History of Gauchos in Argentina
Just as North America has its cowboys, wranglers and ranch hands handling cattle, sheep and riding at the Rodeo, Argentina has its own particular breed of men called “Gauchos”. Gauchos are regarded rather differently than their North American counterparts.
Regarded by ranch owners (estancias are the Argentinian equivalent of the American ranch) with respect and reverence, Gauchos were, and to a degree still are referred to as “Don”.
Historically the Gaucho era came to a close in the 1800s as work in the estancias declined meaning many gauchos moved to to the towns and cities to find work. However the decline did not mean the end, as many gauchos stayed on and some stay on a particular ranch for extended periods, earning a fixed wage. Others are mobile, moving from place to place to earn a wage for casual work like mending fences and other maintenance work, whilst still retaining their status and customs.
Typical dress of a gaucho would be a poncho, a great coat for winter and Bombachas which are baggy trousers. Above the trousers would be worn a Chiripa which is skirt-like. A Rasta is a wide belt embellished with silver coins and completes the authentic gaucho dress. The gauchos weapon is a Facon, a long knife which is considered an extension of his arm.
A Retenque would be carried which is a whip, also their lasso made of leather, whereas their America counterparts the cowboy would carry a lasso made of rope.
The role of the modern gaucho encompasses entertainment as well as working on an estacion with cattle and sheep. Tourists visiting the estacion would enjoy a traditional lunch asado of barbecued beef, sausages and typical Argentinian delicacies accompanied by a local wine and local extras such as the amazing spicy flavoursome chimichurri sauces to get the gastric juices going! Later guests enjoy the entertainment of their hosts horse riding skills, roping cattle and maybe a trip into the Pampas in a “sulky”, which is an open carriage. This is the perfect way to allow lunch to digest whilst enjoying the magnificent hospitality of their hosts.
Some Gauchos who are musically gifted may play the guitar and also a “charango” which is similar to a lute made out of the shell of an armadillo. Highly skilled gauchos bring down animals with a set of 3 balls on a rope, these are called “boleadoras”, this was practiced by the original indigenous gauchos. It is fair to say that this is more art than a practice.
Gaucho Rodeo “Jineteada”
Apart from the impromptu rodeos in the estancias, gauchos have organised events where you would see typical local bow-legged men in their Bombachas, hats, and colourful kerchiefs accompanied by their “chinas”, their women by their sides. The Jineteada are a good excuse for a fiesta of eating, drinking and singing/dancing. Again, the magnificent quality of the beef is unsurpassable, as are the local wines. An extra helping of chimichurri sauce doesn’t go amiss either!
Gauchos are able to show off their riding skills by taking on wild horses (riders are called Jinetes) winners are judged by their peers – their jury.
Interestingly, only about 10 in every 1000 people attending a Jineteada are tourists, illustrating that the Gauchos are indeed alive and well in Argentina.
However, a famous Scottish man called Robert Cunningham (born in 1852) was sent by his father to Argentina to a property he owned to “make him a man”. In later years he returned to his native Scotland, and founded the Scottish Labour Party.
It is said that “being a Gaucho is in the blood” and it is, but Don Robert became a successful Gaucho despite that!