This article describes the South American cattle herder. For the insecticide trade name see Gaucho (insecticide). For the Steely Dan album see Gaucho (album).

A gaucho is a South American cattle herder, the equivalent to the North American "cowboy" in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and (with the spelling "gaúcho") southern Brazil, and formerly the Falkland Islands. Like the word cowboy, Venezuelan llanero, or the Mexican vaquero, the term often connotes the 19th century more than the present day.

There are several conflicting theories of the origin of the term. It may derive from the Quechua "huachu" (orphan, vagabond) or from the Arabic "chaucho" (a type of whip used in herding animals). Other hypotheses abound. The first recorded uses of the term date from around the time of Argentine independence in 1816.

Gauchos were generally nomadic and lived on the pampas, the plain that extends north from Patagonia, bounded on the west by the Andes and extending as far north as the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. Most gauchos were either criollo (South Americans of Spanish ancestry) or mestizo (of mixed Spanish and Native American blood), but the term applies equally to people of other European, African, or mixed ancestry.

The gaucho plays an important symbolic role in the nationalisms of this region, especially that of Argentina. The epic poem Martín Fierro by José Hernández used the gaucho as a symbol of Argentine national tradition, in contradistinction to Europeanizing tendencies and to corruption. Martín Fierro, hero of the poem, is drafted into the Argentine military for a border war, deserts, and becomes an outlaw and fugitive. The image of the free gaucho is often contrasted to the slaves who worked the northern Brazilian lands. Further literary descriptions can be found in Ricardo Güiraldes' Don Segundo Sombra and Los gauchos judíos, by Alberto Gerchunoff, on the adaptation of Jewish immigrants to rural life in Argentina.

Like the North American cowboy, gauchos are generally reputed to be strong, silent types, but arrogant, and capable of violence when provoked. There is, perhaps, more of an air of melancholy about the classic gaucho than the classic cowboy.

Also like the cowboy, the gauchos were great horsemen. Typically, a gaucho's horse constituted most of what he owned in the world. During the wars of the 19th century in the Southern Cone, the cavalries on all sides were composed almost entirely of gauchos.

Gauchos dressed quite distinctly from North American cowboys, and used bolas (three leather bound rocks tied together with approximately three feet long leather straps) in addition to the familiar "North American" lariat or riata. The typical gaucho outfit would include a poncho (which doubled as saddle blanket and also as sleeping gear), a facón (short, double edge sword), a rebenque (whip), and loose-fitting trousers called bombachas, belted with a tirador, or a chiripá, a piece of cloth used in the fashion of a diaper. Several of this items were British imports into the area; for example, bombachas were originally made in Turkey.

Gaucho is also the common denomination of the inhabitants of the Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul, and the term is used to identify numerous groups of people who live in other states of the southern half of Brazil. For those people evoking this denomination usually has the purpose of expressing the pride one has for its origins as immigrants to untouched lands and for the hard-working nature it represents.

Gauchito (a boy in the Argentine colors and a gaucho hat) was the mascot for the FIFA World Cup Argentina '78.

See also: Hacienda system


es:Gaucho it:Gaucho pt:Gaúcho


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