I think your idea is cool too.
Often times my reference points come from Scripture, especially those that arise out of the historic Jewish culture and their traditions. I think there must’ve been some external way to identify the 12 tribes of Israel so that one could identify their kindred among the many in the Exodus account, once they grew to have so much larger numbers. They even camped in separate ranks and files in their desert journey under the way God told them to organize themselves. So to your question:
Why was it established in the first place? There might have been frequent cases of mistaken identity or something of the like, but how could it possibly be enough to make an entire law and start enforcing it?
I know in the medieval English times as well as the early Italian histories there were traditions called an armorial or heraldic “achievement” which were later termed a “coat of arms”. These were more military affectations but could be attributed to identifications for families and lineages as well. This shift from military to family identifiers occurred roughly in the 17th to 19th century, but it hearkened back to the earlier traditions but failed to give that armorist practice credit. Arms came to be ornamental pieces that were crafted as crests for organizations, churches, and fraternal orders, as well as emblems for schools and universities, and now even some modern corporations employ them. I think pageantry tends to be something we can all relate to in the human race, for there is an internal need to display our significance and associations. Keep in mind the way a tradition starts, does not necessarily mean it will stay true to the purposes of its original intentions.
Considering that any larger group much have some uniform code of behavior to co-exist among extended family and in a land occupied by enemies, these age distinctions and may have arisen due to a need for morality. Underage children then as now would need to be protected by law and societal enforcement from immoral predators. One should not “marry” a child. This should be verboten and there would need to be some custom or practice to distinguish who is or who is not permitted to be classified as adult or pre-adult. Jewish tradition has their bar mitzvahs for males. Spanish tradition has is quinceaneras for girls. Why not include a tradition of associated pageantry too? Let there be severe consequences for anyone accosting a child for nefarious purposes. Give some way of a signet for the peoples to identify their age range visually and therefore whatever privileges and consequences are related to those coronet or signet symbols.
Speaking of law, who enforces this? Is there a punishment? It seems a rather petty thing to enforce. (In the words of a wise meme, ‘ain’t nobody got time for that.’)
There could be a joint tribal council that has representatives from each family that could decree what consequences come from abusing the agreed-upon symbols and crests mutually protect their children and attributes guilt to family lines which are guilty of the specific abuse, so that each tribe self-polices it own, to avoid being shut out of the general counsel’s privileges and decision-making. If one person is caught wearing the symbol identifiers of another tribe to cast suspicion and guilt for a crime on another family, for instance, if apprehended that person and his tribe could get consequences and censor.
What practical use does it have? At the start of the novel, the tribes are mostly at peace with each other. There’s friction, but not enough to make it that important.
I think the answers provided above may serve for this question.
Who thought this was a good idea in the first place? (Me, apparently, but I mean in story.)
Cite or allude to an origin incident that could have given a very good reason for the tradition. Say one of the chieftain’s underage daughters was the victim of a sexual predator. The collective council’s answer to “how do we protect our children” could be this tradition.
Does it have any cultural significance? I couldn’t think of anything.
Pageantry doesn’t have to just serve one purpose. It can become a rite of passage or a desired emblem of achievement, beyond what it originally started for. Girls and boys could compete for particular tiaras or badges of distinction within their own tribes.
Does that help?
Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
I was born in war.
Fighting from my first breath.