Why do they speak Welsh in South America?

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1. A new Wales across the sea

Nearly 8,000 miles away from Cardiff, in the Chubut province of Patagonia in southern Argentina, around 5,000 people speak Welsh.

Alongside mate, asado, the tango and other staples of Argentinian life you will find tea and bara brith being served in towns called Dolavon and Trevelin, and Latino children reciting Welsh poetry at eisteddfodau.

In all some 50,000 Argentinian nationals can claim Welsh ancestry. But how did this remote and rugged land between the Andes and the South Atlantic become a distant outpost for a Welsh way of life?

2. Exodus

Between 1850-1914 more than 50 million Europeans crossed the Atlantic in search of a better life. They were driven from their homelands by poverty, hunger, or in many cases because of religious or cultural persecution.

Millions settled in North America, including those who left Wales to set up home in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

But for one group of Welsh emigrants the melting pot of the United States was not their vision of a brave new world.

Inspired by the words of Michael D Jones, a charismatic north Wales minister, they set sail in 1865 for somewhere more isolated still.

Their dream was to settle where they had been told their way of life, their language and their religion could prosper free from outside interference: in the wilds of Argentina.

3. Clickable: Where they settled

Click or tap on the placenames to discover how the Welsh settlers spread eastwards across Chubut from Puerto Madryn to Esquel and Trevelin.

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4. Staying alive

The Welsh settlers didn't have it easy. Their fears about a lack of fertile land in the Chubut valley were confirmed when their first two harvests failed.

They found a way to divert the waters of the Chubut river via irrigation channels to grow food, but their homes were wiped out when the river flooded in 1899.

While some settlers headed east, many gave in. By 1910, 400 had left for Canada and Australia.

Those who stayed were soon outnumbered by other immigrants. Under pressure from an Argentinian government which saw Spanish as the national language, they were seen as second class citizens.

By the 1950s the community had abandoned its eisteddfod tradition and the Welsh language, spoken only at home or at Sunday school, was dying out.

But then the 1965 centenary of the Mimosa's journey sparked a revival of interest from the mother country. New investment boosted the exile language and culture, and Argentina came to see its Patagonian Welsh heritage as a valuable tourist attraction.

5. Watch: 'Because we feel Welsh'

At a traditional asado in Trevelin, Huw Edwards discovers the pride that descendants of the early Welsh settlers have in their heritage.

Some of the original passengers from the Mimosa, pictured 25 years after they arrived in Patagonia. Image: Bangor University Archive.

6. Interactive: How did Welsh culture survive?

What do you think most helped the Welsh settlers to battle against the odds and keep their identity alive in South America after 150 years?


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If they hadn't found a way to grow their crops, the Welsh settlers would not have gained a foothold in Patagonia.

Further arrivals

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Further arrivals

Another wave of immigrants from Wales in 1875-76 proved a timely boost, helping the community establish and spread towards more fertile land in the east.

Home and chapel

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Home and chapel

When the Argentinian government insisted on Spanish being the language of school and local government, Welsh was kept alive at home and in the chapel.

1965 centenary

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1965 centenary

The 100th anniversary celebrations of the Mimosa's journey re-established links with Wales and was a much-needed shot in the arm for Patagonia's Welsh culture.