The Argentinian Gaucho

Celebrating an iconic rural figure

By Ephemera documentary

Angelo Chiacchio

The Argentinian Pampa (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The cowboy of The Pampas, the Gaucho, is Argentina’s national symbol of masculinity.  Gaucho culture has come to define this vast grassland region in South America. 

The traditional gaucho way of life revolves around caring for livestock. For gauchos, the equestrian way of life is second nature. But globalization has fueled the modernization of farming throughout South America. And no one knows the next chapter of the gaucho legend. 

Driving in the Pampa (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

In November 2018, photographer Angelo Chiacchio - in his journey to the world's most fragile places and cultures - spent a week visiting a gaucho and his family near Chascomús, Argentina. 

Morning in the Pampa (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

By 6 a.m., sunlight begins to reflect off a small lake near a farm in The Pampas. 

Gaucho milking cow (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

José Luis always wakes up before sunrise. He milks his cows every morning in preparation for breakfast. 

Argentinian gaucho with his cattle (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

José Luis is a true Argentinian gaucho. He makes his living solely by handling livestock that graze on a large swath of land owned by his employer. 

Argentinian gaucho with his lasso (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The tools of his trade seem to come right out of a movie script. All he needs to catch a sheep is his lasso and galloping horse.  

Gaucho Painting by Frank ScherschelLIFE Photo Collection

Historically, gauchos were skillful, nomadic horsemen. Typically of mixed Spanish and indigenous lineage. These rugged spirits have long had a reputation for bravery, charming unruliness, and surprising generosity.  Today, their numbers are in decline.  

Portrait of a gaucho (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

José Luis seeks to preserve the traditional gaucho ways.  

Gaucho family portrait (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

He inherited both his name and vocation from his late father. José Luis wore traditional gaucho clothes on his wedding day. His father-in-law, Amilcar, is a gaucho too. 

Old gaucho taking care of the cattle (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Amilcar is retired, but never misses a chance to visit his daughter and ride with José Luis. 

Portrait of old gaucho (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Even Amilcar’s horse knows that this is where Amilcar belongs.  

Gaucho accessories (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

A belt of leather and metal (“rastra”), a knife and a whip (“rebenque”) are standard gear for any authentic gaucho.   

Old gaucho taking care of cured meat (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

The gaucho diet is largely based on meat from pigs, sheep and cattle that are born and raised on lands upon which the gaucho works. 

Gaucho training his trupilla (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

A gaucho’s horses are a central part of his identity. At the end of the work day, José Luis focuses on training his trupilla for a local show.

Gaucho training his trupilla (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Argentinian Gaucho grooming his horse (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

"Today you see farmers running across their land with quads. I think a horse is essential to the work of a real gaucho. That's why I take care of mine better than my car."

Young gaucho (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

José Luis’s passionate fidelity to his gaucho roots seems to have inspired his son.  After a long day at school, you will see the boy wearing his gaucho hat and bombachas trousers. 

Argentinian Gaucho at sunset (2018) by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Conclusion

Being a Gaucho in Argentina is not merely a job.  It is a way of life with its own rich culture. More and more, regional farms are replacing traditional ranching methods with technology and modern farming techniques.  These modern methods are eliminating the traditional roles of the gaucho.  If the gaucho rides off into the sunset for the final time, he will take with him a vital part of South America’s heritage. 

Terra by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

Partnership by Angelo ChiacchioEphemera documentary

This story was created with the support of Art Works for Change, a nonprofit organization that creates contemporary art exhibitions and storytelling projects to address critical social and environmental issues.

Credits: Story

Written, shot and produced by Angelo Chiacchio
Copy editing: Al Grumet, Rajesh Fotedar

With the support of: Google Arts & Culture, Art Works for Change

Thanks to: Marcelo Chiacchio, José Luis Agüero and his family, Colino Molfese, Carla Molfese, Tony Molfese. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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