The Argentine Gaucho

(Photo by tim ellis)

The gaucho is one of the few local characters which the national culture has adopted as truly Argentine. Allthough the origins of these nomadic cattle herders is ambiguous it is generally accepted that they appeared after colonization as the offspring of Natives with Europeans. A few things characterized this new generation of locals; one was their skill riding horses and handling cattle, another was their nomadic nature. They were also proficient with knives, boleadoras and guitars and many of them were payadores, which means they recited poetic stories about their lives to the strum of the guitar. It is the gauchesque payadas that led to the posterior gauchesque literature that was key to transforming the Gaucho into an emblematic national character.

The image of the gaucho was not always positive. For a long time they were considered to be outlaws and rebels, and as social castaways they were readily sent to fight the civil wars. Once the wars were over, there was no place in society for gauchos, so they were culturally resignified. The parallel influx of immigrants to the city had created a need for a national identity, and for the countryside to become appealing as it was the land that needed to be populated. Amidst this context, gauchesque literature, which portrayed the life, tradition and used the language of the gauchos, found its perfect place. From then on, through the local literature of emblematic authors such as José Hernandez who wrote the famous Martín Fierro, Leopoldo Lugones who wrote La Guerra Gaucha and  Ricardo Güiraldes, who wrote Don Segundo Sombra, amongst others, the gaucho acquired a mythical place in society.

Popular literary adaptations to film were also made from gauchesque novels, completing the insertion of this rustic character into the Argentine culture. Some noticeable examples are Juan Moreira adapted to film by Leonardo Fabio, Los Hijos de Fierro, which makes a parallelism between Peron and Martin Fierro, by Pino Solanas and Don Facundo Sombra adapted to film by Manuel Antín.

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