Guest Post: Update from Patagonia

I first became acquainted with Jeremy through my old mate, the late Rhobert ap Steffan, known to the inner circle as ‘Castro’, who made a number of trips to Patagonia. I’d known Rhobert for many years, we spent the Investiture period in ’69 with a couple of other young rebels in Ireland.

We had a great send-off on the Swansea-Cork ferry from our Special Branch ‘tails’ (we each had two), who didn’t believe we were going. They followed our car in a convoy down to the docks, boarded the ferry, even bought us drinks, and then waved good-bye from the quayside as we sailed off.

God! it was a touching scene. Them: ‘The bastards really are going’. Us: ‘F### off, copper!’ Ah! Happy days!

But enough nostalgia. First, a biography of our guest writer, Jeremy Wood, and then he’ll bring you up to speed with events in Esquel, Trevelin, Ysgol y Cwm and Bodega del fin del Mundo. (Ahhhh . . . Malbec!)

JEREMY WOOD

Jeremy Wood is one of the best-known authorities on Welsh Patagonia (to the extent of sometimes being referred to as ‘Mr Patagonia’). He lives in the home town of his Esquel-born wife, Cristina, and young son, Tomos. He is on the committee of the Welsh Society in Trevelin and is actively involved in fund-raising for the town’s Welsh school, Ysgol y Cwm.

JEREMY WOOD (click to enlarge)

He featured extensively in Jon Gower’s 2015 book, Gwalia Patagonia, the sales proceeds of which have been generously dedicated to Ysgol y Cwm. He is involved in numerous projects relating to Patagonia and to the Welsh in Patagonia, about which he writes regularly for newspapers and magazines in the UK and the United States.

Jeremy has also contributed important, newly-discovered archive material to the Welsh museums across Patagonia, including a long lost manuscript regarding the murders of 3 young Welshmen in 1884 by John Daniel Evans, and has recently published a book on that tragedy.

He is also involved with film, writing Esquel  (20:35) as part of the programme of twinning with Aberystwyth (which he initiated and completed). Jeremy also worked with Matthew Rhys to produce a Spanish version of Hollywood Gaucho. While as a film historian he has unearthed from the BBC archives 22 films made prior to 1980 about the Welsh in Patagonia and not previously seen in Patagonia.

He was asked by the producers of the Oscar-nominated film, Patagonia, to develop a special tour of Patagonia which follows in the footsteps of the film. He was the Patagonia-based ‘fixer’ for Huw Edwards’ Patagonia documentary released by the BBC in 2015. He has a special relationship with the Palaeontological Museum in Trelew, featured in David Attenborough’s 2016 documentary about the largest dinosaur (and animal) ever to have walked the Earth.

Away from movies and television Jeremy organises tours of Patagonia for small and large groups and has organised several musical tours, including two sell-out concert tours for tenor, Rhys Meirion.

Fittingly, he was one of only 30 Patagonians honoured to have been chosen to re-enact the landings of the first Welsh settlers in the 150th Anniversary celebrations in Porth Madryn in 2015.

Jeremy is a New Zealander and has studied Welsh at Ysgol Gymraeg yr Andes, the Welsh school in Esquel.

WELSH LANGUAGE IN PATAGONIA SHORED UP WITH EIGHT-INCH NAILS

Hoelion Wyth is a Welsh phrase for somebody who can be relied upon. It literally means an eight-inch nail, which was the longest nail used in the construction of chapels in Wales and, as such, had to be very strong and reliable. It is also the name of a Welsh society whose motto is “Nid rhwd anrhydedd hoelen”, which means, more or less, “A nail doesn’t wear rust with honor”.

Hoelion Wyth is a society to which honor and trustworthiness are very important. It was founded many years ago and the members (about 200 people) meet every month throughout Wales to enjoy wine and conversation. They regularly invite people with an interesting story to tell to attend their meetings and speak to them.

In 2015, I had the pleasure of taking 4 of their members for a trip around Chubut, the Argentinian province where all the Welsh towns and communities lie. In anticipation of their love of wine, I loaded 14 cases of Patagonian wine into my Toyota 4×4 and we travelled from Puerto Madryn on the Atlantic coast to Trevelin in the Andes for two weeks, meeting many members of the Welsh community, visiting homes, farms, schools and cemeteries, travelling to some of the most remote corners of Chubut to see our national parks, glaciers, deserts, geology and dinosaurs. And, with each Welsh Patagonian experience, we enjoyed Patagonian wine.

All my passengers were/are fluent in the Welsh language and use it in preference to English when they speak to each other. Outside Wales, the only place in the world where the language is still spoken is Chubut. Therefore, the most emotional moments we shared during our trip were when we met Argentinians who spoke Welsh and when we visited schools in Patagonia to see children learning and speaking Welsh.

Our visitors understand that the Welsh language is endangered in Chubut and that no money is available from any official source in Chubut to pay for Welsh schools. Therefore, when they returned to Wales, they talked about how they could combine the interests of their Society with the strengthening of the Welsh language in Argentina. The magic formula was then invented – to import wine from Patagonia to sell in Wales (and the rest of the UK) and to donate all the profits to our school in Trevelin, Ysgol y Cwm (which means School of the Valley). At that time, in the early days of the project, they bought the wines from importing agents in Wales and added labels around the necks of the bottles to demonstrate the connection with the Welsh School in Patagonia. To date, they have already raised over $15,000 and haven’t taken a penny in profit themselves.

The group has just visited Patagonia again (much to the regret of my liver) and, on this occasion, we visited the Bodega del Fin del Mundo (literally, the Vineyard at the Bottom of the World), a Patagonian estate of almost 5,000 acres of 12 different grape varieties and with a production capacity of over 10 million bottles per year.

click to enlarge

We spent the day with Julio Viola, the son of the founder of the vineyard, who insisted that we try over 30 different bottles from the estate, ranging from delicate champagnes to raunchy reds, and that we explain in more detail about the Welsh language still spoken in Trevelin (a few hundred kilometres south of the vineyard) and how the vineyard could help us raise more money for Ysgol y Cwm.

We left many hours later, most on wobbly legs, with a commitment from the vineyard to look seriously into a production run in Patagonia of a Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon blend with a label, in Welsh, explaining the presence of the Welsh language in Argentina and the continued teaching and promotion of it at Ysgol y Cwm.

For more information on the wine, please contact John Watkin – jobawat1@gmail.com

YSGOL Y CWM

The first Welsh settlers arrived in Patagonia in 1865. In 2015, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of their arrival and there were celebrations throughout Chubut. In 2013, the Welsh communities in Esquel and Trevelin met to decide how they would celebrate 2015. (I live in Esquel and I am a member of the Committee of the Welsh Society in Trevelin.) I suggested that we should not plan to do many things, but that we should plan only one thing and that we should concentrate all our efforts to do that thing very well. At that time, children and adults received their Welsh lessons by visiting classrooms in Esquel and Trevelin, but we did not have a full-time school. We decided to build a bilingual Welsh/Spanish school for children between 4 and 11 years of age! The school would teach the Argentine national curriculum in Spanish and Welsh!

The Governor of Chubut (Martin Buzzi) at that time promised to pay about half of the costs as part of his contribution to the 150th Anniversary celebrations. Of course, he paid nothing. Mario Das Neves, the next Governor, also paid nothing. The National Government of Cristina Fernandez paid nothing and the current National Government of Mauricio Macri paid nothing. In fact, the Minister of Education in Macri’s government said that it was the national policy not to support bilingual schools.

The Welsh Society in Trevelin owned some land near to the centre of the town. It decided to divide the land into building plots and sell the plots to raise money to build the school. It did not expect to sell all the plots immediately and therefore asked an Argentine-Welsh architect from Esquel to design a school which could be built in stages – a few classrooms at a time. As it sold more land, it could build more classrooms. Of course, it didn’t anticipate how quickly the Argentine peso would go down and how quickly inflation would increase. But, despite all these difficulties, the school was opened on time in 2016 with the first class of children. Each year since, it has introduced another class. In March 2019, it will introduce another class and open the 5 new classrooms, which are nearing completion (at the moment, the Welsh Society does not have enough money – about 5,000 dollars – to pay for a boiler, so there is a chance that the very picky Argentine inspectors may delay the opening).

Trevelin and the Welsh community in the Andes now have a nursery school and a junior school, which are recognized by the Chubut government and which are regularly inspected. The project has been so successful that it has a waiting list of parents who wish to send their children to the school. The reason for its success, despite being a fee-paying school, is that the school has “old-fashioned” values, that its teachers are committed and passionate and that it is not influenced by the politics of education at a national or provincial level. The majority of children who attend the school have no Welsh blood, but their parents recognize the above benefits, plus the internationally acknowledged merits of a bilingual education (irrespective of what the languages are).

The business model for the school is that the Welsh Association raises funds for construction and it provides the school buildings to a separate legal entity which operates and runs the school. This entity pays all the running costs, pays the teachers and collects the fees from the parents and from adult learners, who use the school facilities at evening classes. The school also receives assistance from the Welsh government, which provides the services of a Welsh teacher on a half-time basis (the other half of the teacher’s time is spent in nearby Esquel). However, the school receives virtually no financial support from the government in Chubut, which pays for one administrator and for 22 hours of teaching per week.

In 2018, the school employed a teacher from Wales, paid for from its own funds, and provided accommodation for her and her family. In 2019, an additional teacher from Wales will be recruited and paid for by the school. Your correspondent opened a bank account for the school in London and it receives money from supporters across the world in the form of standing orders and one-off donations. Trevelin is twinned with Aberteifi/Cardigan and they also hold fund-raising events for the school.

When the group from  Hoelion Wyth came to the school, the children welcomed them with songs in Welsh and the ceremonial raising of the Welsh flag.

The Welsh society is now preparing another piece of land for sale to build houses. With the money received, it is planning the final phase – a small (400 seats) concert facility for use of the school and a permanent home for the annual Welsh festival, the Trevelin Eisteddfod.

For more information, please contact jeremywood@welshpatagonia.com

♦ end ♦

 

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Anonymous

I have a photograph somewhere of the special branch waving us good bye, good trip lol.

Dafis
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Dafis

Find it and get it pasted on here ! Treasured item that.

Wrexhamian
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Wrexhamian

People like Jeremy Wood should be running the world. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia (Yr Wladfa), and obviously it would play a large part in a more Welsh-centric teaching of history in schools in Wales in the future.

The Argentine government might not be putting their money where they’re mouth is, but there does seem to be more goodwill coming from Buenos Aires than in the days of the Generals. The WAG seem to have a bottomless pit, if ‘re-wilding’ projects in West Wales are anything to go by; a little extra cash to help out with the school’s funding in Esquel/Trevelin wouldn’t be a big ask.

Huw Edwards’s excellent documentary is on YouTube. Search for ‘Huw Edwards Patagonia’.

Brychan
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Brychan

Don’t give the ‘re-wilders’ ideas, Wrexhamian. That smallholding in Kent from which they imported to Bwlch Corog an alien invasive species, the ‘konik’ horses, from also run a nearby petting farm which has a herd of alpacas.

Now that George Monbiot has done the decent thing and returned to Oxford, perhaps he can look up the geneticists at his local university who proved that Koniks, although they look ‘primitive’ are not ‘closely related to the tarpan’. They are actually a modern domestic breed that escaped into the boreal forest in the middle ages. They also enjoy long dry summers, which are rare in the Cambrian mountains and will damage our pockets of temperate rainforest. WAG must think Japanese knotweed is ‘wild’ and Welsh farmers look like australopithecus.

Just to clarify, koniks belong in Poland, merlod belong in Wales and alpacas belong in Patagonia. I could also add that if the newly arrived pricks in mid Wales don’t adapt and respect their new found native agricultural habitat, then they should return to England.

Jeremy Wood
Guest
Jeremy Wood

We don’t have any alpacas in Patagonia! We have guanacos – they’re bigger and spit further.

taffyman27
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taffyman27

What a great item, the lack of support from the government in Argentina is unfortunate but probably not a surprise, however the success to date shows how powerful a community can be when working together.

I have never made it to the Wladfa although its very high on the list of places to go in the next few years.

I would however sound a note of caution about the long term value of bilingual education on its own, as a way to maintain the language. I am a product of the Welsh language education system, and at 55 probably among the first native language Welsh speakers to be born in Cardiff for a couple of generations. When I started school in the old Ysgol Bryntaf about 1969 pretty much every child came from a Welsh speaking family, with at least one Welsh speaking parent. By the time I left Ysgol Llanharri in 1982 the vast majority of kids coming up “through the system” came from English speaking families.

Wind forward the clock some 35 years the ( admittedly non-scientific) evidence of various school reunions, Facebook exchanges etc suggests only a relatively small proportion of my peer group and those a few years younger than me, use Welsh regularly, and many appear to have lost the language entirely. Perhaps more worryingly a good number of the group who stayed in Wales choose not to send their kids to Welsh speaking schools.

To survive and thrive, the language needs to be something you treasure and use, not something like trigonometry which you were forced to learn at School, then never need or want to understand again.

Dafis
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Dafis

don’t knock trigonometry, it allows you to see most of the angles in the 3D world we live in. Believe in the sphere, Flat earthers always end up falling off the edge.

You wait, if Gee sees your post he’ll be on here giving you a talking to about the inadequacy of the 2D linear model of political ideology ! Had those kids learned their Trig through the medium of Welsh then maybe, just maybe, the language would have been better embedded in their brains. “No pain, no gain” as the sadist said to the victim !.

Big Gee
Admin

Too right Dafis! The flat earth society is a good example of limited thinking, exactly the same as the jerks who have brainwashed everyone that politics is a single axis paradigm of fictional right/ centre and left – an abstract concept based on nothing tangible – just a limited ‘concept’, where everything political can be fitted into convenient pigeon holes that suits their silly made up model. Suits the establishment and is perfect for the establishment’s propaganda mouthpieces – the mainstream (false) news media.

I have yet to find anyone who can answer the question of WHAT exactly is this ‘thing’ that right, centre and left is a part of. It doesn’t exist. People’s political thinking is nothing so simple, it’s like comparing a flat earth to a 3D spherical earth.

By sheer coincidence I wrote about that on this page on our Ein GWLAD News Portal earlier this week.

https://eingwlad.wales/NewsPortal/index.php/tell-us-about-your-problems/

As for education, what is described regarding the Welsh medium education system bears out what I always say, you can teach a parrot to speak Welsh – that doesn’t make the parrot a Welshman. What is being done is the teaching of the English curriculum through the medium of Welsh. Unless it has more depth than learning words in a language it is a futile exercise. THAT’S why our priority is to create a proper Welsh curriculum – where children are taught more than the words of our national language – which means very little to them, hence they fail to see the importance of it whilst in school and later when they leave.

I’ve written about that too:

https://www.sccambria.com/essays/erth-add_saesneg.htm

Jeremy Wood
Guest
Jeremy Wood

Re the comment about treasuring the language, that’s why Welsh culture is just as important in Ysgol y Cwm as the Welsh language. The children learn the harp, sing Welsh songs, dawnsio gwerin and much more. To have the Trevelin Eisteddfod venue on the same site will maintain the language’s importance in the community for the generatioins while the school’s alumni still live in the area. Just look at these short clips of the Croeso given by the children of Ysgol y Cwm to John Watkin and friends: https://www.dropbox.com/s/2pr2bo0oyax4z39/IMG_1807.MOV?dl=0 https://www.dropbox.com/s/2ketvpfw8wtcsff/IMG_1808.MOV?dl=0

Big Gee
Admin

HYFRYD Jeremy!

It melts the heart. Be sure to teach them the history of their forefathers, along with their culture, traditions, history, heritage and heroes – those are the things that will will make them FEEL they are a part of something unique and precious.

Teaching them Cymraeg will then be something that they will feel compelled to do from their own hearts. It is the icing on the cake, that gives it it’s sweetness. Give them nothing but icing to eat and it will make them nauseous. It’s a package.

Being ‘Welsh’ requires:

  1. History
  2. Culture
  3. Cymraeg

Do away with the first two and all you’ll have will be little parrots.

Here in the ‘motherland’ we have been poisoned for over a hundred years by being taught those things from the British (English) Empire perspective, with it’s emphasis on wiping out our language in the schools.

Liken it to a tree that’s being poisoned through it’s roots – it’s leaves wither. There’s no point trying to revive the leaves (which in this example is Y Gymraeg) if the tree continues to be poisoned at it’s roots by the education curriculum of England – whether taught through the medium of English or Welsh.

THAT’s why the only hope for us as a nation is to gain independence. THAT’s the reason for the formation of ‘Ein GWLAD‘.

taffyman27
Guest
taffyman27

Gee

Having read your comments and your essay on Welsh education I am surprised to find that we agree on a great many things, but we still differ on the key solution.

I agree a Welsh speaking parrot is just that, it is no measure of the health or future of the language.

I suspect the number of people world wide with some fluency in Latin is probably more than the number of Welsh speakers, but the fact that my old law professor could crack “jokes” in Latin does not make him a Roman or give Latin any meaningful role in the 21st century.

Political independace for Wales or indeed self government does not itself guarantee the future of the language, or indeed the nation. Economic success and economic indpendace is the key. If our best and brightest keep leaving, or taking public sector jobs, I fear for the future of our nation.

Brad y Llyfrau Gleison may either have been a horrible example of 19th Century English imperialism, or a genuine, if misguided, attempt to address a social issue, depending on which history you read. However, it created a generation or two of Welsh working class families who viewed education and in many cases the English language, as the great lubricant of social mobility. Like you, I was the first member of a family from rural Ceredigion to benefit from a University education, and I have nothing but admiration for the sacrifice which made that possible.

However by luck or design we created a nation of civil servants, teachers, minsters of religion and artistic types. What we have failed to create in sufficient volume is wealth creaters.and many of those we have created left Wales never to return.

Yes a nation needs it’s Saunders Lewis, but it also needs an Andrew Carnegie or two.

While teaching our youth Welsh history and culture is important, making sure they have a place in a vibrant and strong “Welsh” economy that functions in Welsh is they key to engagement with the language.

Languages die because they cease to useful. Latin is not dead in terms of speakers it’s just not very useful. Welsh should not become the next Latin.

Big Gee
Admin

I agree wholeheartedly with you taffyman27. It’s not an either/ or. It’s both, that need urgent attention.Only mad fools would suggest that we need a proper grounding with a top to bottom change in our education system whilst ignoring the need for a proper financial structure.

I made my comments on here in the context of education – because that’s what the thread is about.

I really hope that you didn’t think my only concern, and that of Ein GWLAD was our education system!

If you join us you can access to our members’ Forum, where all our policies are being thrashed out.

Perhaps this video of our launch will give you a clearer picture of what we are aboout:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=124&v=tyYkun5VELg

Carnabwth
Guest

I enjoyed looking at those videos from Y Wladfa. I’m going to have to visit there one day.

O/T
I just had a look at that Ein Gwlad web site Gee. It looks professionally done. How are things developing with the new party? I hope to go along to one of the meetings you are organising around Wales. Possibly the Swansea meeting.

Big Gee
Admin

Thank you for your kind words Carnabwth.

We’re progressing by the day, with three more branches being launched soon. Two in the south (West Glamorgan – Swansea and Neat) and one in north east Wales.

I hope you can make it to the Swansea book launch event – if you see a tired old ‘wrinkley’ with a white beard and pipe, then seek me out! I’d be delighted to meet you.