The term “gaucho” refers to the traditional cowboys from South America. These occur in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, commonly in the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
They are often in traditional clothing and make their living by running ranches and working with the horses, sheep and cattle.
The gauchos of Brazil have formed a culture of their own, complete with its own cuisine and a characteristic love of the land of South America.
These cowboys were originally from the European settlers that arrived in Brazil in the mid 15th century. Upon exploring this mysterious continent, they discovered lush, fertile land and sprawling landscapes that were yet to be occupied. They flocked to the land with the intention of colonising it and achieving political ownership, thereby increasing their global power and occupation. Of these original settlers, many formed a true love for the land as they cultivated and cared for it.
Gaucho portrait from south Brazil on 5000 Cruzeiros Reais Banknote.
They did not follow the general air of development and, later, industrialisation. Rather, they focussed on farming and caring for the livestock, valuing their roots and the abundance of Brazil. Because they did not move in the same circles or at the same pace as the other colonialists over the centuries, the gauchos soon formed a culture of their own, remaining distinct to this day.
Due to the nature of their lives and work, the diet of the gauchos comprises plenty of meat, which is barbecued. Today, gaucho restaurants still offer a variety of delicious meat dishes in keeping with tradition. The barbecue style of meat is called churrasco. Common meats on the gaucho menu include poultry, mutton, beef and pork. Maté, a bitter tea, is another favourite that can be enjoyed at any time of day, regardless of how hot the summer sun is. It is made from the leaves of the Holly Tree, which are first powdered and then allowed to brew in hot water. Coffee and wine are also often enjoyed by gauchos.
The gaucho attire is remarkable and distinctive. It is characterised by wide pantaloon trousers, a flat hat with a chin strap, a poncho draped over the shoulders, a wide belt and comfortable boots.
A neckerchief may also be worn. This combination provides the ideal protection from the harsh elements of the outdoors, where gauchos spend the vast majority of their time. Gaucho men and women have created songs and dances, which they sometimes perform for tourists in colourful traditional dress.
The forms of entertainment have been influenced largely by the European cultures of their forefathers, which gives them a fascinating depth and complexity. However, because the original gauchos were often solitary travellers traversing the plains with their horse and cattle, they would create their own songs, telling the tales of personal experiences. Some of these have been carried down through the ages and generations, and are deeply moving.
The love that gauchos have for their land is evident in their common humorous saying, “When God created the earth in six days, he spent five days on Rio Grande do Sul.”
Today, poverty and prejudice threaten the integrity of the traditional life and customs of the Brazilian gauchos. Some are being forced to pursue homes and jobs in the cities, leaving (to a large degree) the pastoral life of their forefathers behind them.