From a distance you see him galloping across the plains. You imagine his silver belt buckle, his worn Levis and his pointy-toed boots. His horse is probably named “Lucky.” But then he comes closer and you see that rather than blue-jeans, he is wearing wide-legged bombachos and a heavy woolen poncho. Instead of a pistol he carries a facón, (a long sharp knife).
Gaucho is an equivalent of the North American “cowboy” (vaquero, in Spanish), the Chilean huaso, the Peruvian chalan, the Cuban guajiro, the Puerto Rican jibaro, the Venezuelan or Colombian llanero, the Ecuadorian chagra, the Hawaiian Paniolo, and the Mexican charro, which are terms that often connote the 19th century more than the present day; then, gauchos made up the majority of the rural population, herding cattle on the vast estancias, and practicing hunting as their main economic activities.
The Gaucho is a nationalistic symbol in both Brazil Argentina and Uruguay. The Gauchos became greatly admired and renowned in legends, folklore and in literature and became an important part of their regional cultural tradition. Beginning late in the 19th century, after the heyday of the gauchos, they were celebrated by South American writers.
“THE Brazilian gaucho?” you might ask. “I always thought that gauchos were from Argentina.” That is true. But there are also gauchos, South American cowboys, in Uruguay, the country that lies to the north and east of Argentina. And if you visit Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil, you may well meet the gauchos who are there too. Whether they wear bombachas, gaucho trousers, and work with horses, cattle, and sheep on a ranch or not, today’s Brazilian gauchos may be different from what you expect. What do we know about their origins?
Colonization contributed to the gaucho identity. In the 19th and 20th centuries, waves of immigrants from Europe, eager to find a place to live and work, settled in southern Brazil. They brought with them know-how in crafts and horticulture. Many immigrants became gauchos and developed a culture of their own. Their descendants still maintain many of the gauchos’ characteristics, such as their food, clothing, entertainment, and attitude toward work. Let’s first examine something that interests all of us—food.
Not Only Churrasco and Maté
Do not expect to meet many gauchos here who are vegetarians! The gaucho’s main dish is undoubtedly the barbecue, or churrasco, of mutton or beef. This started as the main food source on the pampas, where the animals were herded. Unless your diet is vegetarian or your cholesterol level is too high, you may want to try a traditional rodizio, a variety of meats offered in rotation, at a gaucho-type restaurant or steak house. You may also want to try café colonial, a table filled with special treats and drinks, such as wine, tea, and coffee, from which you may choose. Definitely, the preferred drink is chimarrão, or maté, a tea brewed from the powdered leaves of the holly tree. Although it is bitter, you might see a gaucho sipping it at any time of the day, although this is especially likely after meals.
You may not like the tart taste of chimarrão. Without a doubt, however, you will enjoy the relaxed and friendly atmosphere that comes when savoring both chimarrão and churrasco with pleasant companions.
The Gaucho’s Clothes and Music
The traditional bombachas, poncho, boots, wide belt, hat, and scarf go back to the days when the gaucho spent much of his time outdoors on the pampas, or grasslands. Explains Insight Guides—Brazil: “The unique gaucho culture is the trademark of Rio Grande do Sul where swarthy cowboys roam the southern pampas with their distinctive flat hats and chin straps, their baggy pantaloon trousers, red neckerchiefs and leather boots.” On festive occasions, the attire of women in this region is usually colorful and modest. Visitors and gauchos alike appreciate the dances in traditional costumes. Yet, whether it is food, clothing, or entertainment, gaucho tradition is a mixture of cultures brought by immigrants not only from lands such as Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain but also from Greece, Japan, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, Syria, and Ukraine as well as African countries.
In an interview with Awake! José Cláudio Paixão Côrtes, who has studied gaucho costumes and dances for about 50 years, explained that the solitary gaucho developed a love of music. It is little wonder that the gaucho, often having only a horse as his companion, made singing and music a part of his life. Stringed instruments such as the banjo and the guitar were later complemented with the accordion. Unlike young men in other parts of the world, many young gauchos still prefer regional country music to modern types.
Gauchos also enjoy dancing. Even if a gaucho moves away from his home state, he remembers fondly his heritage of traditional dances. In addition to square dances, gauchos participate in such dances as the sword dance and a dance performed with three hurling balls, or bolas. These are made of clay, stone, or iron, tied together by loose leather cords. When working with livestock, a gaucho may throw these balls at an animal’s legs so that the cords entwine them and bring the animal to a sudden halt.
They Love Their Land
Gaucho culture and tradition are still preserved in the frontier region of Brazil bordering Argentina and Uruguay. According to one travel guidebook: “Across these windswept prairies, the pampas of legend, the gaucho cowboy still rides herd over the cattle and sheep that first brought wealth to Rio Grande do Sul.”
There is, however, more to these gauchos than the chimarrão and the churrasco. Being proud of the natural beauty and the variety of their land, some gauchos joke that when God created the earth in six days, he spent five days on Rio Grande do Sul!
Even if the gaucho lives and works in the city, he values his roots. His background, either as an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants, has contributed to developing such qualities as self-reliance, outspokenness, courage, helpfulness, and hospitality.
The gaucho often dreams of a former simple, pastoral life. Whether raised with cattle, horses, lassos, and bolas or with crops, such as corn, grapes, potatoes, rice, soy beans, and wheat, the gaucho is very attached to his land. Of course, grim realities such as poverty and prejudice affect his life. However, many gauchos who have studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly believe that the entire earth will soon become a peaceful paradise. You too can share that hope.There are several hypotheses concerning the origin of the term. It may derive from the Spanish term chaucho (in turn derived from Arabic chauia which means herdsman). The first recorded use of the term dates to Argentine independence in 1816. Another scenario indicates the word may derive from the Portuguese gaudério, which was designated to the inhabitants of the vast regions of Rio Grande do Sul and Río de la Plata in the 18th century or the Portuguese garrucho that points to an instrument used by the gauchos to trap and hamstring cattle. Another possible origin of the word could be from the he Moorish word hawsh which was possibly used to designate the shepherd and the wanderer, pointing the possible influence of Moorish immigrants in the Gaucho region. The 18th century chronicler Alonso Carrió de la Vandera speaks of “Gauderios” when it mentions the Gauchos or “Huasos” as poorly dressed men.
Rodizio Food & tradition
The gaucho diet is composed almost entirely of beef while on the range, supplemented by yerba mate, a tea made from the leaves of the yerba tree. Whether it is an asado on a Rodizio, roast meat and vegetables in an horno, or a disco stew simmering over a simple fire in the campo, gauchos are renowned for their skill cooking with fire.
Churrascaria is a restaurant serving grilled meat, many offering as much as one can eat: the gaucho move around the restaurant with the skewers, slicing meat onto the client’s plate. This serving style is called espeto corrido or rodízio, and is quite popular in Brazil.
Gaucho Brazilian restaurant Dallas Blue Charcoalbutton