With the Senedd discussing the names of homes on Wednesday, this is an article by Elin Hywel first published on the Llafar Bro Blog.
When walking familiar ground, I often consider how different each time was when I travelled this way; what thought consumed me then?
I’m sure I remember standing in this same spot years earlier, rain falling like bullets of ice quashing my cursed insistence on not wearing my school coat. The pain of the cold crystallizing my memory most probably. These days, when watching my eldest go to school – without her coat, I shout from the top of the stairs “did you remember a mask?” Times are strange. And even though the two experiences are far apart, standing here, in this place, my experience as daughter and mother become one.
For me, the relationship of memory and place is integral, one enabling the other. Without history, without memory, without experience and emotion what is a place but other? And place, with its ability to thread the mess of a lifetime of experience in that one eternal second. This is partly a privilege of course, resulting from our ability to claim our place in stable, resilient communities. Communities that enable us to live and be in one place all our lives if we choose. Although we’ve faced many threats throughout history, here we are … yma o hyd, bustling but unmoving.
Looking forward I wonder what our communities will look like as survivors of our current challenges. As our communities’ tussle with the increasing swell and our heads are far below the parapet it is difficult to see it. That may well be my age, or the heavy scar of responsibility, heavier still on our weakened shoulders.
With many things, the straw that breaks the back is unexpected. One such straw – of many, which has highlighted this to me is the issue of changing the given names of our homes. It’s an issue that has come up many times before in our recent history so why again now in the midst of distress and uncertainty? Why does this matter, and why is the pain of losing these names a pain that crystallizes a need to resist so effectively? Here is a pure expression of the relationship of place and memory. A memory of a community, a nation. Memory that crosses generations. Through the name given to this place I am witness to the lived experience of my foremothers. Something as simple as a name changes our experience of living in our communities to be free from the oppression of time, to be timeless.
This is just one aspect of the power of a name for a place, a name for our place. We instinctively understand that a house or land, whether it be home or not, is a fundamental part of our communities and that their names place them there. Owning a house or land in terms of a capitalist, individualist open market is completely misguided in terms of home creation and the realities of the culture of our communities here in Wales. Between both understandings lies a forest of cultural, political, emotional, and moral conflicts. Home is not a financial asset but our place in our community. A community that sustains us, allows us this place. This is the real capital of a home rather than owning a house, not cash from one hand to another. We in turn are committed to maintaining our home’s capital by protecting the fragility of that which is integral to its name, to maintaining the history, language and identity of this place from the roots to the leaves. Back comes pride and the confidence that comes from being from somewhere stable, protecting the fragility of our soul. Could it be that the name of our place indicates our intention, our want, to maintain this relationship with the community of this place, our place? Wherever we started our journey this is our place now.
So how to address this issue fairly? The claim that we are neglecting issues that really matter must be rejected. Wales has changed recently; the Welsh have gained confidence that has not been seen for a long time. Denying our ability to respond to numerous and different threats at the same time is an expression of the oppression of our people. We are a complex society, like all societies, and protecting our heritage, identity, history and language is our right. Welsh is a language attached keenly to place. Regardless of which languages we speak – or not, if this is our place then Welsh is our language. Maintaining the given names of our homes is one way we can thread the memory of our communities over the chasm of time itself, and it is a privilege to maintain the richness of our communities, our history, culture and our love in this simple way.