In the world of Dragon Age, the term qunari can signify one of two things. Literally meaning "People of the Qun," it can be used to describe any person of any race who has devoted his or her life to the Qun, a set of philosophical and religious teachings based on the writings of Koslun. Followers of the Qun are known for their militant fervor, and zealous qunari have in many cases dismantled the entire social fabric of a region in order to indoctrinate its people in the way of the Qun.
More commonly, however, qunari is used to indicate the race of horned sapient humanoids who were responsible for bringing the Qun to Thedas. They are relatively new arrivals on the continent, and their mysterious origins, combined with their intimidating appearance and violent proselytizing, have led many of the nations of Thedas to fear and revile them.
Appearance and Characteristics
Qunari stand about a head taller than a human, with a more muscular build than any other of the main races of Thedas. Their skin is typically bronze or golden in color, leading many they have conquered to refer to them as "golden masters." They are also characterized by pointed ears, white hair, and a pair of curved horns situated just above their brow, though it is possible in rare cases for qunari to be born without horns. Also in possession of piercing eyes which can be red, violet, or yellow in hue, the striking appearance as well as the strange demeanor of the qunari have led many to regard them as monsters.
Seemingly reticent to the outside observer, a single qunari is not likely to reveal much about their culture, and their society in general is quite insular. This recalcitrance can be attributed somewhat to the philosophical basis of their culture. Each person in qunari society has a highly specialized role, being a part of a greater whole. Qunari find the notion of learning about their culture through a single person laughable, akin to gaining knowledge of the body by examining a single part. This stoicism does not mean that the qunari do not wish to spread their way of life to other people, however, but that they believe themselves to be a single entity whose parts do not represent the whole. The belief that their society is a single being is informed by the Qun, which is both their faith and their way of life, and enlightening other races in the way of the Qun was the primary motivation for the Qunari Wars that were waged shortly after their arrival in Thedas.
Further illustrating the importance qunari place on the group, they do not possess names in the traditional sense, nor do they form familial groups, and overall they do not seem to value individuality. Qunari do have given names, but these serve primarily to facilitate record-keeping and to track data on breeding, and would not be used by a qunari on a day-to-day basis. A qunari's "name" is his job, and his "family" his coworkers, and these are the people he is likely to have the closest relationship with. This may make them seem cold and impersonal to outsiders, but this is simply a result of an extremely communal culture, as the concept of individualism is quite foreign to the qunari.
History in Thedas
The Qunari Wars
In the 30th year of the Steel Age, roughly three centuries before the events of Dragon Age: Origins, the first qunari make their presence known in the world of Thedas. Hailing from an unknown land across the Boeric Ocean, they make landfall on the tropical northern island of Par Vollen, from there launching an assault on the Thedosian mainland that would last nearly 150 years. Possessing technology unknown to the native people of Thedas as well as giant warriors of superior skill and discipline, the qunari quickly decimate the defenders of Seheron and Rivain before moving further inland. Most of northern Thedas falls under the control of the qunari during this period, with Antiva being completely conquered, the Tevinter Imperium losing significant territory, and the Free Marches experiencing incursions as well.
Eventually the humans of Thedas are able to band together well enough to reclaiming some of their lands from these mysterious invaders, liberating the Tevinter Imperium in the 85th year of the Steel Age. As they advance further, however, they find their adversaries to be more heavily fortified, and It will not be until the Storm Age that the qunari are truly pushed back.
The New Exalted Marches
In the 25th year of the Storm Age, after nearly a century of warfare, the first of the New Exalted Marches is declared in order to retake the lands of northern Thedas from the qunari and free those forced to convert to the Qun. Due in no small part to the involvement of the Circle of Magi, whose magic the qunari had no counter to, these efforts are successful in slowly forcing the qunari to cede ground to the human armies. After a fifty-year campaign that sees the qunari's holdings shrink to only a small portion of Rivain and the island of Par Vollen, the human nations decide to garner a truce in order to reconstruct their war-torn lands. Signed in the 84th year of the Storm Age, the Llomerryn Accord put to rest more than 150 years of war between humans and qunari. Only the Tevinter refuse to sign the treaty, and they alone remain openly hostile to qunari.
In the 55th year of the Blessed Age, open conflict between the qunari and the Tevinter Imperium continues. In the span of three years the qunari retake the island of Seheron, which they occupy to the present day. Further attempts by the qunari to encroach on Tervinter lands are repelled, however, as the Tevinter are able to prevent them from gaining a foothold on the mainland. As the other nations fear the prospect of renewed conflict with the qunari, the Tevinter Imperium fights alone, and they are considered to be in a near-constant state of war with the qunari for dominance of the northern lands.
The Way of the Qun (Qunari Society)
All aspects of qunari life, from birth until death, are govened by the Qun. Based on the writings of Koslun, the Qun is as much a philosophy as it is a religion, providing guidance for behavior both secular and spiritual. As a result of the pervasiveness of the Qun in their culture, qunari tend to be fanatical in their devotion to it, often seeing it as their duty to bring knowledge of the Qun to those who do not follow it. Even mundane contact with outsiders such as trade is seen as an opportunity to spread the influence of the Qun.
The influence of the Qun is apparent even before a qunari is born. The qunari do not believe in reproduction through familial units, instead opting to strengthen their societal roles through selective breeding. A qunari warrior is likely to be a descendant of a long line of strong fighters, as this is the easiest way to ensure that the desirable traits of previous generations are passed on. This focus on pedigree does not mean that a qunari's place in society is predetermined, however. Even if a qunari were to be bred for strength, were he to show an aptitude for spiritual or intellectual matters, he would be assigned a job appropriate for his aptitudes. This may explain why the qunari are so technically accomplished, as they value efficiency in all things. To a qunari, there is no greater sin than a tool which is not properly used, or a resource that is wasted.
There is one exception to this otherwise egalitarianism vocational selection process, which manifests itself in qunari views on gender. Qunari believe males and females to be inherently adept at certain tasks, thus it is unlikely that one would ever meet a female qunari warrior, or that a male would be chosen for governance or administration. This preference toward woman in influential roles lead many to believe that qunari culture is matriarchal, though they would not describe themselves as such. In truth qunari consider all productive members of society to be equally important, and are fond of using the body as a metaphor for their entire people, as every part must function properly if the body is to achieve its potential.
All qunari are raised by Tamassrans, a group of teachers and spiritual leaders responsible for the young qunaris' upbring and education. Upon reaching twelve years of age, they are evaluated, and it is on the basis of this evaluation that qunari receive the roles that will define the remainder of their lives. Each position in society is accompanied by a representative implement (such as a weapon for a swordsman), and a qunari who loses this is seen by others to have lost their soul, facing severe punishment, even death.
Qunari do use magic, but their means of doing so is quite different from other races. Considered dangerous weapons, mages are kept leashed at all times by their arvaarad, a handler of sorts. Qunari mages, called saarebas, are no longer considered people, and they are wielded in battle in the same way a warrior might wield a sword. Qunari have no tolerance for aberrant magic, and mages suspected of corruption quickly have their tongues cut out to prevent them from affecting others. As a result of their distrustful attitude toward magic, their mages are underdeveloped in comparison to others, and it was largely the superiority of the Circle's mages that led to their defeat in the Qunari Wars.