The Epic Task: The Porvenir rodeo


- Publicidad -spot_img

Text: Ilan Greenfield

Photography: Jorge Vinueza, Juan Pablo Verdesoto, Yolanda Escobar

Twice a year, the Andean cowboys south of Quito take part in a rodeo to classify and identify their herds. Ñan sent our poncho-clad reporters to bring back the story.

As soon as he was born, the chagra was wrapped up in blankets and taken out into the windswept wilds of Cotopaxi. Sheltered from the wind, but feeling the clear mountain air trickle down into his bones, the chagra discovered the spirit of the wilderness that gave him light.

At ten years old, he had already mastered the lasso and rode along, recognizing his horse’s footsteps, internalizing his father’s movements, whom he followed respectfully.

Being a chagra is much more than a way of life, it is an act of existence, it is being part of the páramo.

In the heart of the chagra heartland

The rodeo at Hacienda El Porvenir takes place twice a year at the foot of mounts Cotopaxi and Rumiñahui. In this scenic site —only a small part of what used to be, in colonial times, over 100,000 hectares of Jesuit land —chagras, Andean cowboys, get together to enact one of the most important events in their calendar.

Being a chagra is much more than a way of life, it is an act of existence, it is being part of the páramo

They bring with them the silence of months on end spent in remote mountains to honor this time of joy and reunion, this happy meeting of lives lived against the wind, on horses, through the great lonely fields of the highland páramo.

Perhaps there is no better place to identify the chagra at work—perhaps no other event exemplifies the chagra’s true character and passion—at least that is what one feels when witnessing Hacienda El Porvenir’s rodeo weeks in June or December.

An almost mythical figure

The word chagra comes from Inca times, depicting a farmer, a worker of the land. The arrival of the Spaniards would make such a figure a necessary part of colonial production, soon focusing his attention and skills to life on the ranch.

Jesuits were among the first to bring cattle to the territory of Ecuador, and Hacienda El Porvenir, one of the first places to own cows. In the chagra’s work and life, we witness a legacy of centuries.

At his quiet mountain home, he adjusts his chaps (zamarros), large sheets of leather that protect his legs from the scratches of highland thorns, the cold and the rain. The proudest chagras use goatskin with its longer fur and elegance.

They dress in layers and further cover the whole with a traditional woolen poncho.

Spurs are required, because as reliable as their horses may be, reactions must be immediate in the field. A classic hat lends the whole a special identity and protects the wearer from the intense equatorial sun. The saddle is Western in style, specially padded with wool in order to endure better seven hours of the horse’s motion.

The word chagra comes from Inca times, depicting a farmer, a worker of the land.

Chagras are highly regarded for their horsemanship by visitors from abroad. The saddle ready, the cinches and stirrups adjusted, he mounts his horse and heads out.

Getting ready for the rodeo

At Hacienda El Porvenir, the hacienda’s owner and the mayordomo, or chagra in charge, await. They explain the rules.

They are further accompanied by the best, most skilled chagras: determined and obedient horsemen who assume the challenges and responsibilities of their mission with solemnity. Lower grade cowboys and novices who have never taken on a rodeo before, who want to prove their worth, perhaps learn from the best, must call in, in advance, to participate.

Another close encounter with the chagras of the area is the Rodeo at El Tambo —which takes place three times a year—during which you can experience several days of rural lifestyle, staying at the local homes amid music, food and all that makes up mountain culture in the Cotopaxi heartland. Also take a chance to discover the great volcanos “back country”.

And on with the show

The hacienda’s owner and mayordomo are the first to ride off to the land’s limits. The steep and irregular terrain forces a measured ride of “little steps”, whistling into the wind, since whistles ward off the evil spirits.

Once the territory is marked, the mayordomo, usually a highly experienced, almost legendary chagra, bellows to kick off the event. Chagras herd the calves, cows and bulls that have been grazing in the wilds of Cotopaxi for months, flushing them out from gullies and woods, displaying their amazing abilities on horseback, with their lassos aloft, guiding the cattle to the meeting point of the rodeo, a corral that for now lies far away.

As the day progresses, the chagras start bringing in the dominated herds in towards what they call a “bomba”, which, as it narrows, makes sure the beasts continue forward. This work becomes more and more accurate and difficult as the bomba becomes smaller, reaching what could be called a collective trance, where each participant must concentrate deeply.

The very last stages of the rodeo are the most important. Any mistake, mistimed movement or failure in teamwork might cause the animals to scatter or escape, ruining what has been achieved up to that point: a day’s worth of work.

The aim is to identify and mark the cattle. Each animal is classified as it passes through rustic wooden channels, offering a raw encounter between Man and animal that usually impresses those who witness it for the first time. The rodeo then ends in celebration.

Unlike other events of cultural significance, such as the Paseo del Chagra (Chagra’s Parade) that takes in different towns in the area, the rodeo is not so much a festival as a highly authentic activity in the life and times of the chagras. While it is one of the moments of greatest excitement in the austere lives of these emblematic protagonists of this rural world, it is also a vision of the best of their attributes: their instinct, organization, technique, endurance and the art of performing the most important task of the year, the “epic task”.

Previous article
Next article

Artículos Relacionados

- Publicidad -

Artículos Recientes

- Publicidad -

También podría interesarte
Recomendado para ti