Sunday, 6 June 2010

New Dumnonia Rising?

It might turn out to be a phantom organisation confined to the web, but if it proves an active entity, then the newly formed Regionalist Front of Dumnonia will be worth watching.

A couple of concerns though: Is there actually room for a Dumnonian identity? Cornish self-awareness is light years ahead - it's doubtful Cornish nationalists/regionalists feel the need for closer alignment with their Devonian neighbours. There is also a growing Wessex consciousness which lays claim to the Dumnonian north. And certainly in recent years we have witnessed a nascent 'modern' Devonian identity, not least with the popularity of the new Flag of Devon. Do Devon folk feel part of a greater regional identity (other than a vague 'West Country' consciousness) or are they comfortable with their own shire? Probably the latter.

Has a Dumnonian consciousness lingered on? Probably not. While Berrocscir's Banner is all in favour of cultural revival, it must be based on something tangible. Is not a Dumnonian identity a step too far? The concept of Dumnonia feels like a left over from the romantic 18th and 19th century love affair with all things Celtic and the Celtic revivalism which swept Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Certainly, many place names in Devon have Brythonic roots, but so do others elsewhere. Berkshire's (Berrocscir) name is Celtic in origin - does that make it not English?

RFoD's claim of a high proportion of Brythonic DNA in the region may be so, but DNA alone does not an identity make. Language, custom, art, folklore and collective consciousness - where is the Dumnonian variety? In Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories novels, our hero Uhtred sometimes refers to the 'old people' who built the hill forts and henges, a long gone tribe. Dumnonia belongs to them, and although modern tribalists should honour and revere them deeply, their world is passed. Should not advocates of regionalism seek to safeguard the cultures that are alive in collective folk consciousness, memory and myth? These are worth fighting for, not the ashes of old.

Dumnonian/Brythonic DNA is alive and widespread - something to be grateful for, but the old Kingdom's heart has disappeared.

All this said, if a new popular appeal for a regional identity based on the Dumnonian brand does take hold, then all regionalists and lovers of true diversity should accept and celebrate it. The 'new' Dumnonians, although somewhat contrived, would constitute at least, a neo-tribe, proudly defying the internationalist tide. If RFoD works toward this then who are others to argue?

It was heartwarming to see the English defy the bureaucrats and continue to assert their sense of fun, custom and identity, by going ahead with the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling at Cooper's Hill, despite the health & safety fascists, last week. This Whitsuntide tradition will not be risk-assessed!