Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gauchos, Argentina's Cowboys

Argentina has always held a special fascination for me - members of my family have visited on more than one occasion, and often list it as one of their favorite places in the world. It's home to the bustling metropolis of Buenos Aires, but it also features the desolate terrain of the pampas, or South American grasslands, as well Patagonia, a very rugged region in southernmost South America, where the Andes end and the land stretches out towards Antarctica. It seems like a fascinating and hauntingly beautiful place, and I was really excited to receive this postcard showing the traditions of the gauchos of Argentina.

Gauchos can be compared in many ways to the more well-known cowboy figure of the American West. Like the cowboy, gauchos are more a fixture of the 19th century than today, yet they represent their national spirit even today, just like the American cowboy. Gauchos are traditionally viewed as strong, honest, silent types, but proud and capable of violence when provoked. Also like cowboys, gauchos were nomadic cow herders, and made up the majority of
the population in the rural southern areas of Argentina and the "southern cone" of South America. Gauchos were also known as great horseriders, and his horse often constituted most of what he owned in the world. During the wars of the Southern Cone in the 19th century, almost the entire cavalry on both sides were composed of gauchos.

Gauchos ate almost entirely beef while out on the range, supplemented by yerba mate, an herbal tea-like drink rich in caffeine and nutrients. Gaucho dress was considerably different than that of the North American cowboy, consisting of a poncho (which doubled as a saddle blanket and sleeping gear), loose-fitting trousers called bombachas, which were belted with a tirador. They carried a facón (large knife), a rebenque (leather whip), a lariat (aka lasso) and sometimes bolas, three leather-bound rocks tied together with three-feet-long leather straps.

Take a look at this short two-minute video to catch a glimpse of the lifestyle.


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