Sunday 28 February 2016

Nerd Church - A Taste of Wales

Daffodils - the national flower of Wales
This Tuesday is March 1st - St David's Day.

In case you didn't know, St David, or Dewi Sant, is the patron Saint of Wales.

So I figured that I'd give this week's 'Nerd Church' post over to explaining a little bit more about my beautiful country.

A Few Basics

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, also known as Britain, Great Britain, or just the UK or United Kingdom, is made up of four main constituent parts.

These parts are Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. There are smaller territories like the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands - but those four are the largest.

Just to be 100% clear: I am not English. I am British. I am Welsh. I am not English.

Welsh flag - Y Ddraig Goch
The Welsh Flag

A Bit of History

The relations between the constituent parts of the UK has always been uneasy at best.

By which I mean that the non-English nation states resent, to a greater or lesser degree, living under the dominance of English governance and culture.

Wales has been part of the union with England for the longest period - since Medieval times. Unfortunately, we've been an unwilling partner (we were conquered - it doesn't lead to a great working relationship,) from the start - and have been unhappy about the situation for centuries.

Our Native Culture

The Celtic nations - Ireland (both Northern Ireland and ROI,) Scotland, Wales, Cornwall (now a part of England,) and Brittany hold the last strongholds of the remnants of Celtic culture.

This was our culture before the Roman Empire - one that once also covered England, but was driven out of that part of the UK by the Romans and subsequent invaders (the Anglo-Saxons (the word England is derived from 'Angle-land,') the Vikings, the Normans.)

Ethnically, the peoples of the UK are now pretty much a hotchpotch - most Welsh people have a good dab of English in them, as do the other British Celts.

But the culture... well, the culture is still strong here.

'Wales,' by the way, comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for strangers, people who weren't like themselves.

walesThe Welsh word for Wales is Cymru - the land of the Cymry; the Cymry being a concept of... tribalism? brotherhood?... that doesn't translate into English particularly well, except maybe as 'Ours' - 'our people,' 'our land,' 'our culture.'

We have a strong connection to the land - 'Y Wlad.'

In modern times, this has come out in a strong drive towards environment and ecology - we recycle more than we send to landfill.

We have a target of 0% to landfill by 2050, as set by the Welsh Assembly (this is kind of like the State-government, with lots and lots of arguments with the UK parliament over who's in charge of what, and, of course, money.)

We have our own language - Cymraeg (Welsh) - which is basically the ancient language of Albion (Britain.)

Unfortunately, there was a policy in the past of suppression of the Welsh language (apparently it was 'holding us back' and making us stupid <rolls eyes loudly>)

So my first language is English (I'm trying to learn Welsh, it's not the easiest of languages.) Because my parents' first language is English - because their parents first language was English.

But my grandmother's parents were Welsh first language. They didn't bring her up speaking Welsh because 'you'll never get on in life that way.' They were worried she would be passed over for jobs and opportunities if she was a Welsh speaker.

Things have changed there (although, sometimes the pro-language lobby are more than a little obnoxious and pushy, and have a penchant for vandalism which I don't approve of) and hopefully that will mean a preservation of yr iaith (the language) in the years to come.

To be honest, I could go on and on -

I could talk about love-spoons and Welsh cakes and bara brith.

I could tell you all about the folklore and legends, the stories of fair folk and warriors and birds and sorcerers and magic.

I could tell you about the rural farms, and the mountains and valleys, and the industrial towns.

I could explain Welsh coal and Welsh slate and the Rebecca Riots and the Labour movement and the rise of Socialism. I could tell you about the Chartists and the Communists and the brave Welshmen who went in secret to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

I could try to explain hiraeth - which doesn't translate - and how there are multiple words for rivers and valleys and the dippy bits of landscape that there are no easy words for in English.

I could go on about Owain Glyndŵr, and Llywellyn the Last, and Hywel Dda, and how you can never get an Englishman to say 'Ll' or 'Ch' correctly, and you can never remember how to write 'ŵ' with a standard keyboard, so you end up copy-and-pasting.

But, what I'll leave you with is our love of music - and our national anthem 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' ('(Old) Land of My Fathers.')

This is sung by the most striking of Welsh musical traditions, the male voice choir - from Pontypridd, the town where the anthem was written.

The video quality isn't brilliant - but just listen...

Nerd Church is a weekly post where I talk about issues of various sorts. As always, feel free to continue the discussion, but please link back here.

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