Sunday, 5 August 2007

Hearts and Minds

I received a comment from a reader who was born in England due to a quirk of fate. There is a considerable number of people living in Wales who are from England, as well as from other lands, and who have adopted this country as their own. In Cornwall the native Cornish are outnumbered by the immigrants by a factor 0f 60/40 as more people are attracted to moving to a more peaceful and less stressful environment. Wales has a long tradition of hospitality and has always kept "a welcome in the hillsides and the vales". America has absorbed peoples from all over the world, including Welsh and Irish, and their descendants are still enthusiastic about their origins and their roots. There is a big trade in investigating one's genaeology these days, with websites such as "ancestry" and "genes reunited" leading the way. This blog-site, Independence Cymru, has links with the Welsh League of Arizona, which is very active and produces a regular newsletter on events in Wales and aspects of Welsh life around the world. There is no doubt that "hiraeth" plays a great part in this. Welsh people around the world retain in their hearts that indefinable connection with their homeland.
Yet there are those immigrants from England and abroad who also have this affinity with Wales. Their allegiance is to Wales and all things Welsh, and they send their children to Welsh-speaking schools and go to Welsh classes to learn the language. They take a pride in speaking Welsh, and have integrated themselves into the community, joining male voice choirs and brass bands, and standing on the touch-lines of the rugby fields. You can find them in the pubs, the car boot sales and the eisteddfodau, in the supermarkets and the post-offices throughout the nation. You find them in the branch offices of Plaid Cymru, giving their support and active participation in the work to wrest and regain Wales from the subtle and overt British tentacles which seek to swamp and diffuse the life-blood of the nation. They are with us and we welcome them, as they lend their hearts and minds for the benefit of the country they have chosen to serve.
It is all a question of allegiance is it not? Are you Welsh or are you British? To say that you are both is innacurate and indefensible. Being British implies that one denies Wales, as it does not exist constitutionally as a country except as a part of the English realm which teamed up with Scotland to form the Union. Are you a Unionist or are you a Nationalist? You cannot be both, or you are like fire and water which are incompatible and like fire your spirit is liable to be extinguished by the water-cannon or at the stroke of a pen. When we speak of Wales we speak of a nation with a long history, like Ireland, of struggle and resistance in the face of adversity. But I do not wish to dwell on the past with all its sorrows and lost opportunities. I wish to talk of now, the time where all that was is no longer with us, the time when fortune beckons. We are now the guardians of the nations fortunes, its heritage, its language and its people. Whether or not we were born in England, or Jamaica, or Pakistan or Japan we owe our allegiance to our nation, this nation, and our hearts and minds are well and truly here in Cymru - Wales.

3 comments:

der said...

Almost brought a tear to my that article alan.....I agree that there are those who move to Wales and become integrated into our communities. But there are also those who have move here for the wrong reasons.....and really only want to create in Wales a little bit of the England they feel no longer exists there. There are many of them believe me.

alanindyfed said...

Der - I had hoped to have you overcome with emotion, but maybe next time.
My idea is that following the proclamation of independence every citizen will be required to sign and take an oath of allegiance.

Rob Willis said...

Bore da (Good morning),

Your comments are interesting, but I have to disagree with you -- at least partially. First of all, I don't know much about British or Irish politics; I'm a citizen of U.S.A., and I'm having enough difficulty trying to understand our system. I don't pretend to know which policies would be best for Wales, but I'm not convinced that complete separation from England and / or Scotland would in and of itself be automatically beneficial. That does not for one second mean that I think that complete assimilation or submission is neccessarily a good thing either. All I know is that if something promotes human rights (and by that, I mean the rights of individuals -- not just groups), I am for it; if something is contrary to human rights, then I am against it.

You say that one is either a Unionist, or a Nationalist. Is it really just that simple; it is that black & white? Have you never heard of concepts such as devolution or decentralization? Are there not degrees and compromises regarding questions of regionalism vs. imperialism? Or how about the concepts of federalism, confederacies, treaties, leagues, and such? For example, if Plaid Cymru were to secure the national idependence of Wales only to subject Wales to the domination of European Union, would Wales be better or worse off? I don't have an answer; I just think it's a question worthy of consideration.

You say that one is either Welsh or British; you say you cannot be both. In terms of history & etymology, that is a most ridiculous, absurd, and nonsensical statement! If you are indeed Cymro (a Welshman), then I am most disappointed by your lack of knowledge & understanding about the ancient origins & history of your own culture.

The Welsh were British centuries before the Scots or English became British. I explain all this to my students when I teach a class called "Quest for Camelot." I tell them that nowadays "British" can mean Welsh, English, or Scottish since those territories make up the island now known as Great Britain (to distinguish it from Brittany [Little Britain] across the channel).

In terms of what's left of the global British Empire, "British" can mean Falkland Islander, and until recently it could mean Hong Konger. Some folks in Northern Ireland call themselves "British" while others most certainly do not, but that's a whole other controversy outside the scope of the point I am making.

If one looks at Latin documents from the Dark Ages (circa 5th to 9th centuries), the term "Brettonum" (British) always applied to the Welsh -- not to the English or Scots. I have read that the native and Irish cognates "Pretini" and "Cruithni" have been applied to the Picts who were Barbaian British as opposed to the Welsh who were Romano-Britons. Dark Age Latin documents used the terms "Anglorum" and "Saxonum" pretty much interchangably when refering to the English. "Scottonum" or "Scottorum" meant "Irish" before the concepts of "Scottish" and "Irish" branched apart to become distinct; this was also before the concepts of "Welsh," "Cornish," and "Breton" branched apart to become distinct.

There is one interesting exception to all this. Even before the several English kingdoms in Britain united to form the Kingdom of Englelonde (England), and indeed even before the English people (a.k.a. Anglo-Saxons) had conquered all the territory that would eventually constitute that kingdom, they were calling the most powerful of their kings "Bretwalda" (Britain Ruler). Even so, it should be noted that in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was written in Englisc (Old English) rather than Latin, the terms "Brettas," "Wealh," and "Wealas" were used interchangably to refer to the Welsh.

It's bad enough that Americans don't understand this. I especially cringe when American journalists (who are supposed to be educated) use the terms "British" and "English" interchangably as though they were absolute synonyms. English and Scottish kingdoms were first established in Britain over 15 centuries ago, so we now can use the term "British" to refer to anyone living on the island, but that only makes the terms "English" and "British" overlapping concepts -- not synonyms!

It is only because England became the largest and most powerful kingdom on the island, and because England was central to the British Empire which became global, that people think primarily of England when they think of Britain. However, that is no reason to think ONLY of England; England is not the whole island.

Anyway, the Welsh are still the most British of all the people of Britain. Equal or almost equal in Britishness would be the few people in London learning Cymraeg (Welsh), and the few people in Cornwall keeping Kernewek (Cornish) alive. The Welsh (Cymry), Cornish, and Bretons are today's Brythonic (British) Celts who share a common ancestry / herritage which can be traced back to the Roman Diocese of Britainia.

Gaidhlig (Scottish Gaelic language of the Highlands), like Gaeilge (Irish) and Gaelg (Manx), is a Goidelic Celtic language; it was imported into northern Britain from Ireland. English and Scots (Lowland Scottish language), like Nederlands (Dutch or Low German) and Deutch (High German) are West Germanic languages; they were imported into Britain from northwestern Europe. Again, these imporations happened AFTER the Brittani (a.k.a. Bretones, Britons, or Roman Britons) and their Brythonic language were already established on the island of Britain.

So I think it's even worse when British people don't know or understand this stuff. One person who does, however, is Professor Fred Long. He was born and raised in England and speaks English with and English accent, but he now lives in Wales and is learning Welsh. He attends eisteddfodau, and he is active with St. David's Society when he works part of the year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. I once asked him: "When people ask you your nationality, do you say 'English' or 'Welsh?' He said: "I tell them that I am British." Based on the historical ethno-geography explained above, I said: "Ah... perfect answer!"