Gauchos en Argentina
by Mikael Myrhed Schyllander

Gaucho History (1)(2)(3)
The Gauchos were a people living on the pampas, from the Patagonia region in Argentina to Paraná (a state in Brazil) and east of the Andes mountain range. These people were not living in the growing cities or urban centers, but rather on the great plains of this region as nomads, which the meaning of the word “Gaucho” shows. There are different theories to where the word “Gaucho” comes from. Some say it is from a native South American language called Araucanian, where “cauchu” means wanderer. Others claim that it is from the language Quechua, where “huachu” means orphan/vagabond. The origin of most Gauchos in Argentina was “criollo” (meaning Latin Americans of Spanish or Portuguese descent) or “mestizo” (meaning a mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry).

Map of Argentina, showing the great pampas region where the Gauchos lived

Some of the Spanish settlers’ horses and cattle escaped during the colonization of Argentina and went on to live and breed on the great plains of the pampas. The gauchos took advantage of this and used the horses for transportation and the rest of the cattle as a source of food and clothing. The Gauchos were (and are!) considered to be very proficient horse riders – a skill in which they take lots of pride. Typically, the horse was most of what the Gaucho owned. The Gauchos' proficiency in riding (as well as the Argentines' general interest in sports) is also reflected in the sport Pato in Argentina, which is played on horseback.

Another important trait of the Gaucho is that he was considered to be a good soldier, especially during the wars of independence and during the civil wars. This had to do a lot with his great horse riding skills. The Gauchos knew the terrain very well, were very mobile warriors and knew how to survive in the unpopulated pampas region. When the Spanish troops marched into northwest Argentina, a gaucho army led by Martín Güemes resisted their advance with harassment attacks.

Dramatization of Gauchos fighting

Later on in history, the gaucho life became tougher. Many laws limiting the “vagabond” life (such as passport requirement) were set during the 19th century and the Argentine national army limited the opportunity the roam freely in parts of the pampas region and some parts of the region was settled. Sometimes the Gauchos even went to Indian territories to avoid the new settlements.

Gaucho Poetry (2)(5)
There are many similarities between the North American “cowboy” and the Gaucho. They are both seen as strong, honest and silent but able to use force if necessary. One difference is that there is a feeling of melancholy associated with the Gauchos (and not with the cowboys). The Gaucho represents a romantic image of the past, where freedom and living in the wild are important features. Living only with his horse and cattle, and being able to live outside the civilization, the Gaucho is seen as a very independent and strong character. These characteristics are all portrayed in Gaucho poetry.

Painting of a Gaucho and his horse, which symbolizes independence and freedom

Symbolically, the Gaucho is very important in terms of nationalism in the pampas region, especially for Argentines. The most famous Gaucho poem is “Martín Fierro,” written by José Hernándes. In this poem the Gaucho stands for national tradition as opposed to the new European trends (that came with the Spaniards) and is a symbol of independence and standing up against corruption. Martín Fierro is the hero drafted into the Argentine army who deserts and starts living as an outlaw. The freedom achieved is glorified and so is the ability to stand up for one’s rights.

Gaucho Food (2)(4)
The Gaucho food differs from the many other types of dishes of the Argentine cuisine, mainly due to the nomadic nature of the Gaucho life style. The cattle that has been available for the Gauchos has definitely had an impact on their food. One of the most important components of the Gaucho cuisine is beef. The cattle was a reliable source of nutrition and has followed the Gaucho history as the main part of a complete meal. Another very important part of a Gaucho meal is the “yerba mate,” a sort of tea based on herbs with lots of nutrients and caffeine (like many South American types of coffee) which is consumed with a metal straw called “bomba” and prepared in a bowl called “cuia” (made from the “porongo” tree).

Picture of a cuia and a bomba used for preparing and consuming yerba mate

Another important part of Gaucho food is the Carreteiro Rice. Its rather Portuguese sounding name reflects that it is also very popular in Brazil. This dish comes from the south of Argentina and is made with rice, onions and “jerked” meat. This type of meat is salted and dried which used to be the only way to preserve meat, especially in the open plains, and has been a convenient (yet delicious) ingredient in the Gaucho cuisine.

Image of the dish Carreteiro rice

Gaucho Clothing (2)(3)
Further comparing the Gauchos and the North American Cowboys, you find differences in their clothing. A typical dress used by Gauchos is the “pilcha,” which is composed by the “bombachas” (pants for men) and the “prenda” (the dress for women). The bombachas were initially British imports and made in Turkey. Another important part of Gaucho clothing is the “bolas” which is three rocks bound together with three foot long leather straps. They also wear a “poncho” (large blanket-like jacket) which was also used as a saddle and as a sleeping comforter. The Gauchos often bring their “facón” (large knife) along with the rest of their clothing and it is considered to be part of the clothing itself. All of these features examplifies the vast differences between the Gaucho clothing and the clothing fashion in the rest of the Spanish speaking world.

Picture of bombachas drying in the sun


1. University of Notre Dame. “The Gauchos: Horsemen of the Pampas.” 2002. The O’Grady Collection. 15 Nov. 2009. <>

2. Vento Hargano Churrascaria. “Gaucho Tradition.” 17 Nov. 2009. <>

3. “Gaucho.” Wikipedia. 13 Nov. 2009. <>

4. The Pan American Union. The Tea of South America. 1916. Kessinger Publishing, LLC. 10 May. 2009.

5. Hernandes, José. The Gaucho Martín Fierro. State University of New York Pr, 1 May. 1975.

All images aquired from Google Image