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- "They aren't wrong. The great elephants, the basilisks in silver cages and the striped black-and-white horses of the Jogos Nhai are harmless enough."
- ―Jorah Mormont
The Jogos Nhai are a nomadic people who occupy a large area of northeastern Essos. While the Dothraki occupy lands on the western side of the Bone Mountains, the Jogos Nhai are based on the eastern side of the range.
Jogos Nhai can occasionally be found west of the Bones, such as in the markets of Vaes Dothrak.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Jogos Nhai have been mentioned in passing - Daenerys Targaryen observes them in the markets of Vaes Dothrak - but little was known about them or their culture until the publication of The World of Ice and Fire sourcebook in 2014.
Physically, the Jogos Nhai are shorter than the Dothraki. They also possess squatter builds, larger heads with smaller faces, and their skin is more swarthy and sallow. Both men and women have pointed skulls, due to the custom of binding infants' heads to render them more attractive. The men shave their heads except for a single mohawk-like strip in the middle, while women shave their heads completely bald.
Culture & History
The Jogos Nhai are a nomadic people, whose homelands - known simply as the Plains of the Jogos Nhai - are situated east of the Bone Mountains, south of the Shivering Sea, and north of the Golden Empire of Yi Ti. George R.R. Martin has stated that Yi Ti is loosely analogous to Imperial China, so the Jogos Nhai could be considered a loose analogue of the Mongols. This comparison is furthered by certain cultural features, such as their consumption of fermented mare's milk. The Jogos Nhai have been arch enemies of Yi Ti for thousands of years, sacking hundreds of towns and dozens of cities. Every now and again a powerful emperor of Yi Ti will lead an expedition to the northern plains against them, killing hundreds of thousands, but the surviving Jogos Nhai always melt away into the plains and after a few generations build up to their old strength and continue raiding.
Each Jogos Nhai band is jointly commanded by a jhat, or war chief, and a moonsinger, who combines the roles of priestess, healer, and judge. The jhats lead the band in war and raiding, while the moonsinger rules over internal matters (this apparently means they oversee merchants and trade as well). The Jogos Nhai are somewhat similar to the Dothraki - in that both groups are nomadic and participate in raiding - but the physical nature of the Jogos Nhai's homelands have forced their culture to evolve very differently: The Dothraki are usually divided into large khalasars, with Khal Drogo's horde of 40,000 being larger than most. The Plains of the Jogos Nhai are drier and less fertile than the Dothraki Sea, due to being on the leeward side of the Bone Mountains. Because of this more arid landscape, the Jogos Nhai cannot sustain huge hordes like the Dothraki khalasars. Instead, they travel in smaller tribal bands whose members are linked by blood. Also, while the Dothraki often squabble with each other and fight over plunder, the Jogos Nhai all follow the strict religious rule stipulating that no Jogos Nhai band may war upon another (the Dothraki have a similar rule, but it is only enforced within the borders of their capital city, Vaes Dothrak).
Without the advantage of numbers, the Jogos Nhai are more like raiders than all-out warriors: they rely on lightning maneuvers, striking Yi Tish towns for plunder and burning what they can't take with them, but then fleeing at the approach of large Yi Tish armies. In contrast, large Dothraki hordes usually meet their enemies head on in open battle. When large expeditionary armies from Yi Ti are sent against them, typically the Jogos Nhai will retreat back into the plains and resort to guerrilla warfare, harassing supply lines to starve enemy armies until they are forced to return home or be destroyed.
While the Jogos Nhai may not make war upon each other, they are essentially always in a state of constant, low-level war with all of their neighbors; most often with Yi Ti to the south, but the nomads also have a bitter and longstanding feud with the city-states of Hyrkoon, which guard the passes through the Bone Mountains to the west. To the east they raid around Nefer, and to the north they raid any Ibbenese bold enough to try to establish a foothold on the coasts. However, these "wars" are most like continuous raiding - full scale united expeditions by thousands of Jogos Nhai are a rare occurrence. Whenever their neighbors are weakened by civil war or foreign invasion, they will opportunistically launch even more raids against them. It is impossible to make peace with the Jogos Nhai - not only because they don't want to, but because all of their numerous small tribes are not politically unified. In contrast, the Dothraki are not always at war with their neighbors, as the Free Cities learned that they can arrange "peace" with the Dothraki by simply gifting them large amounts of tribute. The Jogos Nhai would just take the tribute and continue raiding anyway.
Like the Dothraki, the Jogos Nhai have no ships and no interest in the sea. While the Ibbenese have free run of the coasts of both peoples, the Plains of the Jogos Nhai are poorer than the Dothraki Sea, so the Ibbenese don't really try to carve out enclaves there, sticking to the nearby fishing grounds.
The Jogos Nhai follow the religion of the Moonsingers (the name taken from the aforementioned priestesses of the religion itself), which has some unique views on gender and sexuality. Every band's jhat can only be a man, and every moonsinger has to be a woman. However, the Jogos Nhai do not see gender as biologically inherent: if a biological male wants to be a moonsinger he must dress and live as a woman, and if a biological female wants to be a jhat, she must dress and live as a man. Subsequently, a female-born jhat will be treated in all respects as a man, to the point that everyone around them refers to the jhat in male terms, making it very difficult for outsiders to determine what their original biological sex was. Arguably, the Jogos Nhai could said to be Transgender characters within the A Song of Ice and Fire mythos; their attitudes about gender are comparable to the hijra of India or Two Spirits of certain Native American tribes.
Due to the arid landscape and sparse vegetation of their homelands, the Jogos Nhai ride hardy beasts known as "zorses", which are made by breeding horses with zebras (the latter obtained from southern Yi Ti). Zorses are bred for endurance, not performance. They can survive for months on weeds and travel long distances without food or water.
West of the Bones
Jogos Nhai are rare west of the Bones, but not unheard of either: Apart from Vaes Dothrak, Daenerys encounters some of them in Qarth, and several are observed as gladiators in the fighting pits of Slaver's Bay. The founding population of Braavos consisted a diverse group of escaped slaves, taken from around the world by the Valyrians. Some of these slaves were Jogos Nhai, and according to tradition, it was their moonsingers who guided the escaping slaves with their stolen fleet to the location that would become the site of Braavos. For this reason, they were held in high esteem, and their descendants and the moonsinger religion are fairly prominent in modern-day Braavos (in the TV series Arya mentions in passing that she traveled along "Moonsinger Lane", though no individual Moonsingers have been mentioned in Braavos yet in the main novels).
The Further East of Essos