Ji’e’toh is a complex relationship of honor and obligation. Ji, or honor, is balanced by toh, or obligation. Ji’e’toh replaced the code of passive acceptance once held by the Aiel (TFoH, Ch. 2). To Wetlanders, the ideals of ji’e’toh are confusing, to say the least, and for an Aiel to try to explain how ji’e’toh works to one not born Aiel is also very difficult. The Aiel live ji’e’toh every day of their lives, and it permeates their society to their very core (TSR, Ch. 23).
Simply put, the Aiel are ji’e’toh.
Ji, or honor, is valued above all else in Aiel society. There are many paths to find honor, and it is up to each Aiel to find his or her way along these paths, to garner the highest amount of ji possible. One of the most difficult ways to gain honor is to touch an armed, living enemy without killing him. Being able to kill an enemy is simple; to leave an enemy alive, but one’s captive, is infinitely harder, and thus increases the honor (TSR, Ch. 23).
When the Aiel laid siege to the Stone of Tear, they took what was referred to as “the fifth,” meaning a fifth of everything held within the Stone. According to ji’e’toh, this is honorable. To take less would have been foolish, and to take more would actually create a loss of ji (TSR, Ch. 22).
Toh, or obligation, can only be determined by the one who has incurred it. To remind someone that he or she has incurred toh is akin to shaming them, and even more ji is lost. Toh must be met, in full, no matter how small or insignificant the act was in creating the obligation in the first place.
Aiel never lie. To speak a lie is to create toh toward the one lied to. Egwene created toh toward many of the Aiel in a series of events. First, she told the Wise Ones that she was Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah (TSR, Ch. 11). Then she gave her word to Amys that she would not again enter Tel’aran’rhiod alone, but did so anyway. When Amys catches her in her lie, Egwene is told that she has incurred toh toward Amys. To fulfill her toh, Egwene must braid her hair like a little girl would among the Aiel. Amys also warns her that if Egwene lies to her again, Egwene will have to cut her skirts short and carry a doll (TSR, Ch. 35). When Egwene realizes that she has incurred toh regarding her lie about being Aes Sedai, she finds a belt and asks those to whom she has lied to strike her with it (LoC, Ch. 33). Once her toh is met, however, it is forgotten as if it had never happened. Ji is once again restored.
“And the other thing? Taking prisoners. Gai’shain.”
Rhuarc and Dhearic exchanged looks, and Dhearic’s mouth tightened. Clearly they had heard, and it made them uncomfortable. It took a great deal to make an Aiel uncomfortable.
“It cannot be so,” Rhuarc said at last. “If it is…Gai’shain is a thing of ji’e’toh. No one can be made gai’shain who does not follow ji’e’toh, else they are only human animals, such as the Sharans keep.” (TFoH, Ch. 20).
This situation was simple, or as simple as anything ever was in ji’e’toh. If he had not been so caught up in himself, he would have realized from the first. You could remind even a roofmistress who she was every day she wore gai’shain white – it was deeply shaming, but permitted, even encouraged sometimes – yet for the members of nine of the thirteen societies, that reminder was a deep dishonour except under a handful of circumstances he could not recall. Far Dareis Mai was most definitely one of the nine. It was one of the few ways to incur toh toward a gai’shain, but that was considered the hardest obligation of all to meet. Seemingly Sulin had chosen to meet it by accepting a greater shame, in Aiel eyes, than she had given. It was her toh, so her choice how to meet it, her choice how long she continued to do what she despised. Who knew the worth of her honour or the depth of her obligation better than herself? Still, she had only done what she did in the first place because he had not allowed her enough time. “It is my fault,” he said.
That was the wrong thing to say. Jalani gave him a startled stare. Aviendha flushed with embarrassment; she continually drove home that there were no excuses under ji’e’toh. If saving your child brought an obligation to a blood enemy, you paid the price without quibble (LoC, Ch. 28).