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Opinion

Rethinking Y Wladfa

26 Feb 2023 4 minute read
Flag of the Welsh colony in Patagonia, in Punta Cuevas, Port Madryn. Picture by Gastón Cuello (CC BY-SA 4.0).

David Llewellyn

Recently I watched the 2015 documentary The Pearl Button (El botón de nácar) by the Chilean director Patricio Guzmàn, in which he interviews some of the last surviving members of some of Chile’s indigenous tribes, exploring their nomadic existence, and their relationship with nature, especially the country’s waterways and coastline.

Germ warfare

It’s a way of life that was systematically wiped out, beginning with the colonial settlers of the mid-19th Century, and continuing into the 20th with the fascistic reign of Augusto Pinochet, the mass murdering darling of Reagan and Thatcher.

Early settlers gifted the tribes with blankets infected with smallpox, in an early example of germ warfare, and teams of bounty hunters scoured Patagonia massacring men women and children, photographing their exploits like trophy game hunters.

Children were forcibly converted to Christianity by missionaries, eradicating their language and culture, and one of them, Orundellico, renamed “Jeremy Button” was kidnaped and brought on the Beagle to England, where he was paraded in front of “civilised” society like an exotic animal.

Re-education

By the time the first Welsh settlers arrived in 1865, that programme of state-sanctioned genocide was almost complete, creating wide open spaces in which settlers could thrive.

Once they were there, they quickly set about teaching the locals to speak Cymraeg, continuing the work of re-education begun by Christian missionaries earlier in the century. This continued throughout the 20th Century, and has a legacy that persists to this day.

In Wales, this has historically been treated as a positive (“Look how entrepreneurial we are, and how our culture is embraced around the world”), and there are many who will still boast about it, as if it’s a prized possession of which we should all be proud.

I grew up in a part of Wales where the English re-educated us to speak their language, and did everything in their power to belittle traditions stretching back centuries.

Colonial exploits

It goes without saying that this does not compare with the horrors of mass-extermination experienced by the people of Patagonia, and countless other peoples around the globe, at the hands of Britain’s colonial exploits, but I would at least hope that some might see Y Wladfa in this context, rather than sentimentalising it as some Brigadoon-like fantasia of Hiraeth in Latin America.

The settlers of 1865 pitched their tents, and built their homes in places that were once the nomadic homelands of an entire people, presumably marvelling at all the open space that their God had given them in this latter-day Eden so near the tropics.

Crimes

It’s now 2023, a year in which Picton’s portrait in Amgueddfa Caerdydd currently forms part of an exhibition about his crimes, and Wales’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. In another gallery, Goscombe John’s busts of Africans, brought to the UK are recontextualised from a post-colonial viewpoint.

And yet, many in Wales still get misty-eyed at the thought of them singing “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” in South America, flying a flag that emblazons the dragon on a flag of Argentina whenever the rugby is on, proof positive that we are the greatest nation on Earth.

There have been meaningful cultural exchanges over the years – Kyffin Williams produced some of his best work there – but it’s high time that we here in the Wales of 2023 begin talking about the reality of our literal colony on the far side of the world, with a degree of honesty, and without sentiment or the callous erasure of the Tehuelche people of Chubut who had occupied those lands for thousands of years before Lewis Jones and the Rev. Michael D. Jones arrived on the Mimosa.

You can read other articles on Nation.Cymru by David Llewellyn by following his links on this map


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Cat
Cat
1 year ago

Da iawn. Well done for writing this

John
John
1 year ago

I’m afraid my impression is that the history is somewhat greyer and more complex than described here (e.g. see Chupat-Camwy Patagonia: Historia de la coexistencia pacífica entre galeses, pampas y tehuelches by Marcelo Gavirati publishd by Patagonia Sur Libros ISBN 978-987-25657-7-0)

Marcelo Gavirati
Marcelo Gavirati
22 days ago
Reply to  John
Hayden
Hayden
1 year ago

Excellent article. It’s good to point stuff like this out so we don’t get over-inflated with nationalistic pride and forget to be decent human beings. Is that Dave Llewelyn who used to work at Llandough Hospital in the Eighties?

Riki
Riki
1 year ago

Majority of this is utter Nonsense, The Britons were praised by the natives as being complete opposite to the Spanish settlers. The Britons often asked permission for anything they needed doing and got on well with them. Another fine example of breeding self hatred among the British. Cymrophobia knows no bounds.

Wrexhamian
Wrexhamian
1 year ago

It has become fashionable in certain circles outside Cymru to rope Y Wladfa in with British imperialism; it was nothing to do with it. This article takes a different tack, attempting to suck the Welsh settlers into the genocide campaign known euphemistically as the War of the Desert. The Cymry were in fact vehemently opposed to it, and had good relations with the indigenous inhabitants. Far from being arrogant colonists, the Mimosa pioneers and those who followed them were more in the nature of ‘cultural refugees’ from a remorseless anglicisation of their homeland. Sorry to have to dispel the myth,… Read more »

Annwyn Lewis
Annwyn Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  Wrexhamian

That’s my understanding too.

Iago Prydderch
Iago Prydderch
1 year ago

Can I advise Native.Cymru to fact-check articles before they are posted because this is not the first article to contain historical inaccuracies. Posting opinions is one thing but posting factual errors is another. Michael D. Jones did not sail on the Mimosa nor did he move to Patagonia.

CapM
CapM
1 year ago

The fact that Welsh colonists of Patagonia were not involved in the genocide of the indigenous population or treating those who were left badly doesn’t contradict another fact. That the Welsh colonists of Patagonia benefited from the genocide that had taken place and they contributed to the process of wiping out the language and culture of the indigenous people that remained. The heroics and drama that were involved with setting up the colony in Argentina would undoubtedly have generated numerous Hollywood films of the exploits had the colonists been Irish and not Welsh. However besides the colonising aspect many in… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by CapM
Annwyn Lewis
Annwyn Lewis
1 year ago
Reply to  CapM

The people wanted to save the language because of attempts to eradicate it by the English. Also farmers were poor because of paying the landlords and land had been promised to them in Argentina. They could then own land instead of being tenant farmers and Argentina was marketed to them as the land of milk and honey. Of course they accepted the invitation (from Argentina) to go for a better life. They didn’t decide to go on a whim and colonise and kill off the natives, like some wannabe viking raiders – they were actively encouraged to go.

CapM
CapM
1 year ago
Reply to  Annwyn Lewis

The problems in Cymru faced by those that emigrated to Argentina were not comparable to the severity of the problems that beset the indigenous people of the land they settled on.

The colonisation of Patagonia by the Welsh was not imperial expansionism but the end result was the same from the perspective of the native Americans.

Argentina wanted colonists Welsh or other in Patagonia in order to thwart Chilean claims to the area.
.

Riki
Riki
1 year ago
Reply to  CapM

Plenty of People in Cymru prior and after have abandon Cymru. No difference there. Btw, I agree with you that had the settlers been Irish, Hollywood wouldn’t haves stopped milking the story. Ironic how Wales gets treated by Hollywood, especially when you find out the origin of the place.

lufcwls
lufcwls
1 year ago

Where was the fact checking for this? Ofnadwy

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 year ago

The migration to Patagonia has to be seen in the context of events of that time. The processes of colonisation, marginalising of natives, even their extermination have to be taken into account. So too the marginalisation and overt assimilation of “Welshness” in the migrants’ own country. Displacement was a feature of 19th century world wide imperialist patterns. Much to our shame it happens today. We can’t do much about stuff that happened 100-200 years ago other than acknowledge it as fact but the displacements of today pose a real challenge which demand action rather than deferring it to another rather… Read more »

Annwyn Lewis
Annwyn Lewis
1 year ago

My understanding is that the Government of Argentina told people that there was land available for the people of Wales if they wanted it. The people of Wales traded with natives and did not take part in any killing. The people who speak Welsh there now are descendants of the original settlers (possibly some wanted to learn Welsh) and nobody was forced into learning Welsh then or now. Going by invite and then settling is totally different to what had gone on before so it is not fair to tar the Welsh with the same brush. If someone wishes to… Read more »

Riki
Riki
1 year ago
Reply to  Annwyn Lewis

No, you are spot on. But of course we have to share in the shame the English should suffer from. These same people who claim Wales’ part in Imperialism was as bad as England will completely ignore the fact that Wales was treated the same for almost 600 years by England by this point. How convenient recorded history only started when England Says. Wales should have the profits from their resources returned before anyone else does!

Elin Roberts
Elin Roberts
1 year ago

As a Welsh speaker and as a specialist in Latin American politics and history who’s also fluent in Spanish, this article is full of informational errors and lacks detail. To begin with, the idea of germ warfare didn’t arrived in Latin America in the 19th century – it arrived way before then when the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in 1492. We can’t really connect this with the Welsh community unless we have total proof and evidence. Missionaries and indoctrination began in the 15th too. You cannot compare the genocides that took place under the Chilean governments and the Argentinian governments… Read more »

Marcelo Gavirati
Marcelo Gavirati
22 days ago
Reply to  Elin Roberts

Excelente comentario Elin! Totalmente de acuerdo! Asombra la ignorancia del autor sobre el tema y a inclusión de datos incorrectos. Sólo agregar que los galeses se instalaron en el Valle del Chubut con la autorización del cacique Frances o Francisco, otorgada por medio del Tratado Chegüelcho, firmado entre dicho cacique y el Gobierno argentino.

R. Tyler
R. Tyler
1 year ago

I think our man David should check the basic facts before he even attempts to make such idiotic assertions. The idea that Michael D Jones arrived on the Mimosa….. Well, even the school children in Chubut would laugh to read that. There’s no Twpsyn like a Twpsyn with an agenda.

Y Llydawr
Y Llydawr
1 year ago

You have even colonized Armorica (Brittany) you naughty Welsh people.

CapM
CapM
1 year ago
Reply to  Y Llydawr

Shhh

Y Llydawr
Y Llydawr
1 year ago

I think that David Llewellyn does a good thing in opening a debat on whether the Welsh colony has or not, contributed to annihilate the natives in Patagonia. That’s a rather healthy attitude morally. I heard, for instance, that a native had been killed by a Welsh settler, (I don’t know what would have been the reason however). But maybe, David Llewellyn has brought some conclusions a bit too quickly, this is a tricky matter which should be left to the historians, in my opinion.

CJPh
CJPh
1 year ago

Re-rewriting History and rewriting it again, what a mess. This is the problem with a lensed-approach to the social science, philosophy and especially History; you blind yourself to so much baseline reality that you’re effectively lying. Further, in publishing such work, it effectively coerces others (who are unaware or unable to research themselves) to do the same. Unethical and inaccurate.

CapM
CapM
1 year ago
Reply to  CJPh

This example of “re-writing history” doesn’t reinterpret what we’ve been told about the establishment of a Welsh settlement in Patagonia but brings in what we haven’t been told ie the experience of the indigenous people of the region.

This can only improve understanding and be worthwhile for everyone apart from those with an agenda to demonise those early colonisers or those wanting to maintain the imagined righteousness of Y Wladfa project.

CJPh
CJPh
1 year ago
Reply to  CapM

I would wholeheartedly agree if there wasn’t so much utter nonsense and lies in this particular piece – if it was purely a philosophical elucidation, an abstract thought experiment about the ethics, fine. If it was a fair revised look (as with the legacy of many heroes like Churchill or the american Founding Fathers, whose lionisation should be countered with their many misdeeds to form a more holistic view). But it isn’t that at all, it makes claims of historical accuracy that are easily falsified. We don’t need to lie to show that imperialist expansion came with the murderous subjugation… Read more »

Cawr
Cawr
1 year ago

Anyone agreeing with this is beyond a lunatic. The territory that the Welsh settled on was completely deserted and was given to the settlers by the Argentinian government.

Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
1 year ago

These things could be said about any group of people who migrated to ‘the New World’, Australia, New Zealand etc. The same could be said for example of all the immigrants and their descendants living in New York City, why single out the Welsh of Patagonia? I would also say that having a positive attitude about the history of Welsh people in Patagonia doesn’t mean that one thinks Wales is “greatest nation on Earth.” Wales is a tiny nation so no one could possibly think is it the greatest nation on Earth, that is a ridiculous idea, but we are… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by Stephen Owen
Dafydd ap Gwilym
Dafydd ap Gwilym
7 months ago

Personally, as part of my own ongoing efforts in the decolonisation of what little of our own lands we have left, I cannot support what a few of our ancestors did or became a part of, whether knowingly or not in Patagonia. The consequences of their colonisation of another people’s land is the legacy remaining today. The indigenous people are so few in number and do not appear to be really considered at all, outside of the occasional government census’. There is no justification what so ever, in what they did. Just because the English were doing it to Cymru,… Read more »

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