Cowboys…Chilean style

Today marks the start of the long weekend where Chile celebrates it’s Fiestas Patrias – the national holiday commemorating independence from Spain. The holiday is known simply as “deiciocho” (eighteen) referring to 18 September 1810. It is a celebration focusing on traditional foods such as empanadas and choripan (sausage in a breadroll) and drinks such as chicha (sweet wine) and terremotos (a cocktail meaning earthquake, which will be the subject of a separate post). Everyone feels 100% patriotic and all the different aspects of Chilean culture are celebrated to the full. From the music and dances of the Altiplano in the northern Atacama Desert, to those of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and the south of Chile…and everywhere in between. September is definitely Chile at it’s best!!!

Last year I was away at the beach for the celebrations and so did not really focus on the cultural significance of Deiciocho. But this year I have decided to write various posts over the coming weekend looking at specific aspects…starting with “The Huaso“.

Far from the bygone days of the Wild West in the USA, in 21st Century Chile the cowboy still reigns supreme in the countryside. Huaso (pronounced Waso) is the name given to skilled horsemen from the central and southern zones of the country, who are often involved in cattle farming and more often then not take part in the Chilean version of the rodeo. I must admit that even though I had the opportunity to see a rodeo last weekend, I decided not to as I don’t really like the idea of men on horses rounding up calves by bashing them into the sides of the media luna (the enclosure used for the rodeo, which I know has a proper english name that I can’t think of right now).

But beyond their skills with cows and horses, huasos have also come to symbolise much of Chile’s folklore, especially in terms of the national dance cueca (see for more details). Thus in “el mes de patria” (September – the patriotic month), the huaso and all his attire are seen everywhere…even in the streets of the capital.

Last weekend there was some cueca dancing in my neighbourhood and this picture shows some huasos talking to their dance partners before beginning the dance. Note the cute little girl who danced cueca with her father.

The huaso outfit comprises of a number of things…as shown by the photos below.

1. Manta or chamanto

The chamanto is the poncho worn by the huasos and are generally red, black and white or various shades of brown. Apparently a good quality chamanto can take months to make and are woven from only the finest wool. I’m not sure if these chamantos on sale at a fonda (the name for the national holiday parties) are mass produced or not, but they looked pretty good.

2. Chupalla

The huasu hat is called a Chupalla which apparently is derived from Achupallas (a plant very common in the Chilean countryside). The hats were originally woven from this plant, however today they are made from a combination of Achupallas, wheat and other fibres. I like this form of a “cowboy hat” with it’s perfectly flat rim…it gives the huaso a sense of importance I think.

3. Espuelas

As skilled horsemen, the espuelas or spurs are a very important part of their attire. Some of the espuelas I have seen are huge and stick out at least 15cm behind the huaso´s boots. This is fine for on a horse, but I have no idea how they manage to dance cueca and not injure themselves.

With these essential items as well as few more, the huaso is ready to either participate in the rodeo or else partake in a bit of dancing…

Huasos in the medialuna

“Junior” huasos along with their chinas, the name for the “cowgirls” or dance partners in cueca.

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