Swiss History

“Dreaming of a Better Life”  Rene Lenzin

In her novel, ‘Ibicaba – Paradise in their Heads’, Eveline Hasler describes the way Graubunden village schoolmaster Thomas Davatz lived.  In 1855 he decided to emigrate with 265 others to try to build up a new livelihood in Brazil.  In the same way, thousands of Swiss men and women emigrated in the 19th century in order to try their luck across the ocean.

As in other European countries, the last century was an era of mass emigration.  The trend originated with the Napoleonic wars, followed by the famines of 1816/17 and 1845/46, and the introduction of mechanical weaving machines around 1840.  In view of the difficult situation throughout almost the whole of Europe, emigrants sought a better future mainly in North and South America, although some of them also turned to Russia under the Czars.  Between 1850 and 1914, about 400,000 Swiss left their country.  Most of the emigrants were from Ticino, the eastern Alpine valleys and central Switzerland.  Fewer came from the Swiss plateau and fewer still from the French-speaking region.

Experts today distinguish between two types of emigrants.  There was group emigration, mainly to America and often linked to the founding of Swiss associations or even settlements having Swiss names.  We tend, for example, Nova Friburgo in Brazil, New Glarus and New Bern in the United States and Nueva Helvecca in Uruguay.  Then there was also individual emigration by professional people seeking work.  Examples of the latter were Swiss doctors, governesses, dairymen and confectioners, who were particularly in demand in Russia.

Most of the time emigration was promoted by official bodies in Switzerland.  Municipal and cantonal authorities very often financed emigration in order to relieve themselves of their assistance obligation towards the poorer section of the population.  Right into the 1920s the federal government was still providing subsidies for those emigrating to Argentina, Brazil, Canada and France as part of the effort to bring unemployment down.

The dream of Thomas Davatz and those who went with him ended in a nightmare of slave-like penury on a Brazilian coffee plantation.  But for the majority of emigrants the Voyage into the unknown did in fact lead them out of the claustrophobic poverty of their homeland to a better life in the New World.


Translation from “Historisch-Biografischen Lexikon der Schweiz”

According to the “Historical-Biographical Lexicon of Switzerland” (HLBS), the Juons are connected to the Walser clan.  Research by Eduard Juon revealed that the Juon family name was evident in the 14th century in the village of Torbel.

A Johannes Juon is named as a clerk and witness at Brig on 12 Jun 1382 (Church archive of Naters).  Apparently the Juons came out of Torbel to Graubunden, to Safien and into Prattigau.

The grounds for these emigrations were primarily a shortage of land, which no longer supported the existence of the entire families with their many children.

Here we can refer to the research results from Robert Mc Netting.  In 1936 the population of Torbel was approaching 650 inhabitants.  Among those, no fewer than 138 had the Juon surname.

In the Walser colonies, Safien and Kublis, in which the Juon clan was widely spread, there are today only a few Juon resident.  Obviously the drive to wander has had its effect here.  Yet in Torbel, the source of the Juons, there are still a remarkable number of Juons still resident.


From the WorldWideWeb–Switzerland List member Pete Mattli:

Juon is a name held in high esteem by Walser ethnohistorians.  Juons figure prominently in the early history of Graubunden and Zinsli mentions the following Juon names in his “Walser Volkstrum”:  Andreas, Caspar, Eduard, Hans, Joshua, Konstantin, Luzius, Paul, Peter, Simon.

“Prattigau is the narrow valley embracing the Landquart River and extending from Landquart itself southeast to Davos and Davos-Platz.

Because it was originally settled by the Romansch people, many of the villages on the slopes of the adjacent mountains bear Romansch names.  The Free Walser mountain people have gradually replaced much of the Romansch influence since they first arrived from northern Piedmont and Canton Wallis in the 1400’s.  Today the valley people, both in the higher valleys and the main lower valley, are largely German-speaking.  Numerous summer holiday resorts are visible on the mountainsides and in the upper valleys.

Prattigau is mainly noted for its prime skiing areas.


Swiss Languages/Dialects:

It is easy to mix languages with dialects.  But they are not the same thing.  Switzerland has four official languages:  German, French, Italian and Romansch.

Swiss German is a collective name for all dialects in the German speaking part of Switzerland.  There are many different dialects of Swiss German.  It’s not a separate language.  Everywhere the written language is “Standard German”.

Maybe the main difference about Swiss German is, that these dialects are used mostly in “official” life.  Even in churches, offices, TV, radio (except news), etc.  The German speaking Swiss do use Standard German only in company of French and Italian speaking Swiss and foreigneers.

Some Swiss dialects are more related to foreign German dialects than to other Swiss German dialects.

Graubunden (Grisons) Switzerland


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