Queen of her people

8th November 1996 at 00:00
Luned Fychan Roberts de Gonzalez speaks with a lilting accent, more reminiscent of Buenos Aires, where she trained as a teacher, than Betwys Y Coed.

English isn't her first language (that's Spanish) or her second (that's Welsh), it's her third. Ironically, for a "Chumai" a descendant of Welsh settlers, and such a staunch defendant of the language, she used to be an English teacher.

"I was a very bad teacher of English - the pupils didn't learn much. In a way I was working for the enemy!" Luned was appointed headteacher of the 180 pupil Camwy College in Gaiman when it re-opened in 1963 and some say her contribution to sustaining the Welsh way of life and language in Patagonia calls for a more royal appointment. "She's the Queen of the Welsh community", says Sian Emlyn.

She laughs off the accolade but is full of praise for the volunteer teachers who helped to rekindle interest in the language.

"They were dedicated and enthusiastic teachers. But they couldn't cover all the classes." Now even the small enclave of Welsh speakers in Trefelin, hundreds of kilometres away in Cwm Hyfryd (Beautiful Valley) will receive proper tuition.

"What is happening is very gratifying. We are always fighting for the survival of the language and it's encouraging to see the young people becoming interested." Her grown up sons, Argentinians born and bred, are learning the language of their forefathers, she says proudly.

"Education and schools have a lot to do with this. We already have a kindergarten that has been running for the last three years. But my dream would be to see a Welsh medium primary school.

"Welsh is a minority language in Chubut - you can measure the numbers of people who speak it in hundreds - but as the Welsh colony started everything in Chubut then Welsh culture is respected. It's quite impressive when you think that they arrived here in 1865 when Welsh was not spoken by many people in Wales."

A descendant of Lewis Jones, one of the leaders of the original emigrants, Luned's grandfather was killed by American bandits. "It was a great loss to the community - he had drawn up plans for the canals and the railway."

Thanks to the irrigation system, her valley is a lot greener than the arid landscape that greeted the first settlers but, she says with a sigh, "it cannot be compared to Wales."

However strong her affection for Wales ("it's my third time here and I feel so at home", she said on a recent visit), she remains resolutely Argentinian and is quick to pay homage to Patagonia.

"It grows on you. At night you can see all the stars and you get the feeling that the sky is very close to you."

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