“Me hacés una gauchada?” – Spanish for “Can you do me a favour?”
The hero wanders of the Pampas. The romanticized lawless cowboys. The free-living legends of the Argentina society. Once nomad cowboys of the vast fertile grasslands. A horsemen envisioning himself as a centaur – a half-human, half-horse.
In the pampas town of Coronel Vidal in the province of Buenos Aires, there is to be found a proud gaucho culture. A culture awaking a sense of identity and nationalistic pride in Argentina. Close to Quinta Esencia, where Kulturstudier arrange trips, there is a bar and grocery store called “La Esquina de Arguás” from 1817. This is one of Argentinas oldest pulperías, and a meeting place where gauchos gather to have a drink (Quilmers or fernet) or do an asado (BBQ with beef).
“Between the country’s freedom and the abundance of beef, we stay with the abundance of beef”
Famous quote part of the gaucho lore, telling how the gauchos value individual freedom above fatherland.
Significantly, to be a gaucho also means to be a man. Is related to the “machismo” culture, and the women called “china” or “guaynaa” are excluded from the male gaucho society. The female responsibility are limited to biological reproduction, and historically to magic and healing activities.
The name gaucho is believed to come from Quechua, meaning orphan colt or calf. It is hard to determine their origin, but it all started with the Spanish founder of Buenos Aires, Pedro de Mendoza, who was the first to introduce 72 horses on the pampa in 1541. Apparently, the horses were freed on the vast plains when he had to escape, and less than 50 years later, it is reported that 12 000 of descendant horses were living in the region. As a consequence, the Indigenous learned to ride horses and their diet became based on horse meat. In this prehistory of the gauchos, they appear in drawings with a poncho and boleadoras, or bolas, a tool and weapon consisting of rounded stone-balls covered in leather and fastened to a rope to catch horses. But it was first when their women got sons with the Spaniards, so-called mestizos, that the first real gauchos appeared. The name for women, china, means a woman of indigenous origin with black straight hair and oblique eyes. These mestizos started serving the colonial ranches as horsemen – gauchos. In contrast to the landowner, the gaucho did not own land and had to work to earn for his living. What’s more, their long culture of drinking mate might be the strongest evident of their indigenous heritage as the hot tea originally was cultivated by the Guaranis.
The rise of a protagonist
Their recognition in Argentinian society was renewed during the War of Independence (1810 to 1818). The gauchos played a crucial role fighting within the cavalry ranks of the Argentine patriotic forces under Manuel Belgrano, Juan José de Castelli and José de San Martín against the royalist forces loyal to the Spanish crown. After the patriotic force declared independence, the gaucho appeared as the protagonist is gaucho literature, gauchoesque, a own literary movement reflecting their mentality and values. It is not written by gauchos as the name suggests, but rather urban patriotic authors “A singularly stringing looking set of men; generally tall, very handsome, but with the most proud, dissolute expression”, Charles Darwin wrote about his gaucho encounter in 1839. After the war, the gaucho started working for the wealthy estancias, ranches dedicated to breeding cattle, sheep and horses. When the gauchos mustered cattle and chased livestock they typically wore bombachas (baggy pants), the alpargata shoes of cotton (like TOMS), and a knife called facón placed in a belt one their back.
As of today the gauchos live in Brasil, Uruguay and Chile in addition to Argentina.
To understand more of their identity, read one of the most famous books about the gaucho – the 2316 line long “Martin Fierro” (1872) written by José Hernández. This is a part of it:
I was born on the mighty Pampas’ breast,
As the fish is born in the sea;
Here was I born and here I live,
And what seemed good to God to give,
When I came to the world;
it will please him too,
That I take away with me.
And this is my pride:
to live as free As the bird that cleaves the sky;
I build no nest on this careworn earth,
Where sorrow is long,
and short is mirth,
And when I am gone none will grieve for me,
And none care where I lie.
Like an ownerless horse the gaucho is,
That everyone may ride.
They break his back and they break his heart,
For life he must struggle from the start,
Like the tree that without a shelter grows On the wind-swept mountain-side.