- "I rely on my shaman and my chieftain. But before all else, I rely on myself."
- ―Banuk hunter
The Banuk are a human tribe in Horizon Zero Dawn. The Banuk are a nomadic people, native to the mountains north of the Sacred Lands. Made up of fearless hunters and mysterious shamans, they are constantly trying to prove their worth against increasingly stacked odds, and favor this over engaging with other tribes.
The tribe attributes its formation, name, and way of life to a woman named Banukai. According to Banuk legend, Banukai and her people came to the frozen lands that would become Ban-Ur in an attempt to escape the "Ravenous Tribe," brutal cannibals who chased Banukai's kin no matter where they fled. By filling herself with the "Blue Light", Banukai gained the strength and the aid of machines to wipe out the Ravenous Tribe, at the cost of her own life.
Like the Nora, Banuk record their history in oral tradition. This, combined with the fragmented nature of their society, makes their history difficult to track. However, they have run hunting grounds for decades (some argue that the Carja stole the idea from the Banuk).
The Derangement and the Red Raids
By the year 3025, the machines began to become more hostile and dangerous to humans. This change in behavior became a source of tension among the tribe. On one hand, many hunters accepted (and in some instances, welcomed) the changing behavior and more dangerous machines as a challenge to be overcome. The shamans, however, interpreted the machines' "anger" as a sign that the Blue Light was fading from the world, and found themselves able to explain less and less.
Like the neighboring tribes, the Banuk were attacked by the Carja during the Red Raids. Ban-Ur, the main territory of Banuk land, was never breached by the Carja due to its distance and harsh environment. However, the southern edge of Banuk land was raided extensively, with many Banuk either slaughtered or brought to Meridian for sacrifice. Due to their tracking abilities, several Shamans were ordered to track machines for the Carja, for the purpose of using them in the Sun-Ring for slaughter.
While the Banuk remain isolationist, they have shown an increase in intertribal interaction in the two years since the Liberation. The southern edge of their territory became known as the Cut (a reference to what was cut away during the Raids), a site where other tribes could more freely interact with the Banuk. Accepting the Carja's efforts to reconcile, the Banuk appointed an envoy, Yariki, to share Banuk culture with the Sundom.
- "I've been up here for two long winters and I still can't make sense of the Banuk."
The Banuk are a nomadic tribe and their simple shelters are similar to tipis, made of long wooden poles and covered with painted canvas. Banuk settlements include little more than tents and fire pits.
The Banuk's simplistic lifestyle is not due to lack of intellectual capacity. Indeed, the AI CYAN commented to the Nora huntress Aloy that they display an understanding of mathematics, specifically geometry. Additionally, Banuk are known design and construct powered, relatively advanced machinery. One Banuk woman was observed using an automated powered ice auger to cut a fishing hole in a frozen lake in the region of Banuk lands known as the Cut. The physical appearance of the device strongly suggests that it was constructed from scavenged machine parts rather than having been simply found. Certainly it is more advanced than any technology that any other known tribe has been seen to use, including the Oseram. However, because of their belief that any hardship as a challenge of one's ability, they prefer to improve the ways they know instead of devising new ones. When Aram shared long term solutions that the Carja are accustomed to, the Banuk he was traveling with were disdainful of the idea.
Banuk have also displayed an aptitude in weapons design and tinkering, something which they seem to guard jealously, except to those they deem worthy. Varga, a skilled Oseram weapon engineer, remarked on how unique and innovative some Banuk weapons like the Icerail and Stormslinger were, despite their shortcomings. Banuk Shamans also know how to improve their spear functionality using launch rails from deactivated drones of the Old Ones, a technique even Aloy wasn't able to figure out previously.
Tribespeople live in small, mobile groups of hunters called weraks. Each is led by a dominant chieftain along with the counsel of a shaman. Chieftains may be challenged for control of their werak, initiated by throwing one's spear at the chieftain's feet. Such challenges involve a head-to-head competition in which the chieftain and the challenger race to kill specified machines, marking their completion by launching a balloon. As an added level of difficulty, the challenger must launch every balloon first or be eliminated. Placement in a werak is earned through completion of a trial which must be faced alone. Passage of this trial grants one a place in the werak. While rare, outlanders are also allowed to take part in such challenges.
Despite living in groups, the Banuk are highly individualistic and value independence. Each member of a werak must prove that they possess the will to survive alone.
- "We survive and we prevail, until we fail to do either."
What the Banuk value above all else is to prevail against any challenge, and to accept any challenge that awaits. Most would rather die than refuse a challenge for being too difficult. A Banuk's ranking is defined almost entirely by their ability and accomplishments. Simply put, Banuk culture respects skill and nothing else. As such, Banuk society is largely meritocratic, making them the only known tribe free of gender roles.
The Banuk are notable for their use of colorful dyes, which they harvest from geothermal pools or rock formations. They use these pigments for dyeing their clothing and objects, and for painting. The dyeing of their clothing also serves a practical purpose, as it helps the Banuk differentiate fellow hunters from their prey. Their geometric designs can be observed on the canvas used for shelter, and on mountainsides. The designs appear to have a spiritual purpose, for either protection, calling to machine spirits, or other meanings. The paintings in Ban-Ur have existed for generations, being continually repainted; to edit or paint over them is considered sacrilege.
Banuk society is lead by shamans who often participate in "medicine hunts" and claim to be able to sense the presence of nearby machines. These shamans wear elaborate headdresses and have machine cables sewn directly into their skin. Shamans are typically responsible for stripping parts from machines brought down by hunters, thanking the machine spirits before doing so. The most renowned shamans form a group known as the Conclave, which meets yearly in a sacred location known as Malmstrom.
The tribe has general knowledge of the glyphs left by the Old Ones, but they prefer to record history in song. Their oral tradition includes a large volume of hunting tales.
The Banuk faith revolves around the "Blue Light," the light seen in machines' eyes. They believe that the Blue Light is the essence of life and harmony. The Blue Light animates the machines, its chosen vessels, but struggles to survive in the impure hearts of humans. Shamans will thread blue machine cables through their skin in hopes of better containing the Blue Light in their bodies. While the Banuk hunt machines like all tribes, they do so with reverence: it is customary for Shamans to thank machine spirits before harvesting the bodies.
The Derangement has been interpreted as the machines growing angry with humans, causing the Blue Light to start fading from the world. As the Derangement progresses, an increasing number of Banuk, especially young Banuk who have no memories of the machines being peaceful, have begun to turn away from the Banuk faith, considering it little more than a pretty story.
Due to their isolationism and simple way of life, the Banuk are often deemed to be just as mysterious, primitive, and savage as the Nora tribe. While Banuk traders do occasionally visit Meridian, they seldom stay long enough to satisfy the curiosity of the Carja. They do not readily welcome travelers who visit their lands, and expect visitors to construct their own shelters and hunt and cook for themselves. That being said, the Banuk will be amiable towards outlanders who earn their respect.
The Oseram are the closest known tribe to the Banuk, as the Claim is due west of Ban-Ur. Aside from being resistant to Oseram efforts to trade in their territory, the Banuk scorn the Oseram's patriarchal social structure and lack of spirituality.
- "These new Carja offer peace to the Banuk. None will forget the Red Raids, but perhaps…"
- ―Banuk hunter
Many Banuk look down upon the Carja for their opulence, secure lifestyle, and vulnerability to the cold. As one of the tribes attacked during the Red Raids, the Banuk are generally suspicious and avoidant of the Carja. This attitude is particularly prevalent among the inhabitants of the Cut, who were affected the most by the war.
However, the Banuk have accepted the truce following the Liberation, and are generally tolerant of the Carja. The Carja scribe Aram was given permission to enter Ban-Ur for the purpose of studying Banuk culture, and the Banuk made an envoy to the Carja court, indicating that the Banuk are at least somewhat open to Avad's efforts to reconcile. Carja envoys, such as Cantarah, have gained the trust of the tribe.
- Kikuk's Killers
- Nukoni's Arrows/Scars of the North/Shattered Hearts
- Owl's Watch
- Thunder's Daughters
- White Teeth
- Banuk Child
- Banuk Observer
- Banuk Shaman
- Banuk Villager
- Banuk Wanderer
- Young Banuk Hunter
- White Teeth Hunter
- The colors of Banuk clothing are inspired by the geothermic pools in Yellowstone National Park.