In our last catalogue we told you about Pete’s long-lost cousin in Patagonia. Of course, Pete isn’t the only one with connections out there, and some of you wrote in to tell us your stories. Like Daf Palfrey, who told us the amazing story about his great-grandmother. Daf tells the story below.
Also, on the next spread Gruff Meredith, a Welsh artist/musician tells us about his experience of making an album with Welsh and Patagonian musicians in Chubut.
For over 100 years we have had the Patagonian poncho in the family. It is dyed navy blue with cream circles. It looks pretty unassuming.
It wasn’t until my family and I were given the opportunity to make a film about my great-grandmother did I realize its significance.
The poncho belonged to Elen (Nel) Davies (1870 – 1965). It was given to her as a gift from a Patagonian Tehuelche Chief when she was twelve years old.
She was only five when her parents uprooted the family from South Wales to the Chubut Valley. The crossing cost 13 pounds and they were awarded 100 acres of land. The deal was the same for all Welsh families.
For Nel, the barren land and extreme living conditions were a part of life. She quickly learned to love Patagonia, riding the planes on horseback, befriending the local tribes people, and learning how to bake delicious Welsh bread – something the natives grew to love. The tribesmen would often turn up in their droves requesting ‘poco bara’ (Spanish: a little bit; Welsh: bread) from the Welsh settlers. In return, they offered their alliance and sometimes livestock.
When her mother, Helen Davies, died in childbirth, Nel lost her innocence and freedom. She was obliged to take charge of the household and farm chores, while her father and older brothers were away on long hunting trips.
One day when Nel was alone, a Tehuelche tribe came to visit, chanting “Poco Bara”. All she had to offer them was a small dry crust. When she told them that her mother had died, the Chief dismounted his horse, took off his poncho and offered it to Nel, promising he would always be there for her whenever she needed his help – a friend for life. Normally, a chief would never dismount a horse for anybody, let alone give away his poncho.
It was a source of comfort and pride for her throughout her life.
Eventually Nel settled again in South Wales. She married, raised a family, and the poncho sat quietly in a drawer for years.
In her 80s, Marged Jones, my grandmother (my mother’s mother and Nel’s daughter-in-law), wrote the story of Nel’s life in two novels: Nel Fach y Bwcs and Ffarwel Archentina.
The novels became popular in Wales and a staple of Welsh speaking schools in Patagonia.
And in 2007, my family and I got the opportunity to make a film for S4C based on these two books. We decided to take the poncho back to where it originated, document the journey and illustrate passages of the books through reconstructed dramatic scenes.
My mother Eiry was the producer, my sister Lisa was acting the parts of Nel and her mother, my oldest sister Siani was operating the camera, and I was directing.
We saw the house where Nel grew up and showed the poncho to those who had read the books. The most memorable moment was when a female descendant of the Tehuelche tribe clutched the poncho, kissed it, held my mother and through tears declared an undying friendship between the Welsh and the native Patagonians.