My little project for meandering through the encyclopedic knowledge of the internet has been backburnered for a short time, but I thought I’d pick up where I left off in the Dutch colonies of Dutch Guiana and Dutch Guinea. Whither to go? I started in on the Dutch Colonial Empire, at one time scattered around the world. Of note, the Dutch did not, for the most part, explore and conquer new lands from native populations, but rather, primarily led by the Dutch East and West India Companies, re-conquered parts of the world that were already existing as parts of either the Portuguese or Spanish empires – bringing them into direct conflict with both countries, and leading to the Dutch-Portuguese War in the 1600s.
The Dutch Empire was broken up mostly during WWII and for a decade or so thereafter, and, these days, the school system in the Netherlands, as I understand it, pretty much pretends that the 300 some year period of colonization never existed. Still, obviously there are influences in various parts of the world – of note, as I mentioned last time, Suriname, which only became independent in 1975, Indonesia finally becoming independent in 1949 after repeated attempts by the Dutch to reestablish control, and probably South Africa, where a lot of back and forth between the Dutch and the British doesn’t diminish the fact that some 13-14% of the population speak the Dutch “daughter language” of Afrikaans.
And that led me to the language world – have you noticed I like that sort of thing? – discovering that there’s an Afrikaans speaking population here in Argentina. Who knew? Between 1903 and 1909, some 800 families of Boers (literally, “farmers”), for a combination of reasons economic and political, left British dominated South Africa after what was known as the Second Boer War and came to Argentina. The country, at the time, was trying to develop the range-lands of Patagonia, and offered settlers who were willing to take on taming the wilds of the region, a free grant of 625 hectares as a homestead, conditional on that over a period of five years following, the settler purchased an additional 1,875 hectares at the price of 1 peso apiece, and show that they were actively developing the area.
At one time the population of Afrikaans speaking settlers grew to several thousand, virtually creating from what had been a very small town of only a couple hundred people, what became the thriving city of Comodoro Rivadavia in the province of Chubut. Originally the city was simply a port for the town of Sarmiento, 140 km inland. But conflicts, understandably, arose. The Boers wanted to maintain their own heritage, as other groups have done in Argentina’s past, while the Argentine government made many attempts at, more or less forced, assimilation – banning the speaking of Afrikaans in public schools being one of the primary methods. Basically that led to the establishment of private schools where Afrikaans was the primary language. And, not surprisingly, the Catholic Church got into the act, trying to dominate the local religious scene, which led to requests from the Boer settlers to the Netherlands’ consulate for assistance, that ended in the consulate arranging for a Dutch Reformed minister to be sent to the area to establish a church.
Over time, however, assimilation and attrition have occurred. Succeeding generations had less and less interest in maintaining ties to a homeland they didn’t know, and, also, a good number of Boer descendants repatriated to South Africa as the twentieth century wore on. These days, as I understand it, the city of Comodoro Rivadavia, with a population of 50,000, hosts only about 200 people who actively claim Boer descent, and only a handful of those still speak Afrikaans, though there is still a Dutch Reformed church with, apparently, a dedicated Afrikaans library, in town. Sarmiento, primarily these days known for the tourist attraction of Argentina’s Petrified Forest, 30 km south, and the paleontology park tours in the Valley of the Giants (dinosaurs), maintained for a much longer period its cultural ties, and as recently as the 1960s Afrikaans was still the primary language spoken. The last two generations, however, have almost totally assimilated, and I understand that these days only about 14 families are still members of the local Dutch Reformed Church, and only a couple of dozen people, mostly of retirement age, still speak Afrikaans regularly and/or fluently.
And, for locals, I don’t know if David speaks Afrikaans, but we have a local South African fellow making classic biltong here in BA!