Peasant Autonomy
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Story 58

The pampas of Argentina – 1916

My padrino

Amazing, how much I am indebted to Don Segundo Sombra, my padrino, my mentor, my guardian. Five years now I have been a gaucho, a cowboy. Everything I know, and everything I can do, I owe to him.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Antoine Hubert)


I remember very well when I saw him for the first time in my village. I must have been about twelve years old at the time, and had dropped out of school. I was roaming the streets, catching fish in the small river which I sold to the innkeeper, and getting up to some mischief with my pals. Until I saw that big tough man on his splendid horse, with his lasso and big hat. At the inn I heard what his name was, and that he was going to the estancia, the big ranch, of Don Galván to look for work.
In the night I snuck out from home, and walked to the estancia. There, I got some work: picking up garbage with a pony, and a hundred other chores. Much to my joy, Don Segundo was hired also, to break a few wild horses. What authority he had over such a powerful animal. How he managed to saddle it, and then to sit down carefully but confidently on his back. How supplely he absorbed the bucking and jumping and managed to stay in the saddle. How he let the horse spend its fury till it was completely exhausted, to then impose his will on it.
At supper I tried to make some small talk with Don Segundo. But that was not easy, because he didn't say much. Still, I sensed that we had a connection. Gradually his affection for me grew. When after a few weeks the horses were tamed and he moved on, I asked him if I could go along with him.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: David takes photos)


For five years now I have been with my padrino. He has taught me everything: how to catch wild horses with a lasso, how to saw off the horn of a bull that is growing almost into its eye, how to treat an inflamed hoof with herbs, or sick kidneys by laying on warm mud. He helped me gather a gaucho outfit: a herd of six horses, a big poncho to protect me against rain and cold, and a belt to support me while riding for days. Patiently he taught me the special skills of horse breaking, and explained to me how to avoid fights in bars. I learned everything, truly everything, from him, down to the most marvellous gaucho songs and the movements of gaucho dances.


The charming novel Don Segundo Sombra (1926) from the Argentinian writer Ricardo Güiraldes finely portrays the gaucho life.

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