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The Argentines who speak Welsh

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Nearly 150 years ago a group of intrepid Welsh settlers headed to Patagonia in South America. Prof E Wyn James of the School of Welsh, Cardiff University, asks what lessons they might offer about migration and integration.

I’ve recently returned from a visit to Patagonia – to the province of Chubut in southern Argentina. Although very memorable and enjoyable, it was also rather surreal.

Indeed, it was a little like visiting a parallel universe. That was not just because I was leaving a Welsh autumn for a Patagonian spring, because Chubut is very different from Wales in so many ways. Yet, in the Chubut Valley, I found myself singing Welsh hymns, eating a Welsh tea, watching Welsh folk dancing, and witnessing the traditional ceremony of the “chairing of the bard” in a cultural festival we in Welsh call an eisteddfod.

The reason for this rather incongruous scenario is that 150 years ago, in 1865, just over 150 Welsh people sailed from Liverpool intent on establishing a Welsh settlement in the Chubut Valley. And although Spanish is now the main community language, there are perhaps as many as 5,000 people in Chubut today who still speak Welsh, and in recent years there has been a significant revival of interest in all things Welsh.

But why was this Welsh outpost established, and why in Patagonia of all places? The main reasons people emigrate are economic, but there are others, especially those linked to the desire for political and religious freedom, which in turn are closely linked to identity.

In the mid-19th Century, a period of political radicalism and growing Welsh national consciousness, most of the population of Wales were Welsh in language and Protestant Nonconformist in religion, all of which contrasted sharply with the ruling classes.

One of the most prominent among the radical Nonconformist leaders in Victorian Wales was Michael D Jones. A man of strong religious and political convictions, he placed much emphasis on the importance of nation and community. In 1848, on a visit to family members who had emigrated to America, he noticed that Welsh immigrants assimilated quite quickly into the English-speaking world around them, gradually losing their language, customs and religion.

Michael D Jones (1822-1898) by Ap Caledfryn

Many immigrants, in all periods, are happy, indeed often anxious, to put the old world behind them and forge a new identity. But for others, as we can see today, this loss of culture and identity can be a matter of great concern.

This loss of Welsh identity was a matter of great concern to Jones, and he began arguing strongly that, if Welsh emigrants were to retain their language and identity, Welsh emigration would have to be channelled to a specific Welsh settlement somewhere remote from English influences, where the Welsh would be the formative, dominant element.

He became the leader of a group of like-minded people, who attempted to realise this objective of a Welsh-speaking, self-governing, democratic and Nonconformist Wales overseas. A number of locations were considered, including Palestine, and Vancouver Island in Canada, but they eventually agreed upon the Chubut Valley in Patagonia – a remote area of South America, with no European settlements, only nomadic indigenous peoples.

Jones didn’t settle there himself – he didn’t really approve of emigration – the better option, in his view, was to stand one’s ground in Wales itself. But he accepted that emigration was a universal phenomenon, and if it was inevitable then he was strongly of the opinion that it should be channelled to create a new Wales overseas.

Despite a very difficult start, by the end of the 19th Century the Welsh settlement in Chubut was experiencing something of a golden age, both economically and culturally. During that period Welsh was the language of education, religion, local government, commerce and cultural life in general, and it looked as if the vision of a new Welsh-speaking Wales overseas would be realised.

The first Welsh settlers landed in 1865 and lived in caves in the cliffs

But with economic success came the seeds of failure. People from other parts of the republic began to move in, the Argentine government began to involve itself increasingly in the life of the settlement, insisting in 1896, for example, that schools changed from being Welsh to being Spanish. Immigration from Wales more or less ceased with World War One, and with no injection of new Welsh-speakers from the old country, and the increasing emphasis by the Argentine Government on assimilation, the Welsh language and its culture went into steep decline in the mid-20th Century – Welsh becoming excluded from public life, and restricted to all intents and purposes to the home and to chapel. Things looked very bleak for the fortunes of the Welsh language in Chubut.

However, celebrations of the centenary of the settlement in 1965 brought increased contact with Wales, and this has grown steadily ever since. There have been changes in government policy, with less emphasis on assimilation and more on cultural diversity, and a new appreciation of the pioneering role played by the Welsh settlers. As a result, recent years have seen a significant revival of interest in Welsh language and culture in Chubut.

Source: BBCNews Read and see more

Bog Snorkelling

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New bog snorkelling record set at championships in Wales

Capture from BBC video

Capture from BBC video

The 29th international bog snorkelling championships took place in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, on Sunday. One hundred and fifty-five participants from around the world competed in time-trials for the green frog trophy by swimming up and down a 133m bog. This year, swimmer Kirsty Johnson set a new record for the sport with a time of 1min 22sec

Source: TheGuardian see the video

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I didn’t even know there was such a thing…

UK in the Limelight

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Northern Lights illuminate the UK

The Aurora Borealis – better known as the Northern Lights – has been giving rare and spectacular displays over parts of the UK, from the north of Scotland to as far south as Essex and Gloucestershire.

The lights have also been clearly visible in places such as Orkney, Norfolk and south Wales.

The display, which is caused by electrically charged particles from the Sun entering the Earth’s atmosphere, led to scenes such as this one at the Stonehaven war memorial, Aberdeenshire.

Mark Thompson, presenter of the BBC’s Stargazing Live, said he had not been expecting a display as spectacular as it was in places such as Wick, in Caithness.

More brilliant photos

More brilliant photos

A Vexing Problem for Lologists

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What would the union jack look like if the Scottish bit was removed?

 

Scotland’s referendum on independence is now just over 10 months away, but the question of what might happen to the union jack has been largely overlooked. An association of flag experts, or vexillologists, has created a set of designs it hopes will encourage a discussion.

Some 400 years ago when the crowns of England and Scotland were united, an argument raged about how the blue field and white saltire of St Andrew could be combined with the red cross of St George.

The Scots were eager that their flag should be laid on top of the English flag, but of course the English thought it should be the other way around. It took a Royal proclamation to determine that the English flag should take precedence.

Now, the prospect of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom throws open the question again. It’s already been suggested by the College of Arms that with the Queen still head of state of an independent Scotland there would be no need for a redesign. But there is still the possibility of renewed debate.

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Royal baby: The American mistake

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Not a St George’s Cross in sight

Some US television networks proclaimed the royal baby news by welcoming the arrival of the “future king of England”, forgetting about the rest of the UK.

Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish… you may want to look away now. Some of the biggest names in American broadcasting have overlooked your existence amid the hysteria surrounding the newborn Windsor. Star presenters on CBS News and ABC News were among the culprits who referred to the baby as “the future king of England”. American talk show host Ellen DeGeneres tweeted: “It’s a boy! So happy for my cousin Kate and the future King of England”.

But there hasn’t been a King of England since William III in the early 18th Century – and there won’t be again, unless (or until) the United Kingdom splinters completely.

“The political state of the Queen’s home nation is the ‘United Kingdom’, not England which is just one region within the country along with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,” says Robert Blackburn, a professor of constitutional law at King’s College London. “The ‘United Kingdom’ is shorthand for the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’.”

It’s a common misunderstanding in the US. The New York Times angered many Scots when it marked Andy Murray’s Wimbledon triumph with a tweet that said: “After 77 years, Murray and England rule”

But before Brits get too sniffy about this equation between Britain and England, we should acknowledge it’s a pretty complicated business and the English are sometimes guilty of the same mistake. A common error is for the British themselves to forget about Northern Ireland by referring to “Great Britain”, which is an island, when really they mean the United Kingdom. (The Northern Irish are “British” without being part of Great Britain.)

And remember that the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are British, but not part of the UK.

Head hurting yet?

America is a desire, says the OED

This is a two-way street, and getting to grips with the correct terminology stateside is also a tricky business. The United States of America is often referred to as “America” by British people, but consult the Oxford English Dictionary and you’ll see that America is a desire, a place you yearn for. Of course, Simon and Garfunkel fans knew that already.

The distinction between America and the US is important, because there is another America, Latin America. Not to mention Central America, and the rest of North America (including Mexico and Canada).

So can we legitimately use “American” as an adjective referring to something from the US? If so, you’re back in the Britain/British quagmire again. Perhaps the answer is for everyone to be tolerant, to embrace a bit of “constructive ambiguity”… and just toast the health of the future king.

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