NORTHUMBRIA, UK - We all have tumbunas and this horse rider could have been one of mine.
He is a Northumbrian reiver [border raider] who would have secured his livelihood, and protection, within a tight family group which shared the same surname and didn’t care about much else.
His clan - which could have been the Forsters, Robsons or Dodds to which I am ancestrally linked - were lawless murderers and thieves who thrived throughout the 1500s on a mix of livestock husbandry, plunder and money raised by hiring out their belligerence to anyone who would pay.
They were a pain in the backside to the English government in London, as well as nearby Scots whose livelihoods they so often threatened.
Eventually their determination to ignore the law, and do what they liked, backfired and their activity was extinguished in the early 1600s as control from London spread its wings.
Nevertheless many Northumbrians remain aware of North Tyne warrior Barty Milburn who in 1570 was credited with riding down a Scot who had stolen his cattle.
He was said to have decapitated the man so neatly his head sprang from his shoulders and “rolled along the heather like an onion”.
And then there’s the story of a group of reivers who, outraged that their stolen Scottish sheep had a notorious skin infection, murdered the original owners in revenge.
Readers of PNG Attitude should understand how fond we, that is both Scots and Northumbrians, continue to be of horse riding – and how Scots and Northumbrians take part each year in nostalgic celebrations focussed on historical clan fighting and other misdeeds.
Hundreds of riders saddle up at the same time and one of the best known of these ride-outs is focussed on Reidswire which sits astride the English-Scottish border which is just twelve miles from my home.
It commemorates a sword and axe brawl in 1575 which followed a failed attempt by Northumbrian and Scottish fight leaders to establish a truce. Many men were killed and the Northumbrian leader held hostage.
That incident reminds me of a near disastrous compensation ceremony I tried to organise between the Ogana and Berubuga clans after a fatal traffic accident near Minj in Jiwaka when I was kiap there in 1973.
It failed because the people taking part were too fired up. Kiap and police attempts at control were not working and deaths were prevented only by the unexpected and welcome appearance of a determined line of 20 Oganas carrying loaded bows. They were without bilas and determined there would be no warfare.
A disappointment faced by former kiaps has been the return of inter-clan violence especially in the highlands. At one stage in the late 1960s this routine warfare was thought to have been almost extinguished.
This fighting is disastrously disruptive to social stability, economic development and education.
Clan leaders who had firsthand experience of the constant fighting, restriction and fear that was rampant before kiaps were able to put their foot down in the 1950s knew this.
Indeed many marvelled at the progress secured so quickly as a result of something as simple as village people being able to move beyond clan boundaries without fear.
Here in Northumberland we celebrate the now centuries long elimination of that fear by ritually riding the same hills as our stock thieving ancestors – although without the firebrands and spears they would have carried on their raids.
So will there be a time when notoriously belligerent PNG clans like the Dages, Jigas, Sike, Gena or Yamuga feel able to stage similarly harmless ceremonies to acknowledge group steadfastness during long buried cultural hostilities?
Or have the people of PNG to get used to thinking their reiving mentality will never be squeezed out of everyday clan life and disappear?
I explore this theme in my book ‘The Northumbrian Kiap’. If you would like to find out more you should Google the title or click on this link.