Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Planet Bajor as a Metaphor?
Author: Toby Fuller
There seems an underlying trend for Star Trek races to be equated to some cultural or political grouping in real life. Whether it is the Klingons as a metaphor for the old communist-era Soviet Union or the Cardassians being painted as modern-day Nazis. One race that seems to have not stayed put in any box that it has been placed in is the Bajorans, an odd mix of religion, persecution, ancient customs and agrarian values that fails to tally with any one ethic grouping. In this essay we will look at the different facets of the Bajoran race and discuss their resonance in our own history or even the present world.
The Displaced People
One of the obvious allegories made with the Bajorans when they first appeared in The Next Generation was to various grouping displaced from their homelands, in particular the Palestinians as the most noted of these people. This to be fair is a rather superficial comparison as the reasons for the displacement and the situation at that time bear little similarities. A large number of Bajorans fled from the planet Bajor to escape the Cardassian occupation, the Cardassians having taken the planet by force from their own and with a small occupational contingent using the local populace to strip out any useful resource, This is clearly not the situation with Israel, and it would be very much frowned upon in most circles trying to equate the Jewish nation with the Cardassians.
This leads us to other people displaced from their homelands. Most of these, at least in modern times, occur due to war or some other form of internal strife in their home nation. The people flee across the borders to escape the danger or to seek resources that have been destroyed or disrupted. Such an example is the terrible situation that befell Rwanda, where the two ethic groups that had lived there began a bitter conflict. This type of situation also does not work for the Bajorans, as that would have required the Cardassians to have been resident on the planet to begin with or at least have settled peacefully before the conflict and occupation occurred. Which leads us to one of the major times in history where an outside power seized land by force and held it for a significant time, that is during World War II. Specifically in the case of Europe, the armies of Nazi Germany moved into numerous countries throughout Europe and set up occupying governmental structures. However, even here there is a significant distinction to make, not only did this occur to numerous nationalities and ethnic groups but the German forces sought to unify the land not to rape it of its resources and leave when it was spent. This slash and burn mentality only really existed in the ancient world, where a victorious power in war would destroy much of the infrastructure of the losing civilisation so that they could not rise up again to challenge them so quickly.
In the end, this leads to the conclusion that the Bajorans are really just a stereotype of a displaced people at this stage and do not directly relate to any one particular group in history. While having some similarities to certain groups, they are only superficial and the Bajoran situation is reassuringly unique.
Ancient Social Disorder?
One of the interesting facts that has come about regarding the Bajorans, apart from the extreme age of the society, is the fact that at some stage they were locked in a rigid caste system known as the d'jarras. This is definitely not without precedent in our civilisation, social structures like this abound throughout history but only a few are so arbitrary as to set someone's career path based on their parentage.
Many social systems disadvantage groups due to being from poorer families, such as the samurai-peasant relationship of feudal Japan, or based on ethic background, which is the case with racial inequality that has been seen in many nations perhaps most notably Pre-Civil War America and Pre-Apartheid South Africa. However, the caste system explained for the Bajorans set a persons exact line of work (soldier, artist, religious figure) based entirely on their family line.
The only system that this resembles is the strict caste structure of India, where based on your karma you are reborn into a role on Earth. If you did good deeds in your last life then you move up the social ladder, and if not then you go down perhaps even becoming one of the untouchables that deal with dead bodies and other unsavoury tasks. This bottom layer of the caste does appear in the Bajoran system, however it all seems a lot more arbitrary, the Bajoran does not seem to have any benefit for good deeds leading to their station. But then it must be said, we are totally unaware of what the Bajoran stance on death and reincarnation is, it may be that there is a Bajoran form of karma (based no doubt on the person's "pagh") which could lead to you being born into a better family and so a better caste.
Civilisation at a Plateau
It seems that at some stage in the distant past, the Bajoran civilisation simple settled out and did not progress much further for centuries. From various comments, and the fact that they did not populate the entire quadrant and got invaded by the Cardassians, it seems that their technology reached a peak well before any neighbouring cultures but went no further. The Bajorans had advances astronomy, space flight and various other highly developed technologies during our middle ages. It could be that the Bajorans never went through the periods in our culture that induced the most change, namely the World Wars, and it must be noted if it were not for the suppression of knowledge during the so-called dark ages our culture would be a lot further advanced than it is now.
This level of knowledge in an ancient culture is reminiscent of people such as the Babylonians, Egyptians or even the Meso-American civilisations. In fact some of the ancient myths of the lost city of Atlantis claim they had developed man-powered flight. Yet while all of these cultures were full of technical marvels, they are by our standards much more primitive from a sociological point of view, such as our distaste for the Mayan practice of ritual human sacrifice of the losing side in warfare. The look and feel of the Bajoran culture fits right into this view of one of the ancient Earth civilisations, with its golden domes and stone minarets. There is a hint of Babylon in the views of the capital city and you can almost imagine finding a version of the Hanging Gardens somewhere.
Terrorism as a Way of Life
The next facet of the Bajoran people that we get to chronologically is during the Occupation itself, when a good portion of the populace became dedicated to driving off the Cardassians. Lacking the military force to do so, they of course had to resort to the hit and run tactics of guerrilla warfare. This type of action walks a fine line with terrorism, which is I am sure how the Cardassians viewed it totally. However, when the agent views the entire race as their enemy, the distinction between a soldier and a civilian often becomes blurred to them.
This aspect of the Bajorans has been corresponded by a few people to the activities of the French Resistance during World War II and to groups such as the IRA in Northern Ireland. In making these comparisons we see the prime example of this schism, while most people would view the actions of the French Resistance as heroic I doubt the Nazi forces at the time had such a rosy view of it. This seems to bear nicely with the situation of the Bajoran people. The comparison to the IRA and similar groups is more difficult, this is because while there are supporters of the group who have championed their cause as righteous and actions necessary, many would say that they crossed the line completely and are nothing more than terrorists. An interesting view of this is given in the first episode to deal with the Bajorans in fact, in "Ensign Ro" we see the Bajoran Resistance blamed for an unprovoked attack on a Federation colony. By assaulting a third-party and a non-combatant, they made their position untenable and a Admiral was convinced to deal with them. As it turns out, it was all a Cardassian ploy to turn the sympathies against the Bajorans, playing once again into their role as a manipulative and devious race.
One of the core identities of the Bajoran race is their religion, the first time that Star Trek has really created a major featuring people that are so overt in their beliefs over the agnostic view the Federation and the series as a whole. As discussed in another essay on the religion, it bears similarities to a range of human faiths. Few comparisons have been made by fans on the whole with this aspect of the Bajoran culture. Perhaps it is because the tenets are quite different from western religions and the nature of their gods more easy to qualify.
The only conclusion that can therefore be raised is that although the Bajorans bear similarities to a number of different races at various times and considering the many facets of the culture. In this way they are both unique and like any other culture you can think of.
About the author: StarTrekDeepSpaceNine.org is an in depth and comprehensive guide to every single aspect of the Star Trek Deep Space Nine universe, written by fans of the show.
With over 1600 articles at a total of 50,800 words plus no matter what aspect of DS9 your interested in we should have content that covers it.
Powered by CommonSense CMS script - http://www.sensesites.com/