During a particularly crisp morning, the rustic aroma of sizzling beef wafts across the grounds of the Parque de Eventos Isaqui Miranda de Bocaina do Sul. An elderly woman mixes a bowl of potato salad whilst her husband rides across the field on horseback. A freshly brewed cup of chimarrão is passed around, a gesture of welcome to recently arrived guests. The 2nd Torneio de Laço, a rodeo organized by CTG Fronteira Bocainense do Birique, has just begun, drawing participants from around the area to the rugged town of Bocaina do Sul.
Whilst the rest of his family prepares the campsite, Marcus Melo and his cousin Vinicius Silveira take turns training around a wooden calf, a practice dummy for the upcoming tournament events. Melo twirls the coiled rope and flicks his wrist, throwing the lasso around the vaca parada (“standing cow”). At only 14 years old, Melo has already participated in more than 100 rodeos and has earned two first place trophies. His passion for laçar (the act of lassoing) places him in the footsteps of a long line of gaúchos, the original settlers of the southern plains of Brazil. “My father used to lasso and I want to continue his tradition.”
A conservative sentiment permeates gaúcho culture, encouraging families to promote traditions amongst younger generations. The desire for historical authenticity inspired several clans to form the Movimento Tradicionalista Catarinense (“Traditionalist Catarinense Movement”) in 1973. According to MTG-SC, it “has the objective of uniting the Centros de Tradições Gaúchas (“Centers of Gaúcho Traditions”) … and to preserve the nucleus of formation and philosophy of the Traditionalist Movement.” The organization offers cultural events and supports literature related to ranch life in order to spread awareness about the gaúcho legacy. MTG-SC divides the state of Santa Catarina into 17 traditionalist regions under the direction of Regional Coordinators.
While the title “gaúcho” is shared by several South American countries, the demonym entails a distinct cultural blend in southern Brazil. MTG-SC poetically defines the term as “not signifying only a citizen of Rio Grande do Sul, but also the countryman of the meridional Regions of South America, who takes upon himself the gaúcho fatherland, the origin of his Tradition to the land, which begins in the pampas of Argentina and extends to Uruguay, Rio Grande do Sul, and Santa Catarina.” Rodeos are popular sporting events amongst gaúchos in the towns scattered across the alpine Serrana Region of Santa Catarina. In comparison to well-known cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the communities in the Serrana Region are more rural; unpaved roads, shorter fences, and horse-drawn wagons are common sights. The waves of Portuguese, German, and Italian pioneers who established ranches in the area gave the state a decidedly Old World flavor. Many catarinenses are able to claim European heritage, preserving the customs and cuisines of their forefathers.
Having participated in rodeos herself, Simone, Melo’s mother, enjoys supporting her son’s appreciation for gaúcho culture. According to her, rodeos help young people avoid drugs and violence by keeping their minds occupied. “Rodeos are our culture,” Simone said. “There’s no explanation.”
Rodeo participants belong to piquetes, small groups affiliated with Centros de Tradições Gaúchas, non-profit governing bodies maintaining gaúcho culture and folklore. Riding for Piquete Entrevero Serrano, Melo and his family belong to CTG Rodeio de São Sebastião, which consists of local families within the city and region of Palmeira. Melo explains that his uncle Fabrício Silveira introduced him to rodeos, inspiring him to learn how to ride horses at his grandfather’s ranch. “Riding horseback is easy, but riding horseback and lassoing is difficult,” Melo said. “You need a lot of concentration and strength.” Along with three cousins, an uncle, and his grandfather, Melo follows a training schedule before weekend tournaments.
Each rodeo offers different levels of competition for various age groups. While Melo and his cousins play in the adolescent guri category, older members of the CTG compete as veterans. During the Laço Patrão de Piquete, leaders of the different piquetes are pitted against each other, matches which showcase the most skilled players. Successful riders move on to the final round of the Braço de Ouro. Rodeos also organize doubles, triples, and quadruple categories as well as matches between the seleções of neighboring cities, teams which feature the ten best riders of the municipality.
While Melo and his piquete where two points shy of qualifying for the next round of matches, he still believes the rodeo was worth the drive from Palmeira. “Some of my friends live in other cities and so I can see them only at rodeos,” Melo said. “I made new friends and we lassoed well.”
*Photo Credit to Marcus Melo