One Trek Mind -- 10 Best Bits of Klingon Culture

By Jordan Hoffman - July 20, 2013

Q'aplaH!

That means “success,” though that English translation doesn't quite nail down the full meaning of this traditional Klingon salute. That's because Klingon culture is too mighty for translation!

Even though Spock might be the most famous alien in Star Trek (and maybe the world?) his Vulcan heritage, while thorough, is not quite as richly developed and discussed as much as the Federation's villains/comrades from Qu'onoS, the Klingons.

Perhaps because they were once “bad” but are now “good,” Klingons can remain lovable, yet still a little frightening. To quote the famous Vulcan: fascinating. 

While I'm no Klingon scholar (I watch Shakespeare plays in the inferior English), there's enough I know and love about Klingon culture to fetishize. To that end, I present my ten most favorite Klingon... things. If you disagree with me, you dishonor me, and for that you must – DEFEND YOURSELF!

10 - Raktajino

For the more adventuresome members of the Federation out on the frontier, Raktajino, also known as Klingon coffee, was the caffeinated beverage of choice. Seems like everyone on Deep Space Nine preferred it to the typical Terran brew (or Earl Grey tea.) 

Captain Sisko took his with a bit of Jacarine peel and Major Kira was such an addict that Quark had to create a non-caffeinated version when she was pregnant with Kirayoshi. (Quarktajino was, by all reports, awful.) Prior to her joining the Dax symbiont, Ezri Tigan was not a fan. Afterwards, though, she was a convert.

We never actually saw Raktajino beans (or roots or whatever), but we did see the smiling faces of everyone at at the replicator when they got their morning mug. 

9 - D'k tahgs

The Klingons are a warrior race, and with fighting comes weapons. While certainly the lesser-known of the Klingon armaments, the dagger-like D'k tahg has gotten plenty of play in key Star Trek moments.

With its spring-loaded side blades, this vicious weapon was first seen as it fatally struck David Marcus, Captain Kirk's son. (The thrown knife that kills Crewman Grant in TOS' “Friday's Child” is, if you recall, a Capellan Kligat.)

Kang used a D'k tahg to slay the Albino in “Blood Oath” and Kira was stabbed with one in “The Way of the Warrior.” To have one's D'k tahg stolen was a great dishonor – so when Worf took Drex's, his father Martok did not let this go by unnoticed.

8 - Brak'lul

A Klingon's zest for battle comes from his honor, his desire to sing songs about his triumphs and, should he die in the heat of combat, the ability to spend the afterlife in the presence of Kahless in Sto'Vo'Kor. But some of their bravado comes from a li'l tidbit you don't hear about too much: Brak'lul.

Put bluntly, Klingons are STRONG. From a physiological point of view, they are far superior to many other species. This is made most clear through what is known as Brak'lul – in which Klingons have evolved to have redundant internal organs. Pierce a liver with a D'k tahg? No problem! We've got another one. With that kind of backup, yeah, you might feel a little less hesitant to get into a fight.

7 – Ha'quj

We can spend a lot of time talking about how Klingons look - though anyone reading StarTrek.com isn't going to bug me with such a noob question as “why do early ones have smooth foreheads?” But Klingons aren't just fearsome, they are stylish, and nothing is more stylish than a Klingon in a sash.

The sash, or Ha'quj, isn't just a tough-guy way to set off metal detectors. It can harness all sorts of weapons, but also hold a pin with your house crest. I mean, if you are a member of the House of Martok, you don't just carry a little card in your wallet – you announce this proudly on your chest for all those to see. Q'aplaH!

6 – Targs

Everybody needs somebody to love.

A pet targ, while hardly a toy poodle, is an adorable fuzzy creature that wee Klingons can take on walks and tell their secrets to. Of course, that's a domesticated targ. You don't want to mess with a wild targ, though you may end up eating one's heart if you attend enough wedding feasts on Qu'onoS.

5 - Shroud of the Sword of Kahless

Vulcans have Surak, Klingons have Kahless the Unforgettable. (Terrans have Abe Lincoln, probably a politically wise choice for broadcast television, though clearly a mystic/prophet is the equivalent).

While the Knife of Kirom was later used to clone Kahless, the lost shroud (found somewhere out in the Gamma Quadrant) just has a nicer ring to it. For what is inchoate religion and philosophy if not shrouded in mystery and wonder? Discovering the shroud led Kor and Worf on an adventure, where the sword itself led to a Lord of the Rings-like moment.

4 – Rite of Ascension Painstiks

Some of us note the graduation from one level of achievement to another with some sort of written or oral exam. Klingons pass through a gauntlet of painstiks.

It is wonderful to observe (because there is nothing better than watching Worf go “auuuuuuughhhh!”), but nothing I'd want to go through myself. Then again, if you are the tawI'yan (or just in the wedding party) of a Klingon about to get married, you may find yourself on the Path to Kal'Haya – and while the specifics of this are still a little vague, we know this gruesome four day battle involves the following steps: Deprivation, Blood, Pain, Sacrifice, Anguish and Death.

Gee, what's wrong with a trip out a bar, huh?

3 - Bat'leth

A mighty, fearsome warrior like a Klingon could rip a puny Earther apart with his bare hands! With one hand!! Q'aplaH!!! However, why not enter the fray of combat in a little bit of style?

This two-handed, crescent-shaped scimitar is, I think we can all agree, the most badass blade in the galaxy. According to lore, the first Bat'leth was forged when Kahless the Unforgettable cut locks of his own hair, burned them in lava from the Kri'stak volcano and then cooled it in the Lake of Lusor. (I guess he couldn't just order one on Amazon.) Kahless later slew Morlor with the first Bat'leth such that the River Skral ran red with blood. It says as much in the song!

While we don't condone theft or any sort of public endangerment whatsoever, when that dude in Colorado used one to knock over two convenience stores, it was most dishonorable, but still amusing.

2 - Bloodwine

It isn't enough to just sing songs about past victories, you have to DRINK while you do it.

Good luck finding a glass of synthehol on Qu'onoS. One must quaff from a cask of Bloodwine. Q'aplaH!

No one really knows what Bloodwine is made from (or if it has actual blood), but we do know that Worf likes his “very young, and very sweet.”

1 - Gagh

There probably wasn't much doubt on this one. This Klingon delicacy of gross-lookin' worms, which are best served raw and even better served live, is without question the most wonderful thing about Klingon culture. Riker ate it. Picard ate it. Bashir ate it. I'm positive Dax ate it. (Archer, as a result of augmentation virus treatment, claimed to crave some.)

Know this: the quality of gagh is judged less by its flavor than by the vigor in which it experiences death spasms in your mouth. So . . .with that... how about one more hearty Q'aplaH!

With a culture as unique as the Klingons' I certainly had to leave plenty off the list. Damn me to Gre'Thor if you must. But tell me what YOUR favorite Klingon things are in the comments below.

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Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.comScreenCrush and Badass Digest. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels.

 

 

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