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Gaucho (Spanish: [ˈɡautʃo]) or gaúcho (Portuguese: [ɡaˈuʃu]) is a term commonly used to describe residents of the South American pampas, Gran Chaco, or Patagonian grasslands, found principally in parts of Argentina, Rio Grande do Sul in the south of Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, eastern and southern Bolivia and Southern Chile. In Brazil, gaúcho is also the main gentilic of the people from the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Gaucho is an equivalent of the North American "cowboy" (vaquero, in Spanish). Like the North American word cowboy, the Chilean huaso, the Cuban guajiro, the Venezuelan or Colombian llanero or the Mexican charro, the term often connotes 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.
There are several conflicting hypotheses concerning the origin of the term. It may derive from the Mapuche cauchu ("vagabond") or from the Quechua huachu ("orphan"), which gives also a different word in American Spanish, guacho and Brazilian Portuguese gaúcho. The first recorded uses of the term date from around the time of Argentine independence in 1816.
The gaucho plays an important symbolic role in the nationalist feelings of this region, especially that of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The epic poem Martín Fierro by José Hernández (considered by some the national epic of Argentina) used the gaucho as a symbol against corruption and of Argentine national tradition, pitted against Europeanising tendencies. Martín Fierro, the 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 are found in Ricardo Güiraldes' Don Segundo Sombra. Like the North American cowboys, as discussed in Richard W. Slatta, Cowboys of the Americas, gauchos were generally reputed to be strong, honest, silent types, but proud and capable of violence when provoked. The gaucho tendency to violence over petty matters is also recognized as a typical trait. Gauchos' use of the famous "facón" (large knife generally tucked into the rear of the gaucho sash) is legendary, often associated with considerable bloodletting. Historically, the facón was typically the only eating instrument that a gaucho carried.
Also like the cowboy, as shown in Richard W. Slatta, Cowboys of the Americas, gauchos were and remain proud and great horseriders. 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. In Argentina, gaucho armies such as that of Martín Miguel de Güemes, slowed Spanish advances. Furthermore, many caudillos relied on gaucho armies to control the Argentine provinces.
The gaucho diet was composed almost entirely of beef while on the range, supplemented by yerba mate (erva mate in Portuguese), a tea made from the leaves of the yerba tree, a type of holly rich in caffeine and nutrients. Argentine cooking draws influence from the simple recipes used in gaucho meals.
Gauchos dressed quite distinctly from North American cowboys, and used bolas or boleadoras - in Portuguese boleadeiras - (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 a saddle blanket and as sleeping gear), a facón (large knife), a rebenque (leather whip), and loose-fitting trousers called bombachas, belted with a tirador, or a chiripá, a loincloth. In the wintertime, gauchos wore heavy wool ponchos to protect against cold. Nowadays, working gauchos are as likely to be found in overalls and wellington boots as in their traditional dress.
Gaúcho is also the common denomination of the current inhabitants of the Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul.
Un alto en el capo (1861) by Prilidiano Pueyrredon despicts the Argentine rural life of that time
Folklore dance: Zamba, Argentina. Gaucho.
Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil in typical Gaucho outfit.
A Chilean gaucho herding sheep.
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