Dawn Glossary


(noun) An opening that is surgically created in the neck or windpipe to allow direct access to the breathing tube. In "Womb," Lilith describes Jdhaya's throat tentacles as "a kind of natural tracheostomy" because they seem to be where he is breathing from (11).

location in the text:

"The island of throat hair seemed to move slightly, and it occurred to her that that might be where the creature breathed—a kind of natural tracheostomy" (11).


(noun) Often called sea slugs, nudibranchs are a group of soft-bodied, marine gastropod mollusks. They are famous for their bright colors.

location in the text:

"She imagined small, tentacled sea slugs—nudibranchs—grown impossible to human size and shape, and, obscenely, sounding more like a human being than some humans" (12).


(adjective) Ooloi is the third Oankali gender, along with male and female. The ooloi have special sensory organs that allow them to change the genetic code of other beings, including humans. While Lilith was sleeping, it was an ooloi who cut her open and performed surgery on her in order to remove her cancer. They are vital for Oankali reproduction with other species.

location in text:

"'My relative is not male—or female. The name for its sex is ooloi. It understood your body because it is ooloi'" (20).

eidetic memory

(noun) The ability to recall an image from memory with high precision for a brief period after seeing it only once, and without using a mnemonic device.

location in the text:

"Like Sharad, Nikanj had an eidetic memory" (59).


(noun) Lilith uses this word to refer to the "trees" aboard the Oankali ship. These pseudotrees are enormous and produce fruit that the Oankali can genetically engineer to fulfill the nutritional needs of different people, including Lilith when she was in solitary confinement. They are part of the ship, which is a living being. The psuedotrees also contain living spaces within them: when Lilith is released from solitary confinement, she realizes that the entire time her cell was within a large pseudotree the size of an office building. Oankali move through pseudotrees using chemical signals which create doorways in the walls.

location in the text:

"Outside, beneath the branches of the pseudotree that contained their living quarters, she knelt on the ground and began to write with her finger in what seemed to be loose, sandy soil" (59).


(noun) Quatasayasha is a plant that grows on the Oankali ship that has a sharp, cheesy consistency.

location in the text:

"She began to take food with her, saving easily portable items from her meals—a highly seasoned rice dish wrapped in an edible, high-protein envelope, nuts, fruit or quatasayasha, a sharp, cheeselike Oankali food that Kahguyajt had said was safe" (62).


(noun) A tilio is the animal the Oankali genetically engineered to serve as their vehicles. The tilio are flat animals that glide on a slime-like substance that their bodies produce. They have an organ at the rear of their bodies that absorb that substance and the Oankali ship absorbs the rest.

location in the text:

"'The thing we rode. It's an animal. A tilio. Did you know?'" (83).

gene map

(noun) A representation of the sequence of genes in a chromosome or genome, or of bases in a DNA or RNA molecule.

location in the text:

"'What we've preserved of you isn't living tissue. It's memory. A gene map, your people might call it—though they couldn't have made one like those we remember and use'" (97).


(noun) Ethnology is the anthropological study of a group's language, culture, and customs.

location in the text:

"And Kahguyaht gave her a few brittle, yellowed books—treasures she had not imagined: A spy novel, a Civil War novel, an ethnology textbook, a study of religion, a book about cancer and one about human genetics, a book about an ape being taught sign language and one about the space race of the 1960s'" (107).


(noun) Any opening in the body of an animal.

location in the text:

"And the lines she had seen on the palm were actually orifices—openings to a dark interior" (109).


(noun) a collection of documents about a person, event, or subject.

location in the text:

"With them were eighty dossiers—short biographies made up of transcribed conversation, brief histories, Oankali observations and conclusions, and pictures" (116).


(adj) relating to the way in which a living organism or bodily part functions.

location in the text:

"The photo of Leah was of a pale, lean, tired-looking woman, though an ooloi had noted that she had a pysiological tendency to be heavy" (120).


(adj) using two legs for walking.

location in the text:

"'They call themselves Oankali, and they look like sea creatures, though they are bipedal. They . . . are you taking any of this in?'" (131).


(adj) relating to electrochemistry [(noun)—a science that deals with the relation of electricity to chemical changes and with the interconversion of chemical and electrical energy]

location in the text:

"'How can they make us feel . . . what I felt?'"

"'By pushing the right electrochemical buttons. I don't claim to understand it'" (169)


(adj) showing deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences

location in the text:

"Then she lay down, perversely eager for what it could give her" (191).


(noun) a spontaneous or natural liking or sympathy for someone or something

location in the text:

"The male and female smelled good, smelled like family, all brought together by the same ooloi. When they took her hands, they felt right. There was a real chemical affinity" (196).


(noun) a species of flowering tree in the mulberry and jackfruit family

location in the text:

"A few people had been cutting pineapples and picking papayas and breadfruits from existing trees" (205).


(noun) the nut inside of a breadfruit

location in the text:

"Most people did not like the breadfruit until Lilith showed them the seeded form of the fruit, the breadnut" (205).


(adj) of or in an immobile or unresponsive stupor; unable to move normally

location in the text:

"Then why the catatonic ooloi?" (211).


(verb) infect or exploit (an organism or part) as a parasite

location in the text:

"Why should it feel comfortable about parasitizing her feelings for Joseph—her feelings for anything? It had helped set up a human experiment" (225).