Argentine Cow Boy : The Gaucho from Argentina

The gaucho in Argentina, a free man in the Pampa

The gaucho is somehow the cowboy of Argentina, but also of Uruguay and south of Brazil. He is the one who takes care of cattle on the endless Pampa fields.

The values held: bravery, honor and freedom

The gaucho is somehow the cowboy of Argentina, but also of Uruguay and south of Brazil. He is the one who takes care of cattle on the endless Pampa fields. He has given birth to a whole culture of traditions, rituals, dress style, gastronomy, etc.
The gaucho appears in the times of the Spaniards colonization. Either Spaniard or Spaniard and native –mix raced- born, the gaucho works on his own means hunting wild cattle to sell the skin and fighting against the native people who resist the conquest. With the appearance of the great estancias the gaucho started to care for cattle, perform slaughters, and prepare skins as well as to carry out horse taming.

Gauchos on their horses, Rincon Socorro

In the 19th century, during the wars for independence, this low-estimated nomad earned noble titles by joining the liberation armies. Being brave, good horse rider, and a land expert, he proved to be a valuable soldier.
The gaucho is an iconic figure that represents the values of bravery, honor, and freedom of the rural man. It will later be considered a romantic character due to the success of the Martín Fierro by José Hernández or Don Segundo Sombra by Ricardo Güiraldes. The gaucho evokes a glorious Argentina that used to feed the whole planet. The gaucho is still somehow a myth in the Argentine collective imaginary.

Apparel that fits a life style

The term gaucho comes from the Quechua “huachu” meaning orphan or homeless. Solitary, a freedom lover, and even antisocial, the gaucho has a rustic and simple life, sleeps on the floor and lives on asado and mate.
In the 18th century, the territory around the Río de la Plata was large and wild cattle abundant enough for the gaucho to live by his own means. When the gaucho decided to permanently stay at a place and have a family, it would build a ranch of adobe walls and straw roof. The bed would be made up of an outstretched cowhide.

Gaucho working in Andes

The apparel wore by the gaucho is still used at present on certain celebrations, for instance, in San Antonio de Areco: leather boots (or canvas sandals) with spurs, baggy trousers fitting into the boots, a wide shirt, woolen belt and another belt that is ornamented with coins and a beautiful clasp to which a dagger is attached, a short vest, a jacket, a neckerchief or headscarf, a hat with wide brims or a beret, a whip, a lace and a woolen poncho to protect from the cold and when sleeping out in the open or folded over the left shoulder in the summer season.

Horse and guitar, his two best partners

The gaucho used to carry various knives: one to eat and work, and the facon knife to fight. Without his horse, the gaucho would not be what he is. The kids learnt to ride in their early childhood and had no fear to tame and train wild horses in their adolescence.
The bolas, and instrument used for work and as a weapon made up of two or three long leather straps ended in stone balls, hanging from the belt, were used to hunt and for some skill games. When thrown to the legs of an animal, the bolas –a native people’s invention- would tie up the animal securely.

Transmision del conocimiento gaucho

The guitar is the permanent partner of the gaucho. The most inspiring are the poets, singers and payada singers that delight everyone with songs that make people laugh and cry. They also used to dance the cielito, gato, mediacaña, etc. The gauchos used to gather at the pulperías, those general stores selling a wide range of articles proper of the rural areas. The pulpero used to serve food from behind a grille, to be protected from eventual fights. Other ways to get entertained were: card games (truco), cockfights or bareback riding.

The current gaucho has changed the horse for a 4×4 pickup truck and left the traditional clothing just for celebrations, but still preserves it culture and cares for cattle. The gaucho has a national holiday on December 6.

To read :
– The Argentine Gaucho Confederation webpage which gathers several gaucho culture preservation and promotion associations.
– The Argentine Gaucho Tradition webpage

Argentina Excepción suggests visiting some circuits to discover the life and culture of the gaucho:
Estancias and gauchos of the Pampa and Northwestern Argentina
Estancias and Córdoba, rural and cultural circuit
Estancias and gauchos from Southern Patagonia