When you start reading Man of Gold or when you start playing the RPG, you might feel intimidated by the bizarre names and pronunciations. This is because this is the work of Muhammad Abdul-Rahman Barker, who was a professor of Urdu and South Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He was originally born in 1929 as Phillip Barker of Northwestern America and was fascinated by the tales of Jack Vance. Then, he traveled to India in 1951, where he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Abdul-Rahman.
While he published works on Urdu and Balachi as a professor, he spent his tenure creating the mythocosmography of Tekumel.
Tekumel takes place in the distant future when humanity settled on a planet named Tekumel, which originally served the purpose of a vacation resort. Then, it was sucked into a black hole and landed in an alternative dimension settled by aliens.
What does ultimately make M. A. R. Barker’s Tekumel distinct from the typical fantasy realms in Western media is the lack of emphasis on a Eurocentric mythocosmography. In other words, this realm is based entirely off the real-world realms of the Aztecs and the Indian sub-continent.
As for the human cultures that exist in Tekumel, they are mainly based off the Mughal Empire, which ruled India for a long time. This was inspired by M. A. R. Barker’s visit to India when he visited the Taj Mahal, which was built in the Mughal period.
The first Tekumel novel, Man of Gold, takes place during a civil war between the princes of the Petal Throne. This was based off the conflict between the princes Aurengzeb and Dara Shikoh. Another theme from the Mughals that found its way to Tekumel is the strict caste system. In India, it may have originated during 1250-1500 AD, or at least around the time Turkish invasion disrupted the Hindu kingship. As a result, with the dissolution, it resulted in focus being placed on the Hindu society as a whole, by enforcing marriage laws that would put people into what would become castes.
Although Tekumel never had the mainstream relevance that Lord of the Rings did, it still has a loyal following in the RPG world. It is especially important to discuss more about Tekumel, since there has been a focus on mythocosmographies that do not adhere to a Eurocentric view. Although he was described as the “forgotten Tolkien,” he can always be remembered.
- “About the Site: New to Tékumel?” Tekumel.
- Barker, M. A. R. “Man of Gold.” Tekumel Foundation. 1984.
- Eaton, Richard (1993). The rise of Islam and the Bengal frontier, 1204–1760. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 103.
- Gailloreto, Coleman. “Why Tékumel Is The Greatest RPG Setting You’ve Never Heard Of.” Screenrant. 2020.
- Lischka, Konrad (2009-10-06). “Der vergessene Tolkien” [The Forgotten Tolkien]. Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2009-10-13. (English translation)
- Perlamnx. “Tekumel!” Castle Mordigault. 2017.
- Smith, Blake. “How Mughal history inspired an American professor to weave a fantasy world that rivals Tolkien’s.” Scroll.in. 2017.