Eisteddfodau: The crown jewels of Welsh culture
The eisteddfod is probably the most widely and best-known expression of Welsh culture, other than perhaps the Welsh language itself. The Welsh word ‘eisteddfod’ (the plural being ‘eisteddfodau’) has no direct translation into English, but it refers to a festival of literature, visual arts and performance. There is typically also a competitive element, where participants perform in competition against each other for prizes.
There are many eisteddfodau taking place across Wales each year. Many of these are local affairs, being based in a particular town or village. Many schools also hold eisteddfodau for their students to compete in. There are also eisteddfods that take place in Australia, Argentina and the USA: places to which the Welsh have migrated and settled. The best known eisteddfodau are, however, the National Eisteddfod (Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru), the International Eisteddfod and the Urdd National Eisteddfod (Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Urdd Gobaith Cymru). The National Eisteddfod welcomes around 160,000 visitors every year and has been held in its current format since 1861, although historians are able to trace its origins back to 1176. This eisteddfod moves around Wales, usually alternating between north and south, and is conducted in Welsh. The International Eisteddfod, in contrast, is held annually in Llangollen and has a multilingual tradition, attracting approximately 120,000 visitors every year. Established in 1947, it focuses particularly on choral music, with performers coming to compete in the eisteddfod from all over the world. The Urdd National Eisteddfod (Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Urdd Gobaith Cymru), meanwhile, is an eisteddfod especially for children and youth. It normally takes place in May and, like the National Eisteddfod, moves around Wales to a different venue each year. All three are televised and together form a summer season of eisteddfodau that people may attend, compete in, volunteer at, or simply watch from home.
The purpose of this project, entitled “Investigation the Role of Eisteddfodau in Creating and Transmitting Cultural Value in Wales and Beyond”, is to investigate the cultural value of the eisteddfodau. The starting premise is that the value of an eisteddfod is much greater than simply its profit or loss-making status, or even its contribution to the local economy, although this can be significant. Rather, the eisteddfodau are valuable because they allow people, both from Wales and beyond, to be entertained, to use the Welsh language, and to connect with the cultural and artistic traditions of Wales. They also build up the cultural capital of the communities from where the audience members and contestants come, helping to bring those communities together, establish and maintain interpersonal relationships and to transfer life-affirming skills from one generation to the next. Eisteddfodau also help to transmit the character and cultural values of Wales to the rest of Britain and the world.
These cultural values of the eisteddfodau have rarely been studied, and it is the aim of this project to achieve an in-depth understanding of how they are generated, consumed and transmitted. Intercept questionnaires with almost 1,000 attendees to this summer’s eisteddfodau have already been conducted, with a view to gaining a broad understanding of the cultural values involved, how they are perceived by attendees and how they are consumed. This has been followed up with nearly 30 in-depth telephone interviews, with the aim of developing further knowledge on how people connect with the values connected with eisteddfodau. The next step is to conduct focus groups with eisteddfod attendees to discover how the cultural values are embedded in communities and transmitted to Wales, the rest of Britain, and beyond.
Speaking to eisteddfod-goers, it is already very clear to us that the eisteddfodau are widely regarded as iconic expressions of Welsh cultural values. To describe them as the crown jewels of Welsh culture would be no exaggeration.