The Last Thatcher in Wales
‘They thought they were giving us a gift’ he said, ‘but they really took something away from us when they forced those cinderblock houses and corrugated metal roofs onto us.
This is the beginning of a story that I heard an older man, Martin Prechtel, from Guatemala speak of when recounting part of his youth in remote and rural part of the country. He was telling of a time when modern missionaries, in the guise of doing something good – giving ‘permanent housing’ to the people that they took something away.
‘It used to be that the walls and roofs were made of branches and leaves and bundled grasses and that when one would rot away, or fall, of blow away…then the whole community would come together and gather the plants and sing songs together and feast together and lay down prayers. This might happen a number of times each year. When we were forced to live in these new houses to be saved from what the moment missionaries called ‘all that work,’ one of the consequences of this was that we no longer saw our neighbors and our village as much or interacted in the same way. It made it harder for us.
In Wales Alan Jones of Newport, Pembrokeshire is one of only three traditional thatchers left. These men who make and remake roofs with local straw. He’s currently looking for someone or someones who he can pass the craft onto. Pass on what he might know about the grass and reeds of Wales and how they grow.
He’s confident that someone will show up. Someone who is interested in traditional crafts but also wants a life on the road.
Let’s pray that this person shows up because wouldn’t it be good for such a thing to go on.
But the truth of the matter is that it isn’t assured to go on. In Guatemala those ‘permanent houses’ gave birth to a kind of forgetting which is a deeper kind of loss. The kind of loss where things are erased and you never really even know you had them. You could easily imagine that Mr. Jones doesn’t find his proper apprentice and then he has to retire. And the last few houses that need thatching can’t get them repaired so they spend their money on a new modern roof and then in twenty or thirty years thatched roofs are on postcards – the place where all culture goes to die…the four by six colored card sold in gift shops.
Which is all to say that for these old path ways to survive, and they all won’t, I assure you that they must be fed and fanned like any dying ember.
And so this is a kind of love letter to you for being interested in Primal Derma and keeping a little bit of one old ember going a bit longer for the sake of keeping something fine in the world.