Thursday, September 13, 2012
My Clan and Other Animals
"Robert Burce and John Comyn stood across from one another, eyes locked, burning with aggression. Around them, the circular hall of Peebles Castle was filled to the timber walls with men, the atmosphere charged and volatile. Rain pounded on the thatched roof and thunder snarled between the snap of lightning, flaring white through gaps in the shuttered windows. The air was saturated with sweat and hot breath, and the reek of damp fur from the men's sodden coats."
So wrote Robyn Young in Insurrection her fictional account of the Scottish Wars of Independence. John Comyn was my ancestor. Being of Scots ancestry, in particular of Clan Comyn from the Scottish Highlands, I am by nature tribal. This suits my adopted home, Uganda, a nation of no less than 17 tribes belonging to the Bantu and Nilotic groups, many with centuries-old kingdoms.
The Fall of Na Cuimeanaich (Clan Comyn)
From 1080 to 1330 Clan Comyn flourished under the earls of Buchan. Their base was Lochindorb Castle on a loch island in the wild, bleak moorlands of Inverness-shire. The clan animal was a lion and insignia, the cumin plant.
In 1296, following the Battle of Dunbar, Red Comyn, the last Lord of Badenoch, was confined as a prisoner of war in the Tower of London. Pledging to fight for the English in Flanders, he was released, though he quickly deserted and sailed for Scotland. There he joined the war for Scottish independence, under William Wallace, the hero of the movie Braveheart.
When Wallace resigned as guardian of Scotland, Red Comyn took up the title, alongside Robert the Bruce. In the heady times that followed, the two engaged in a public squabble over who should take the Scottish crown. Eventually, they agreed to meet in Greyfriars Kirk, Dumfries, on 10 February 1306, to try and resolve it. Red Comyn must have had his doubts knowing Bruce had a violent temper.
There were no witnesses, but it‘s said Bruce offered Comyn all of his English and Scottish estates if he would support his claim for the crown. When Comyn rejected his offer Bruce lost it, drew a concealed dagger and stabbed Comyn to death at the high alter. Bruce went on to become king, but murder in a church was an excommunicatory crime, a fact that tormented the Scottish monarch for the rest of his life.
Clan Comyn’s fortunes declined after that, in particular following the Battle of Culbleau in 1335, when a number of the Comyn nobles were slain.
I have recently discovered I am also related to Roualeyn George Gordon-Cumming, a 19th Century Scottish explorer and safari guide, known as the "lion hunter" for his exploits in the African interior. I guess that too runs in my blood.
Considering such a pedigree of tribalism and cutthroat adventure, it would seem my aspiration to be a successful writer in the African bush is actually quite tame.
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