Rethinking Welsh Patagonia

From Planet 218

As the 150th anniversary of Y Wladfa approaches, Lucy Taylor opens up new questions about the complex power relationships between the Welsh and indigenous people.

This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Welsh in Patagonia in 1865. It presents an opportunity to celebrate the many achievements of Y Wladfa but also offers a chance to look beyond the well-worn stories, to rethink Patagonian Wales. The relationship between the Welsh and the indigenous people whose land they came to settle provides just such a fresh perspective and the iconic photograph on the next spread, taken in 1868, is a provocative image with which to start.

The photograph overleaf depicts Lewis Jones, one of the key protagonists of the Welsh colonial enterprise and leader of the Chubut community. He is seated on a chair and surrounded by a number of indigenous men. At first sight this looks like a typical 19th-century pose portraying ‘the master and his natives’ and suggests familiar assumptions about the ‘natural’ dominance of Western civilisation. But the story behind this snapshot is much more complex and the relationships of power are much more ambiguous than they first appear. It is this complexity and ambiguity which can enrich our thinking about Y Wladfa.

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