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27 February 2024

Challenging the myths and reinterpreting the history of Y Wladfa and its use


The Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol has published a special issue of Gwerddon featuring five articles on the history of the Welsh Colony from new perspectives.

The articles are the culmination of years of collaboration and negotiation between Welsh and Argentine scholars, and include new contributions that have been translated from Spanish into Welsh. This is the first time Gwerddon has published translations.

Sara Borda Green who is a native of Trevelin, Cwm Hyfryd in Patagonia, has contributed an article exploring elements of the portrait of the Colony presented in Separado!, the documentary by Gruff Rhys and Dylan Goch. Sara holds a doctorate in Modern Languages and currently lectures at the Department of Spanish, Bangor University. She said:

"As a researcher who has witnessed the development of the Wales-Patagonia relationship since the 90s, I think it’s about time to ask new questions about Patagonia's role in the Welsh imagination. In recent years several articles have been published demanding a 'reinterpretation' of Y Wladfa's history in order to combat its 'romanticisation'. Yet in them it is possible to notice a key blind spot: if Wales idealises the enterprise in South America, to what extent does the problem relate to the linguistic, political, or moral 'failures' – depending on the period – of that corner of the world rather than with the European Welsh imagination that implements the romanticisation?"

Sara Borda Green

One of the Argentine authors is Guillermo Williams from the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco who has written an article on the topic 'Debates about history and memory in the Welsh settler of Chubut.' He said:

"This article summarises the doctoral research I am currently writing, in which I analyse the ways in which the 'official' history of Chubut Province was produced and told by the provincial government, but with clear support from the Welsh community. On the one hand, communities like the Welsh were admired for their virtues, but they were also a threat, especially as they demanded a right to self-governance. On the other hand, others see the arrival of the Welsh in 1865 as a moment when the province was 'established', in a time when the indigenous people were seen as an 'obstacle' to the development of the 'new Argentina.' The Welsh therefore represented an ideal, and this official history was developed, and taught in schools. This hegemonic reading continues to this day, although it is increasingly debated by historians, as well as by other members of the Province."

Dr Iwan Rees

According to Dr Iwan Wyn Rees, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University's School of Welsh, editor of the special issue who has also contributed an article, the publication considers fresh and diverse voices from both sides of the Atlantic and challenges traditional narratives that have been criticised for being one-sided by some scholars. 

He said:

"It is a matter of pride to me that Welsh readers finally have the opportunity to browse a diverse, multidisciplinary collection of articles dealing with Y Wladfa, a complex subject of interest in Wales and among the Welsh diaspora alike. I am indebted to Professor Anwen Jones and her Editorial Board for their willingness to break new ground by including two translations – from Spanish to Welsh directly – for the first time in Gwerddon's history. I hope now that this edition will persuade national institutions in Wales – not forgetting the new 'Curriculum for Wales' – to pay deserved attention to Welsh colonisation as an integral part of Welsh history (and Welsh nationalism), but also from the perspective of the contribution of the Welsh diaspora to the mother country and to the world."


Here are the five articles available to read on Gwerddon's website.

'Water and Power in the Camway Valley: challenges and conflicts over the establishment and management of an irrigation system, Fernando Williams, University of La Plata Argentina.

'Reading and writing Y Wladfa's past: debates about history and memory in Chubut's Welsh settler', Guillermo Williams, Bangor University

'Unborn, unborn: 'Discourse' and the Ethics of the Colony', Huw L. Williams, Cardiff University.

A paradox in portraying Patagonia in the devolved Wales: An initial exploration of Separado! (Gruff Rhys and Dylan Goch 2010), Sara Borda Green, Bangor University

"One of the most magnificent failures" of linguistic purism? An analysis of today's Welsh vocabulary patterns in a historical context, Dr Iwan Rees, Cardiff University