The old country and Patagonia : nurturing our relationship with the prairie to survive the next fifty years
An introduction to a year of celebration by the head of Wales Arts International, Eluned Hâf.
2015 will be a year to celebrate the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Mimosa landing in Patagonia, Argentina with its troop of farmers, teachers, miners and craftsmen in search of a better life. Despite the rough ride, and the barren land on the other side, the leaders Michael D Jones and Lewis Jones did succeed in establishing Colonia Galesa and that in terribly hard circumstances while they were hostages in a geopolitical game.
It is a particularly striking thing that the early Welsh settlers survived and even more unbelievable that the Welsh language is still to be heard in Patagonia one hundred and fifty years later. The cultural relationship between Wales and Argentina is as important today and especially so because of the recent history and geo-politics.
I had the privilege of living in Patagonia and helping the teachers in the school of Gaiman to learn Welsh and English. An experience that changed my life. In addition to the history of the original Welsh people and the modern Welsh-speaking Argentinians, I was fascinated by the brutal history of Argentina, the Indians and the desaparecidos during the dictatura, and of course more recently by the Malvinas (Falklands) war.
In 1995 I lived for a while in the home of Tegai Roberts. It saddened me greatly to hear of her death on the eve of the celebrations. She leaves a huge gap and this is a great loss.
Over breakfast I was kept amused by her telling the stories of her ancestors which included the founder of the colony, Michael D Jones and Lewis Jones and of course one of the most important educators from that part of the world, Luned Morgan. Over lunch next door at the home of her sister, Luned Gonzales, for hours I would hear discussions of the history and politics of Argentina with her husband Gonzales (now deceased), a noted historian and father to Fabio. Although the history of the Welsh people and the Welsh language in Patagonia is unique to us, our discussions about politics and history makes it clear to me that it is an important part of the history of international migration that is familiar to cultures around the world and an endless source of stories that triggers all forms of art.
Tegai was a dear woman, patient and kind who spent hours in Gaiman Museum telling the story of the colony to innumerable visitors (including a number of prominent artists from Wales) and others from around the world. Despite her frail appearance she was a fount of information about everything relating to the colony. She would broadcast weekly with her sister Luned on Radio Chubut. Her mantra was to ease the way for Spanish speakers and visitors to understand the Welsh history and culture of the colony and she spent her days helping to pass on that heritage.
To celebrate Patagonia 150 and as a tribute to Tegai's life work there, Wales Arts International and Arts Council of Wales is proud to support projects in Wales and Patagonia which will continue the special relationship beyond the celebrations of 2015.
Contact Wales Arts International for more information.