what he had spent conquering the entire kingdom of Turkestan. Ch'ien-lung dispatched another general to the Hmong regions. After many months of sieges and battles, the general told Sonom, the Hmong king of great Kintchuen, that if he surrendered, his family would be spared. Sonom swallowed this story. When he and his family were brought before the emperor, they were chopped into bits, and their heads were placed in cages for public exhibition.
It is, perhaps, no surprise that by the beginning of the nineteenth century, a large number of Hmong decided that they had had enough of China. Not only were they fed up with being persecuted, but their soil was getting depleted, there was a rash of epidemics, and taxes were rising. Although the majority of Hmong stayed behind-- today there are about five million Hmong in China, more than in any other county-- about half million migrated to Indochina, walking the ridgelines, driving their horses and cattle ahead of them, carrying everything they owned. As was their custom, they went to the highlands, settling first in what are now Vietnam and Laos, and later in Thailand. For the most part, they built their villages in places where no one else wanted to live. But if the local tribes objected or demanded tribute, the Hmong fought back with flintlock blunderbusses, or with their fists, and usually won. Father Mottin quotes an official who said, "I saw a Meo take my son by the feet and break his spine against the posts of my hut." After the French established control over Indochina in the 1890s, the Hmong rebelled against their extortionate tax system in a series of revolts. One of them, called the Madman's war, which lasted from 1919 to 1921, was led by a messianic figure named Pa Chay, who had a habit of climbing trees so that he could receive his military orders directly from heaven. His followers blew away large numbers of colonial soldiers with ten-foot-long cannons made from tree trunks. Only after the French granted them special administrative status in 1920, acknowledging that the best way to avoid being driven crazy by them was to leave them alone, did the Hmong of Laos, who constituted the largest group outside China, settle down peaceably to several unbroken decades of farming mountain rice, growing opium, and having as little contact as possible with the French, the lowland Lao, or any of the other ethnic groups who lived at lower elevations.
The history of the Hmong yields several lessons that anyone who deals with them might do well to remember. Among the most obvious of these are that the Hmong do not like to take orders; they do not like to lose; they would rather flee, fight, or die than surrender; that they are no intimidated by being outnumbered; that they are rarely persuaded that the customs of other cultures, even those more powerful than their own, are superior; and that they are capable of getting very angry. Whether you find these traits infuriating or admirable depends largely on whether or not you are trying to make a Hmong do something he or she would prefer not to do. Those who have tried to defeat, deceive, govern, regulate, constrain, assimilate, intimidate, or patronize the Hmong have, as a rule, disliked them intensely.
On the other hand, many historians, anthropologists, and missionaries (to whom the Hmong have usually been polite, if not always receptive, as long as the proselytizing has not been coercive) have developed a great fondness for them. Father Savina wrote that the Hmong possessed "a bravery and courage inferior to that of no other people," because of which "they have never had a homeland, but neither have they ever known servitude and slavery." William Robert Geddes, an Australian anthropologist, spent most of 1958 and 1959 in Pasamliem, a Hmong village in northern Thailand. (Though more Hmong lived in Laos and Vietnam, most Western observers in the last half century or so have worked in Thailand because of its stabler political situation.) Geddes did not find his fieldwork easy. The villagers were too proud to sell him food, so he had to transport his supplies by packhorse, nor would they allow themselves to be hired to build him a house, so he had to hire opium addicts from a Thai village lower down the mountain. However, the Hmong eventually won his deep respect. In his book Migrants of the Mountains, Geddes wrote:
The preservation of the Miao of their ethnic identity for such a long time despite their being split into many small groups surrounded by different alien peoples and scattered over a vast geographic area is an outstanding record paralleling in some ways that of the Jews but more remarkable because they lacked the unifying forces of literacy and a doctrinal religion and because the features they preserved seem to be more numerous.
Robert Cooper, a British anthropologist who spent two years studying resource scarcity in four Hmong communities in northern Thailand, described his research subject as
polite without fawning, proud but not arrogant. Hospitable without being pushy; discreet respecters of personal liberty who demand only that their liberty is respected in return. People who do not steal or lie. Self-sufficient people who shows no trace of jealousy of an outsider who said he wanted to live like a Hmong yet owned an expensive motorcycle, a tape-recorder, cameras, and who never had to work for a living.
From his post in the Hmong village of Khek Noi, also in northern Thailand, Father Mottin wrote in his History of the Hmong (a wonderful book, exuberantly translated from the French by an Irish nun who had once been the tutor to the future king of Thailand, and printed, rather faintly, in Bangkok):
Though they are but a small people, the Hmong still prove to be great men. What particularly strikes me is to see how this small race has always managed [sic] to survive though they often had to face more powerful nations. Let us consider, for example, that the Chinese were 250 times more numerous than they, and yet never found a way to swallow them. The Hmong . . . Have never possessed a country of their own, they have never got a king worthy of the name, and yet they have passed through the ages remaining what they have always wished to be, that is to say: free men with a right to live in this world as Hmong. Who could not admire them for that?
One of the recurring characters in Hmong folktales is the Orphan, a young man whose parents have died, leaving him alone to live by his wits. In one story, collected by Charles Johnson, the Orphan offers the hospitality of his humble home to two sisters, one good and one snotty. The snotty one says:
What, with a filthy orphan boy like you? Ha! You're so ragged you're almost naked! Your penis is dirty with ashes! You must eat on the ground, and sleep in the mud, like a buffalo! I don't think you even have any drink or tobacco to offer us!
The Orphan may not have a clean penis, but he is clever, energetic, brave, persistent, and a virtuoso player of the qeej, a musical instrument, highly esteemed by the Hmong, that is made from six curving bamboo pipes attached to a wooden wind chamber. Though he lives by himself on the margins of society, reviled by almost everyone, he knows in his heart that he is actually superior to all his detractors. Charles Johnson points out the Orphan is, of course, the symbol of the Hmong people. In this story, the Orphan marries the good sister, who is able to perceive his true value, and they prosper and have children. The snotty sister ends up married to the kind of dab who lives in a cave, drinks blood, and makes women sterile." (Fadiman 13-19)
In relation to what Fadiman mentioned about how the word "Hmong" might mean "free men," Brian Herbert states himself in Dreamer of Dune that "The name Fremen (pronounced Frem-men) sounds close to "free men," a suggestion that they are an independent, rebellious tribe who will never permit themselves to be dominated by outsiders." (B. Herbert 180) That one similarity is a strong indication that the Hmong are probably one of the many influences for the Fremen, although there are broad differences between the two groups as well. I don't think the Hmong have ever inhabited the desert locations of China, or one of Brian Herbert's listed desert locations in Asia, the Gobi Desert, but its a possibility. The mountains in which the Hmong lived in Laos are probably tough enough, but it would be incredible if vast numbers of Hmong were able to survive in harsh conditions of the Asian desert regions. Frank Herbert probably didn't know about them, but it wouldn't be surprising if he did. The Vietnam War and Asian history seemed like topics of interest for him, and the Hmong did play a part in the Vietnam War (paratroopers for U.S.). Unfortunately for the Hmong, as the book later explains, the U.S. used them and abandoned them, leaving the Hmong to survive the vengeful clutches of the Communist regime of Laos by either fighting or fleeing. I am not suggesting that they are the primary influence for the Fremen, but I can see Frank Herbert as one of the historians growing fond of Hmong as a people. Do you see a comparison?