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Gauchos, their lifestyle and history

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Typical gaucho riding a horse Boots and working attire Gauchos herding cattle
The Gauchos

A gathering where they eat asados "asado al asador"
Starting work in early hours
Gauchos taking a break and enjoying some mate

Rare facts about argentine cowboys

They've been called the wanderers of the Pampas. Gauchos have been known to wander the countryside as early as the 1600's, time in which the 'flatlands' were overpopulated by 'cimarron' cattle, brought to South America by Pedro de Mendoza in 1538.

At that time and through many centuries, cow leather was one of most traded goods between the old world and the colonies. The main importance of cattle was not the meat but the leather obtained from it.

Since the commercial value of a cow was narrowed to such item once slaughtered, cows posed no interest except for gauchos who would use as much of it as possible feeding themselves.
They would quickly cook the meat in an open fire before it turned bad. This habit of gauchos was considered rather unwelcomed and unhealthy and added a further negative note to their already low reputation.

Eventually, after many many decades the habit of grilling meat 'the gaucho way' -in an open fire-, turned into a national passtime: cooking asado.

Gauchos belonged to the countryside. They would be the ones who were familiar with all intricacies of the land and their animals, as well as the life of the natives they would fight. Gauchos would gather together in "vaquerias" for hunting purposes.

In hunting trips they would be armed with 'boleadoras' -a 3 hardrock leather balls tied to a rope- that they would use to stop animals from running away. Then, Gauchos would cut the tendons of their legs with a sharp half-moon shaped iron device. And thus, they would constantly struggle to survive.

By 1620, gauchos were known to cause many troubles and were the subject of attention from the 'Cabildo', the Buenos Aires based government organization. The actual concern was not so much themselves, but the economic consequences of their behaviour.
Slaughtering animals without consideration would soon put at risk a highly valued staple, the leather.
Making matters worse, natives would also be involved in the slaughtering for the same reasons gauchos were doing it.

By 1715 Europe's heavy demand of leather was taken a toll on 'cimarron' cattle head count, which was reaching a low point. Therefore, the government took action against gauchos, further underestimating their potential.

The word 'gaucho' came into existence for the first time in 1790 to describe a very rough individual, with heavy manners, that would travel alone, sometimes with a woman, having as his only baggage, a knife called 'facon',

Gauchos and The Pampas

boleadoras and a 'lazo' to hunt. The term in the begining was so derogatory that it wouldn't be part of public statements from the Federal Government, even when gauchos were fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Criollos against the domination of the Spanish Crown. By then, Gauchos' reputation seemed to have hit bottom...

Very slowly, their image started a transformation. By joining the resistance movement against Spain they started to gain some respect. In particular in provinces like Salta, were their services were strongly needed. Gauchos would gather under a charismatic figure, a 'caudillo' , that would organize them in a military unit. A later development in the economy was of great help to further their image. With the discovery of the salt and the development of 'saladeros' it was now possible to make better economic use of cattle in general. Meat had become now as valuable as leather. Gauchos were in a good position to put to work all they had learned by themselves in those lonely moments living in close contact with animals. Soon, commercial ranches dveloped that needed managers to control cattle production. Noone could do a better job than the gauchos. Thus, they were now being seen as a valuable element of the whole domestic scene.


By the time the fiction story "Don Segundo Sombra", taking as a model for his 'gaucho' book real characters from the town San Antonio de Areco. Ironically, further developments in the economy, relegated gauchos once again to the backburner and were quickly becoming extinct. Strangely, their disappearance from the local scene coincided with their highest point in history. At the time the novel was published, gauchos had become a Myth...and nowhere to be seen.

Today, Gauchos enjoy much recognition and perform valuable tasks. They do exist and can be seen in many villages or towns in the countryside carrying themselves with a well deserved pride. There was a long period of darkness after the novel had been published but as much as Tango and other Argentine traditions, gauchos emerged as they usually did in the past, overcoming prejudices to consolidate their 'revival'. They are a definite symbol of argentine history and every citizen regards them highly.

Regarding Gauchos' dance with "boleadoras":
Typically, there are three or more Gauchos on stage where they bounce the boleadoras in a circular motion hitting the floor with one of them at a time. The "boleadoras" follow the beat of the music or the rhythm of the "bombo drum”, and the "zapateo" (gaucho’s tap dance). The Gaucho’s hand clapping leads the compass of the tempo, the variations, and the accentuation of the beats on the floor. This creates a certain "rythm" and since there are several Gauchos hitting the floor, they combine the sounds to create something spectacular, that also looks very dangerous for they bounce the boleadores at high speed. All the while they continue to tap the floor with their feet (boots). This is called "malambo".

From the presentation of Gauchos' group dance " Sol Argentino" in Luna Park.

A dance with boleadoras
Watch boleadoreas dance
Drums and malambo music
drums and malambo
A solo drum

Folklore dance

Malambo dance


Other resources: Argentine Facts: Gauchos and Another interesting article on Gauchos by Gonomad.com. More malambo videos and malambo origin. Pictures across this site are courtesy of each individual Province House and of the Argentine Secretary of Turism.