Friday, December 04, 2009

Little-Known Aspects of Latin America - Afrikaners in Argentina

Of all of the immigrant groups to Latin American countries that I knew about, Afrikaners who immigrated to Argentina were not among those with which I was familiar.

Once they lived here in their thousands, but now only a handful of Afrikaans-speaking Boers remain in the windswept Patagonian coastal town of Comodoro Rivadavia and its hinterland.

Between 1903 and 1909, up to 800 Boer families trekked by ship to this lonely spot on Argentina's east coast, about 1500km north of Tierra del Fuego.

They had suffered badly in the 1899-1902 South African War. Some had lost family members in Kitchener's infamous concentration camps; others had their farmhouses destroyed by British troops.

Most of the Boer men who shipped out to settle in South America, taking their wives and children with them, had fought in the war against Britain, the nation that had seized their former independent republics of Transvaal and Orange Free State. The Boers left because they had no desire to live under their conqueror's thumb.
Unfortunately, the Afrikaner-speaking peoples of Argentina are nearly gone, even while their contributions to Argentina cannot be denied:
It is a Patagonian paradox that the Afrikaners who helped turn Comodoro Rivadavia from a tiny settlement with few buildings into a large and noisy oil town, now number so few. Local legend says it was Boers drilling for water who made the first oil strike, in a region that currently supplies a considerable portion of Argentina's fuel needs.
It's not uncommon to find ethnic, cultural, and immigrant groups that you would not expect to find in places where you wouldn't expect to find them, be it Laotians in Amarillo, TX or Japanese in Brazil. Still, Afrikaners in Argentina is up there in terms of "unexpected," and it would be fascinating to learn more about their historical presence in and contributions to Argentina.