The Gaucho

A legendary icon of the culture of the Pampa, the gaucho still exists in the countryside of Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina.

The gaucho Antônio Pinto in
southern Brazil in the 1950's.

The southern part of South America, more specifically Uruguay, Argentina and Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost Brazilian state, share similar culture and traditions. The region is known to be home to the gaúcho, an almost folkloric character of the Pampas, flatlands of the southern continent. Amongst the traditions of the gaúcho, the cooking of meat is one of the most important and popular. This type of food is known as the churrasco, in Portuguese, or asado, in Spanish.

Joaquim Pedro Salgado and Gaspar Silveira
Martins were important politicians in Rio
Grande do Sul.

The gaúcho is described by Félix de Azara as a "a colonial bootlegger whose business was contraband trade in cattle hides", he goes on to say that "his work was highly illegal; his character lamentably reprehensible" and "his social standing exceedingly low". After many years, the gauchos grew in number and "grew to a power which won fear, and even admiration". According to historian Dr. José Fachel, the gaúcho was seen as a dangerous person and was feared by many. He did not have a home and wandered from ranch to ranch working in exchange for food and a roof to sleep under. The gaúcho's ethnicity is very mixed. Still according to Fachel, the gaúcho is predominantly south american Indian, most likely from the Guarani, Minuano, Charrua and Xavante tribes, mixed with African slaves and European imigrants from Spain and Portugal.

In the XVII century, European Jesuits went to South America to Cathecise the local indians. They settled around the region that now is Paraguay, north of Argentina,south of Brazil and Uruguay, where they built missions, also known as reductions. The missions were relatively succesfull and the largest had a few thousand indians living there. The Jesuits taught the natives agriculture and imported from Europe cattle to help in labor, pulling carts and plowing fields. Auguste de Saint-Hilaire, an European adventurer that traveled the pampas in the XIX century, wrote in his journals that he came across a woman that had lived with the Jesuits and spoke very fond of them. "Amongst the indians, I saw only one woman that had lived with the Jesuits, and she pronounces their names with profound respect; many Guaranis hear their parents or grandparents speaks of the Jesuits saying that when they were in charge of the region, it was a time of happyness".

After the Madrid treaty, in 1750, signed between the Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, the missionaries in Rio Grande do Sul refused to leave the region and move to the other side of the Uruguay River. The treaty set the borders between the two kingdom's lands and the missions had to stay in Spanish territory. The indiand revolted and a war, known as the Guaranitic War, broke, that only ended after the Portuguese destroyed the missions in 1756. After the war, many indians were left with no home, and the cattle was free to roam the land. These homeless indians became the first gaúchos and after 150 years, the wild cattle had spread throughout the vast pampa, becoming an important source of food for the wandering gaúchos.