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Gaucho (Spanish: [ˈɡautʃo]) or gaúcho (Portuguese: [ɡaˈuʃu]) is a resident of the South American pampas, Gran Chaco, or Patagonian grasslands, found principally in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Southeastern Bolivia, Southern Brazil and Southern Chile. In Brazil, gaúcho is also the main demonym of the people from the state of Rio Grande do Sul. In the Argentine pampas gauchos are the main workers on an estancia. Their duty is to herd cattle all year round. They are excellent horsemen. They also use different types of weapons like the bola and lassos for herding cattle.
Gaucho is an equivalent of the North American "cowboy" (vaquero, in Spanish), the Chilean huaso, the Cuban guajiro, the Venezuelan or Colombian llanero, the Puerto Rican jibaro, 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 plays a nationalistic symbol in both 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.
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 Quechua word huachu (orphan, wanderer), or 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.
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), an herbal infusian made from the leaves of the yerba tree, a type of holly rich in caffeine and nutrients.
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. During winters, gauchos wore heavy wool ponchos to protect against cold.
Gaúcho is also the common denomination of the current inhabitants of the Brazilian State of Rio Grande do Sul.
The Gaucho is the mascot of University of California, Santa Barbara.
Un alto en el capo (1861) by Prilidiano Pueyrredon.
Folklore dance: Zamba, Argentina. Gaucho.
Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil in typical Gaucho outfit.
A Chilean gaucho herding sheep.
Brazilian gaucho with typical clothing on 2006 Farroupilha Parade.
Argentine gauchos in the city of Salta.
Modern typical party of Gaúchos in Porto Alegre.
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