Let There Be Cowboys - Gauchos Part 2
South America - Gaucho of Argentina, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil
The earliest Spanish settlers came to South America in the 1500’s. During this time, several territories were developed. A monarchy ruled, and there was wealth in mining silver and gold. Nobody knew that a revolution was slowly brimming; it would not come to pass until later. Meanwhile, life went on. Within the pampas (grass plains) of Argentina, lived a common folk who called themselves gauchos. They were, respectively, South America’s version of a cowboy.
Gauchos, of mixed Spanish and Indian blood, were loners and roamed the South American plains known as pampas early in the 1600’s. They traversed the pampas, which spanned south and west of Buenos Ayres. Imagine if you can, small streams of water meandering throughout the pampas, vast lands with hardly a tree in sight. The gaucho could be seen there wearing a style of pants called a chiripà - it had a diaper-like appearance, with a type of “legging” beneath the chiripà. Later, they adapted to baggy pants called bombachas. They also wore a colorful belt tied around the waist with tassels, a leather whip, ponchos, a wide-brimmed hat, and knee-high leather boots - typically a long, stretched piece of hide from an animal’s leg, with open heels and toes. The entire ensemble of the gaucho was called pilchas.
Cinturon, the dress belt, and facon (knife).
The gaucho and his family lived in small huts with thatched roofs. They etched a living by hunting and selling cowhides in European trade, and sometimes by working for an estancia (cattle ranch). They were poor and had little of value save for the major tools of their trade, the facon, favored by the gauchos for killing cattle or hunting, the bolas, used to immobilize animals, a lasso, spurs, saddle, and a horse. Most everything the gaucho owned derived from either the cow or the horse - their skins, skulls, and bones made a gaucho's transportation, their beds, their boots, their water buckets, and even strings from their guitars.
The tools of their trade were of utmost importance. If at all able, a gaucho would spend on only one extravagance: the tools of his trade: A gaucho relished having a silver mounted saddle and fancy facons. On special occasions, they wore a leather belt (cinturon) adorned with silver coins, the more, the better. Great care was embellished on the appearance of their horses which were groomed flawlessly. Essentially, the gaucho cared more about his horse and showing off than his own appearance. His hair and beard could be mussed, his clothing dirty, his home with primitive accessories, but his saddle, belt, knife, and horse were top priority!
Gauchos of Argentina (National Geographic)
A simple life
Even gaucho relationships were simple. Most often, they did not bother to marry but had common law wives who raised their children. They ate whatever they could when their bellies demanded food, sometimes, a sheep or even the head of a serpent. Most often, however, they ate beef, for they killed cows often enough. The meat, asado, would cook slowly over an open fire, served in chunks with the skin still attached. The gaucho used no forks, but fingers. Spoons and drinking cups were merely carved gourds.
For relaxation, they enjoyed strumming the guitar and singing and were fond of drinking liquor. Their sports revolved around horses, favoring racing, or the ring-game where, on a horse, going at full speed, one had to pass a long stick through an iron ring hanging from a cord.
The Ring Game
The Gaucho's place in society
Gauchos, known for killing cows for leather, and caring not how many they killed, gained a poor reputation. Around the mid 1600’s, the Buenos Aires government began to keep a close watch on their actions, but circumstances did not improve, and around 1715 when the headcount of cattle became low, the government finally bore down on them, causing the Gauchos grief. Still, they did not cease, but their actions slowed considerably.
Excerpt from "El Gaucho Martin Fierro"
I have known this land where the citizen lived and his ranch was and his wife and children ... It was a delight to see and he spent his days. 24 So ... when the star shone in the holy sky, and roosters with their singing They told us that the day came, the kitchen rumbiaba
the gaucho ... a charm. (English translation from Public Domain: http://www.gutenberg.org/). Produced by The Digital Library Argentina, formatted by Mariano
Gauchos assist in the fight for Independence from Spain
In 1810, Argentina revolted against Spain for independence. The gauchos, needing new direction and purpose, joined in the war efforts. They were formed into military groups headed by a “caudillo”. Their willingness to help in the war efforts improved their image greatly, for their reputation had hit rock bottom and their ability to sell hides for leather, began to diminish.
Another opportunity opened for gauchos. Ranchers, also known as patrons, found that they were skillful in managing cattle and that they could handle harsh conditions. The nation's new demand for beef made cattle ranching an important and successful industry, so the patrons needed as much help as they could get. Something new had come to the horizon and it made a major impact on the beef industry: the process of using salt to cure meat.
Those who cured beef called themselves saladeros. They processed it into dried meat called tasajo, a type of jerky. This growing trade proved valuable because dried meat was easier to transport and store. Eventually, tasajo became a staple food until the discovery of refrigeration in later decades.
Social and economic standards changed life for gauchos. Their services fell to obscurity, but in the same course, they became legends, idolized in songs and literature, as in the epic poem, “El Gaucho Martin Fierro” by Jose Hernandez.
Those who still call themselves gauchos carry on tradition and still tend to the same chores as their predecessors. They continue to respect the past, and in Argentina, on June 16, a holiday commemorates the gauchos’ role in the War for Independence. There are still festivals,dances and traditional foods and customs. There is honor in the name, gaucho.
Gauchos survived harsh, yet humble beginnings. Their economic status and callous reputations preceded them, but did not prevent them from the winds of change. They traversed and labored, proving themselves worthy of the future reverences they had not known would come. Their legacy, endeared by many, has secured its place in history, and if every new generation has its way, that legacy will never die.
Modern Gaucho Festivities
"Wanderers of the Pampas" - Gauchos of Argentina, Uruguay & Southern Brazil, Vol 3.