Meet the Brazilian Gaucho!

By Awake! writer in Brazil

“THE Brazilian gaucho?” you might ask. “I always thought that gauchos were from Argentina.” That is true. But there are also gauchos, South American cowboys, in Uruguay, the country that lies to the north and east of Argentina. And if you visit Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil, you may well meet the gauchos who are there too. Whether they wear bombachas, gaucho trousers, and work with horses, cattle, and sheep on a ranch or not, today’s Brazilian gauchos may be different from what you expect. What do we know about their origins?

Colonization contributed to the gaucho identity. In the 19th and 20th centuries, waves of immigrants from Europe, eager to find a  place to live and work, settled in southern Brazil. They brought with them know-how in crafts and horticulture. Many immigrants became gauchos and developed a culture of their own. Their descendants still maintain many of the gauchos’ characteristics, such as their food, clothing, entertainment, and attitude toward work. Let’s first examine something that interests all of us​—food.

Not Only Churrasco and Maté

Do not expect to meet many gauchos here who are vegetarians! The gaucho’s main dish is undoubtedly the barbecue, or churrasco, of mutton or beef. This started as the main food source on the pampas, where the animals were herded. Unless your diet is vegetarian or your cholesterol level is too high, you may want to try a traditional rodizio, a variety of meats offered in rotation, at a gaucho-type restaurant or steak house. You may also want to try café colonial, a table filled with special treats and drinks, such as wine, tea, and coffee, from which you may choose. Definitely, the preferred drink is chimarrão, or maté, a tea brewed from the powdered leaves of the holly tree. Although it is bitter, you might see a gaucho sipping it at any time of the day, although this is especially likely after meals.

You may not like the tart taste of chimarrão. Without a doubt, however, you will enjoy the relaxed and friendly atmosphere that comes when savoring both chimarrão and churrasco with pleasant companions.

 The Gaucho’s Clothes and Music

The traditional bombachas, poncho, boots, wide belt, hat, and scarf go back to the days when the gaucho spent much of his time outdoors on the pampas, or grasslands. Explains Insight Guides​—Brazil: “The unique gaucho culture is the trademark of Rio Grande do Sul where swarthy cowboys roam the southern pampas with their distinctive flat hats and chin straps, their baggy pantaloon trousers, red neckerchiefs and leather boots.” On festive occasions, the attire of women in this region is usually colorful and modest. Visitors and gauchos alike appreciate the dances in traditional costumes. Yet, whether it is food, clothing, or entertainment, gaucho tradition is a mixture of cultures brought by immigrants not only from lands such as Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain but also from Greece, Japan, Lebanon, Poland, Russia, Syria, and Ukraine as well as African countries.

In an interview with Awake! José Cláudio Paixão Côrtes, who has studied gaucho costumes and dances for about 50 years, explained that the solitary gaucho developed a love of music. It is little wonder that the gaucho, often having only a horse as his companion, made singing and music a part of his life. Stringed instruments such as the banjo and the guitar were later complemented with the accordion. Unlike young men in other parts of the world, many young gauchos still prefer regional country music to modern types.

Gauchos also enjoy dancing. Even if a gaucho moves away from his home state, he remembers fondly his heritage of traditional dances. In addition to square dances, gauchos participate in such dances as the sword dance and a dance performed with three hurling balls, or bolas. These are made of clay, stone, or iron, tied together by loose leather cords. When working with livestock, a gaucho may throw these balls at an animal’s legs so that the cords entwine them and bring the animal to a sudden halt.

They Love Their Land

Gaucho culture and tradition are still preserved in the frontier region of Brazil bordering Argentina and Uruguay. According to one travel guidebook: “Across these windswept prairies, the pampas of legend, the gaucho cowboy still rides herd over the cattle and sheep that first brought wealth to Rio Grande do Sul.”

There is, however, more to these gauchos than the chimarrão and the churrasco. Being proud of the natural beauty and the variety of their land, some gauchos joke that when God created the earth in six days, he spent five days on Rio Grande do Sul!

Even if the gaucho lives and works in the city, he values his roots. His background, either as an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants, has contributed to developing such qualities as self-reliance, outspokenness, courage, helpfulness, and hospitality.

The gaucho often dreams of a former simple, pastoral life. Whether raised with cattle, horses, lassos, and bolas or with crops, such as corn, grapes, potatoes, rice, soy beans, and wheat, the gaucho is very attached to his land. Of course, grim realities such as poverty and prejudice affect his life. However, many gauchos who have studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly believe that the entire earth will soon become a peaceful paradise. You too can share that hope.​—Luke 23:43; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4.

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How to prepare two typical gaucho dishes


4 pounds [2 kg] beef, 2 1⁄4 cups [18 oz.; 500 g] pickling salt

Skewer the meat, and sprinkle it with salt. Place the meat on the fire. Keep the fatty side down until it browns; then turn it over. Make sure the beef has some fat, for as it melts, it penetrates the meat, making it tastier and more tender. Proceed the same way with pork, poultry, or lamb.​—Serves four.


18 ounces [500 g] of sun-dried beef, 1 3⁄4 cups [7 oz.; 200 g] chopped onions, 1⁄4 cup [2 oz.; 60 ml] oil, 2 1⁄2 cups [20 oz.; 600 ml] water, 2 1⁄2 cups [18 oz.; 500 g] uncooked rice, 2 garlic cloves chopped

Wash the sun-dried beef, and soak it in water for eight hours or so. Change the water several times during this period. Chop the beef into small pieces, braise it in a pan with oil, garlic, and onion. Add uncooked rice to the braised meat, and stir well. Add water, and bring the mixture to a boil. Then reduce the heat, and let the mixture simmer, stirring once in a while so that it will cook evenly. When the rice is done, fluff it with a fork and serve it with beans.​—Serves four.

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Rio Grande do Sul

[Credit Line]

Inset photos: M.A. Decusati

[Picture on page 26]

Dancing to traditional gaucho music