A Llanero or the Llaneros is the name given to Venezualan and Colombia cowboy and means "plainsmen". The Llanero take their name from the Llanos grasslands occupying western Venezuala and northeastern Colombia. The Llanero were originally part Spanish and Indian and have a strong culture including a distinctive form of music.

Llaneros defended King Ferdinand VII until 1814 when Ferdinand returned to his throne in Spain. In 1819 an army of Llanero led by Simón Bolívar and José Antonio Paéz defeated the Spanish with a surprise attack when they crossed over the Orinoco plains and Andes mountains.



Prior to Spanish settlement in 1548, the Llanos was occupied by indigenous groups. Andalucian monks established settlements close to Indian villages and accomplished conversion through a mixture of persuasion and force.

The Spaniards started to graze cattle on the grasslands of the llanos and the Llanero were originally a mixture of Spaniards and Indians. Indeed, Llaneros still use many terms dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. From 1640 to 1790, outlaw slaves lived in cumbes or outlaw slave communities and and intermarried with the Llanero.

By the end of the 18th century, the region exported 30,000 mules a year to the Antilles and salted meat for the 1.5 million slaves there and Cuba. There were 1.2 million cattle in the area by 1815.

When the Wars of Liberation started, the Spanish enlisted the Llaneros playing on their dislike of the criollos of the independence movement. Bolívar realised that the plains was critical to success in the wars of liberation as they offered freedom of movement as well as the capacity to feed his army.

He therefore sought to enlist the Llanero to his cause and gradually succeeded by enduring the same hardships as they did – the Llaneros called him "culo di hierro" or iron butt for his endurance on horseback.

The Llaneros led by Paéz proved crucial in Bolivar's campaign. After leading his forces including the Llanero troops over the eastern Andes, Bolívar won a critical victory at the Battle of Boyacá on August 7, 1819. Three days later, he captured Bogotá in what was the turning point of wars of liberation.

The Llaneros would also prove to be vital in future battles in the campaign. Paèz's Bravos de Apure or lancers were again critical in the Battle of Carabobo on June 21, 1821 allowed Bolivar to capture Caracas. Paéz would become the first President of Venuezela.

During the 1850's, a hide boom stimulated the local economy. A boom in great egret feathers in the early 1930's in Europe led to them being called white gold until the trade was banned.

Llanero culture

Cattle form an important part of Llanero culture. There are 12 million cattle on the llano. During the year, the Llanero have to drive cattle over large amounts of ground. During the winter wet season, the Llanero have to drive the cattle to higher ground as the poor drainage of the plains means that the annual floods are extensive. Coversely, they have to drive the cattle towards wet areas during the dry summer. The Llanero show their skills in coleo competitions similar to rodeos where they compete to drag cattle to the ground.

Llanero music is distinctive for its use of harp, the maracas and a small guitar called a cuatro. The joropo, a Llanero dance has become the national dance of Venezuela. While Llanero music is relatively unknown outside of Venezuela, the musical group Los Llaneros have toured throughout the world.

Llanero cuisine is based on meat, fish, chicken, rice, arepas and other starches although wheat is not used. Llanero Ken, a doll dressed in the distinctive Llanero costume including a customary starched hat has become a popular doll in Venezuela.

North American usage

The Spanish also used the term to describe the nomadic tribes of the Llano Escotado of Texas and New Mexico and was applied to the Apache in particular.

In Spanish, The Lone Ranger is known as el Llanero Solitario.

See also

Further reading

  • Richard Slatta, Cowboys of the Americas, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1990
  • Donald Mabry, Colonial Latin America, Llumina Press, 2002

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