Sunday, June 07, 2015

Party Poopers

The 150th anniversary of the Welsh settlement of Patagonia is not, we are told, an occasion for celebration.  Indeed it something to be regretted, an example of Welsh colonialism.

I agree that the Patagonian enterprise deserves serious historical attention -  rather than sentimentalism -  as does Welsh participation in the British Empire.  For example this Radnorian well wisher of the Welsh language was able to pursue his philanthropic endeavours because of a fortune earned in India and the Windward Islands.

The Welsh Colony does not fit well with the establishment of a Zionist state in Palestine, rather it should be seen as part of the 10000 year old process whereby farmers occupy land previously the preserve of hunter/gatherer societies.  Herzl may have considered Patagonia a suitable location for a Jewish state, but as he wasn't born until 1860 it was hardly contemporaneous with the Welsh project.  Indeed the remarkable thing about YWladfa was its early date and its absolute remoteness from any other settlement.

Revisionists dismiss the good relations between the Tehuelche and the Welsh but present little evidence to the contrary.  One author cannot believe that only three settlers were killed by natives, he cannot believe it so it can't be true.  Others claim that because of the similarity to familiar tales of "good injuns" then it must be another such tale.  Yet another author will report the views of present-day Mapuche speakers without reference to their history.

At the time of the establishment of the Welsh colony the Chubut river was something of a border between the nomadic northern Tehuelche who had recently adopted the language of the more technologically advanced Mapuche.  The southern Tehuelche still spoke their own Aonikenk tongue, a language which is now virtually extinct.  It's worth reading about the Mapuche who were certainly not the helpless natives of the contemporary imagination. If Calfucura, the Napoleon of the Pampas, had not been operating hundreds of miles to the north then Y Wladfa would not have survived for long.

Of course the friendly relationship between early settlers and original inhabitants does not usually long survive population influx and a thirst for land.  The Welsh in Patagonia, as a de facto independent state power, lasted only a decade or so before Argentina asserted its rule over the colony.  From that time on the Welsh in Patagonia, like the Welsh in North America and Australia, were just one immigrant community among many.  Unlike them the Patagonians are of great significance to contemporary Wales, a proof that - even at the height of its power - some at least were able to resist Britishness.  Little wonder that others might seek to undermine their naive but heroic adventure.

On July 27th the president of Argentina along with other state dignitaries will be in the Chubut province to celebrate the arrival of the Mimosa in Patagonia.  Ms Kirchner will be representing a state that is mainly comprised of the descendants of European immigrants, although with a substantial admixture of native American genes.  Should she apologise for the existence of her state and its people because it offends the recently acquired sensibilities of US and European intellectuals? 

The question radical Wales - if it ever existed - needs to answer is not to apologise for the past but to decide where it stands on the great questions of today. Even something as banal as the recent Fifa vote illustrates the battlelines being drawn up in the modern world.  On one side we have the anglosphere (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) together with their European Union and Pacific Rim allies; on the other the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) together with most of South America, Africa and much of Asia

The self-styled "international community" sees these opponents of their unipolar worldview as essentially murderous and corrupt, savages who need to be colonised by Western values.  The West itself is obviously a white hat committed to freedom, democracy and the virtues of neo-liberalism.  Conveniently the millions of victims of the West have been flushed down the memory hole.  There's little evidence of radical Wales being willing to question these "western values."


Anonymous said...

"the Patagonians are of great significance to contemporary Wales, a proof that - even at the height of its power - some at least were able to resist Britishness. Little wonder that others might seek to undermine their naive but heroic adventure."
Excellent point. Expect to here a lot of this.
I lived for a year in Chubut. It was an intriguing experience to say the least. Several of my friends were mixed race, some Welsh-speaking.
Robert Tyler

Anonymous said...

Apologies, "hear" not "here".

radnorian said...

Have you written anything about your time there, it sounds fascinating?

The Patagonian project goes against a lot of 21C beliefs. These were people who weren't multi-cultural or inclusive - at least as far as the English language was concerned, they stand accused of invading someone else's country, had religious beliefs that are nowadays considered bigoted and went about bringing land under the plough and constructing irrigation systems and perhaps other environmentally unsound activities.

It will be interesting to hear those who express such doubts as against those of us who are excited by their rejection of anglicisation and Britishness and the heroic humanity of their pioneering adventure.

Robert Llewellyn Tyler said...

Alas not. My research has focused on the Welsh in Australia and the USA.
Mind you, some of the stories I picked up from some of the older gentlemen in the less salubrious venues in the Chubut Valley would make interesting reading. These characters don't appear on the TV programmes that focus on the area!
Robert Tyler