The Mulefa are sentient beings who evolved in a radically different fashion from humans. They possess an anatomy based on a diamond-framed skeleton lacking a spine, have hide, short horns and a trunk. Lacking hands, the mulefa make much use of trunk-gestures in communicating - small movements and "flicks" are an integral part of their vocabulary. The creatures simply referred to as "grazers", and appearing to be genetically similar to the Mulefa, are a source of milk, meat, hides and other materials to the mulefa. They form close-knit communities, closer then most human groups because, lacking two hands, it usually requires two or more mulefa trunks working together to accomplish complex tasks like tying knots.
The most notable feature of the Mulefa is their use of large circular seed pods from their world's "wheel-pod trees" to travel around their countryside; the disc-shaped pods fit neatly onto a spur on their front and rear legs when each zalif reaches a certain age. They then propel themselves using their side legs, like a cyclist without pedals. Of course, a highway of sorts is required for easy movement and this is provided by ancient lava flows now solidified into smooth rivers of rock running across the land. As the book notes, it is the three combined elements of seed-pod, spur and rock formation which leads to the current mulefa existence.
From a technological point of view, the Mulefa's civilisation is considerably backward, reminiscent of humanity in the stone age. Mulefa live in wattle-and-daub villages and use hand tools - there is no evidence of any form of mechanisation in their world. They do not use metal for any technological purposes (it is only used as ornaments). However, the mulefa have a symbiotic relationship with the seedpod trees - their use of the pods on the "roads" allows the extremely hard exterior to crack and the seeds to emerge. These are germinated by the mulefa, allowing the wheel-pod trees to survive. Reference is also made to their culling of the grazer herds, their non-intrusive use of trees to make lacquer and their distilling of acid from rocks. One of their few natural enemies are huge white birds called Tualapi, which habitually destroy settlements with chilling ferocity, something the Mulefa have no real defence against (save retreating further inland where the Tualapi do not go). The Mulefa also appear to lack any sort of organised government; they appear to live in village groups with little or no contact between settlements (which also seems to prevent any large scale warfare in their world). The reasons for the Mulefa's less advanced technology are probably their less dextrous hands and their slower thought processes; their state of harmony with their natural environment to the extent that it supplies them with everything they need may also preclude much need for further development.
Naturally, the mulefa view the world differently than humans, and by their own admission to Mary Malone they have much slower thought processes and do not so easily visualize abstract concepts such as mathematics or establish links and patterns. They have an extraordinary race memory though, remembering all of their history from the previous 33,000 years. At that time, it seems that they first interacted with the wheel-pod trees, symbolized in a story that is their equivalent to the Adam and Eve fable, although they see the event in a very positive light (the period of 33,000 years coincides with the awakening of human consciousness in our world, as evidenced by Mary Malone's anthropological research regarding Dust). They are able to see Dust directly without the aid of an instrument such as the amber spyglass. The oil from their pods, awash with Dust or sraf as the mulefa call it, make them aware that they are mulefa, conscious beings with the ability to reason and remember.
Mulefa use their trunks as well as their mouths to communicate.
|Anku||thank you||Mulefa imitation of Mary's thank you|
|Chuh||water||trunk sweep left-to-right|
|Chuh||rain||trunk curled at top|
|Chuh||sadness||trunk curled under|
|Chuh||young shoots of grass||trunk quick flick to left|
|Sraf||Dust||with leftward flick of trunk|
Pullman's inspiration for the Mulefa was revealed in the Independent in 2003: Phillip Pullman got the idea "from strolling round Lake Bled in Slovenia, where the constant rumble of overtaking skateboarders gave him the notion of 'Mulefa', elephant-like animals that use giant oiled seed pods as a means of locomotion"
A list of notable Mulefa in the trilogy.
- ↑ Nicolas Tucker, Philip Pullman: the Dæmon King, The Independent, 30 November 2003
|Races and Species|
|Humans • Dæmons • Witches • Panserbjørne • Angels • Spectres • Gallivespians • Mulefa • Harpies •|