Pigüé, which means 'gathering place' in Mapuche tongue, is home to a community originally coming from Aveyron. It is located where two chains of hills meet, the Cura Malal to the west and the Bravard to the east. But Pigüé would never exist as a town were it not for Clément Cabanettes, a man born in 1851 in the small village of Ambec, commune of Lassouts near Saint-Côme in Aveyron. Cabanettes, then 33 of age, organized the voluntary exile of forty poverty-stricken farming families (as in "groups of relatives") from the surrounding Espalion, Gabriac, Naucelle (a few kilometres from Baraqueville), Aurelle, and Saint-Geniez d'Olt to name but a few, to South America.
Having left Rodez, by train on October 23, 1884 and reached the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina on a combined steam, and sailing-ship called Belgrano from Bordeaux (October 25) some 38 days later, they arrived at the brand-new railway station of what would become Pigüé on December 3, 1884. The "Aveyron colony", reminiscent of the Mayflower subsequently welcomed more immigrants from the Rodez area and eventually became, after a very unlucky and ruinous start, one of the most prosperous settlements in the Pampas. Around 20,000 people now live in and around Pigüé, in the Buenos Aires district of Saavedra, some 584 kilometres south-west of Buenos Aires.
Second Lieutenant Cabanettes had initially travelled to Buenos Aires in 1879 where he'd been hired to drill Argentine troops. In the following year he started the first telephone company in the country, "El Pan Teléfono" (sometimes also "La Pantelefónica"), before resigning for mutual incompatibility with the board. He then moved to Olavarria and worked in the wheat-harvesting machinery business. That is when he thought of bringing fellow countrypeople from Aveyron to the Pigüé area where he'd just bought 270 square kilometres of land, which the Government of the Buenos Aires Province had sold him for a derisory sum in recognition of his services. Cabanettes instantly fell in love with the place: it reminded him of his native Aubrac. With the financial help and persuasive know-how of his friend Eduardo Casey, Cabanettes managed to have the Pigüé station added to the planned railway line of Ferro Carril Sud. They also had accommodation and a huge grain elevator built for the future settlers, plus a well dug.
Cabanettes returned to Aveyron where his friend François Issaly had already started promoting the Pigüé colony, offering each settler two square kilometres of land to cultivate for the next six years on condition that they gave half of their harvest to the community. At the end of this trial period, the settler would receive a title deed, whatever the value of the crops they'd shared over the six years. All the settlers were asked was a 5,000 Francs contribution for the purchase of cattle, seeds and machines, but it turned out that many actually never paid the full price, which left Cabanettes even more indebted to Casey, whom he had borrowed money from. Given that unemployment was ripe in and around Rodez following massive job cuts in the Decazeville's coal mining industries, overpopulated rural areas and the phylloxera crisis (1882-1890), Cabanettes's idea aroused some interest. Meanwhile, the Aveyron press grew hostile to Cabanettes's project, accusing 'the adventurer' of exploiting poor people's misery and painting in glowing colours a most dangerous place full of ferocious and vicious exotic beasts.
On October 23, 1884, families left Aveyron by train from Rodez, later on embarking on the ship Belgrano at Bordeaux, en route for Argentina. They reached Buenos Aires on November 30, then Pigüé on December 3 and 4, 1884.
Despite these initial difficulties, the 163 colonists, who also comprised a teacher, a blacksmith, a cartwright, a priest and a tradesman, were found and brought to Pigüé where they enthusiastically started cultivating the land, although the first harvest of wheat was quite disappointing. The farming techniques were obviously the ones used back home in Aveyron but these were not the best options with much different climate, relief and soil. The second year was even worse, with drought from the month of March through September. Some sowed maize and potatoes on top of the corn, fearing nothing would come out at all. However, heavy rains fell in autumn, which proved enough for all crops to grow, providing for a mediocre harvest. Still, the settlers kept the faith and none returned to France. On the contrary, more arrived. 'The promised land' was well worth the sacrifices, according to letters they sent to their relatives. "Monsieur Cabanettes cannot be accused of promising more butter than bread".
On the third year though, finding himself unable to repay Casey as planned, Cabanettes asked and obtained a twelve-month extension of due date. But this was not enough for Pigüé to make profits and Casey first decided, as his contract allowed him to, to repossess all land but eventually changed his mind and chose to grant Cabanettes an extra 50,000 pesos instead, thus wiping his friend's slate clean. The whole colony, facing growing difficulties despite breeding more bovine cattle than sheep now, turned out to be a complete failure and the Government of Buenos Aires finally bought back the settlement at the price of naked land, ignoring the buildings and crops, and leaving Cabanettes with no benefits and glory.
Clément Cabanettes got married a second time, moving on to Buenos Aires where he created a bathhouse business. He would try again, multiple times, creating agricultural colonies with no success at all.
Clément Cabanettes died on July 14, 1910 at Buenos Aires. He was 59.
Cabanettes and Casey died even poorer than the families they saved and gave back hope to but their generosity and blind perseverance ensured that Pigüé remains to this day a grateful piece of Aveyron in South America.
A statue of Clément Cabanettes sculpted by another Aveyronnais emigrated in Argentina, Numa Camille Ayrinhac born at Espalion in 1881 and deceased at Buenos Aires in 1951, was erected in Cabanettes's memory at Pigüé.
Numa Ayrinhac emigrated to Argentina with his family when he was 4. They set their residence at Pigüé and Buenos Aires. He started his artistic career with Ernesto de la Cárcova at Buenos Aires. With him Numa would travel back to France to join the Paris Académie des Beaux Arts. He often exhibited at the Salon de Paris and participated in several art competitions of the time. Member of the Société des Artistes Français, Numa earned prestigious awards in pictorial art.
During WWI, he got severely wounded on the battlefield.
He was a talented portraitist, painting the then jet-set, so much that he got requested by President Juan Domingo Perón, several times, to portrait his wife, Evita, and members of his family and the presidential couple.