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The Welsh Immigration to Argentina

The people from Gaiman would never forget the visit of Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, when she visited the region and wa shared the traditional Welsh tea. In addition to teatime, many other cultural activities inherited from the Welsh settlers, who arrived in the 19th century, were also developed. Choir singing and poetry stand out, achieving their greatest splendor in the ceremonies of the Eisteddfod, which are held once a year, following the tradition in Wales. The Eisteddfod is an old Welsh tradition, which was not forgotten by the settlers or their descendants and is still very popular, probably the most important cultural festival and truly a Patagonian heritage. It consists mostly of poetry, singing and dancing competitions.

The Welsh settlers were motivated by special reasons. They were neither adventurers searching for a hypothetical City of the Caesares, nor erratic gold seekers driven by the promise of a sudden wealth. They were also not scientists striving for fame and new discoveries. Simply put, they were a group of people wishing to protect a lifestyle that had become endangered in their native Wales. And for this purpose, they were seeking a place in the world where they could found a new Welsh nation. They asked for land and respect for their language, religion and traditions. In return, they would hoist the Argentine flag and submit themselves to the country's laws.

As one of them said: "I remember those times in Wales, when day after day we would feel the pressure of foreign cultures penetrating our own homes. Our Welsh souls needed independence; to gather and sing at our chapels… It was then that the idea of emigrating started to become strong. The plan was to leave Wales in an organized group, and find a country with virgin lands, one that would enable the arrival of a significant number of people and where we could develop, or in other words, establish ourselves as a Welsh colony, like in New Wales. That was the moment of deciding where in the world this would happen. Patagonia seemed the ideal place: we had good references from an English admiral, plus the Argentine government was actively seeking immigrants. And, most important, the place had the features we knew were necessary in order to make our dreams come true. So, our delegates contacted the local government and a fixed date, July 28, 1865, was the result of these negotiations. After sailing for two months, the Mimosa sailboat anchored at the Gulf Nuevo's waters, and 150 persons got off. Most of them were families, and were not rich. As pointed by the arrangement, two of the delegates were waiting for us and had built some huts on the beach with some animals (cows, lambs) we were given for a basic survival. At last… we were here!"

Wales, feeling that its cultural background was in danger by England took the decision to start the emigration to Argentina due to the political benefits that Argentina was giving at that time. Some Welsh people chose Patagonia because the condition that it offered them fulfilled their ideals. Two delegates from Wales went to Buenos Aires and after a meeting with the minister Guillermo Rawson, made a short trip to tour the valley of the Chubut River. After that, they returned to Wales full of enthusiasm and optimism. On the May 25, 1865, the Mimosa started the journey with 150 people on board. The group was composed of professionals, middle-class workers and people of all ages.

They arrived at Golfo Nuevo (Port Madryn) on July 28, 1865. From there, they went to the coast of the Chubut River where they started to build the houses, which on September 25, 1865, was called Rawson and they officially declared and founded it as the Welsh colony. The next two years were very important for them to know the climate and the ground this place had. In November 1867, Rachel Jones, Aaron Jenkins' wife, discovered the possibility of artificial watering. Thanks to that, agriculture was born in the colony. They built channels to overcome the problem of land irrigation, and this in fact is the first artificial irrigation system ever made in Argentina. With this enhancement, the area rapidly grew its wheat production and soon the much sought-after prosperity arrived at the colony, escorted by the development of a railway between the cities of Trelew and Puerto Madryn.

Welsh people created an administration formed by the Town Council of the Twelve, Arbitration Courts and Juries. They also wrote a constitution where they established power divisions and the secret vote. In 1868, Richard Berwyn, founded a newspaper and started the first school. Religious life was also very important in the colony. They took the model of the Independent Christian Churches. They built chapels with the austerity circumstances established at that time. Those chapels were also used as meeting rooms, for Town Councils, and for schools. Their relationship with the natives was pacific and they provided mutual benefits. The Tehuelches (natives) helped them with their knowledge about the ground and exchanged products with the colonists.

On August 14, 1874, Gaiman was born (the name means stone point or sharpening stone in the Tehuelche language). In 1885, the statutes from the Chubut In Trading Company were approved. Due to that, the place had a cooperative system, which served for more than a century and a half. In 1892, a monument was erected in commemoration of the 4th-century anniversary of the Discovery of America. On each of its 4 sides, there is an inscription to Christopher Columbus in four different languages: Spanish, English, Welsh and Italian. In 1906, the Camwy School was built and was considered to be the first school in Patagonia. In 1909, the railway lines got to Gaiman, and in 1914 the Tunnel was built. On those days, during busy afternoons, colonist families would take a break to share "the teatime". Nowadays, this custom is a symbol of hospitality that Gaiman offers to its visitors.

They continue with its traditions every year, and on July 28, one of the biggest celebrations of the Welsh community takes place: The Landing Day. On that day, at all the Welsh chapels alongside the valley hold ceremonies where tea is served and Welsh songs are sung and Welsh poems are read. They are also very religious. As their members say, "when an Englishman arrives to a place, the first thing he builds is a store; when an American arrives at a new place, he builds a school. But when a Welsh settles, the very first thing he will do is to build a chapel…"

The Welsh chapels, with their typical architecture, distinguish all the cities they founded in Chubut. The chapels are also the community center. At these chapels, all the projects and actions of the community are discussed by all of their members. This means that the chapels not only served as religious centers but as educational and even judicial ones.

The Welsh contributed to the progress of Patagonia and brought farming techniques that were carried all over Argentina. They were able to keep their roots and incorporated a new identity. As it is said by them, "We have lived under the protection and sovereignty of Argentina; we are loyal to this land, native for many of us.”