The pampa border poncho, in spite of its flamboyant designs and esthetics, is not an item of clothing mainly known for style. Quite on the contrary; what predominates is the history behind it.
In the past, every region of Argentina had its own ponchos with its particular characteristics. These represented the iconography of the different regions to differentiate themselves from one another. They took the customs, beliefs and historical events with them wherever they went. This is the case of the poncho from La Rioja, which paid homage to Facundo Quiroga, while the one from Santiago del Estero was the only one not for sale, since it was given to the leaders of the different gaucho groups. These persisted over time becoming ever more iconic in Argentine folklore.
One of the ponchos that has been able to make the biggest difference with its unique designs and imposing symbolisms is the pampa border. It tells a story of mountains and stars, while the colors talk of where the poncho comes from. It has different names, such as “Chieftain’s Border”, the fabric tells us about native cultures from the south, and it reached such faraway regions as the North of Argentina.
A unique design
This garment communicates a symbolism that has been circulating for years, decades and centuries. We see it features crosses and diamond shapes, which follow a vertical and/or horizontal pattern. These attempt to communicate gaucho life in nature. With their repeated symbols, they represent mountains and lakes and extend along the garment as the Andes do in the country. The intention is to make the lower part be the same as the upper one, a sort of mirror, as lakes reflect Andean mountain peaks. There are many ponchos with pampa borders that have crossings with four sides, while others have eight. Those with four simulate the compass star, indicating the cardinal points, while those with eight point in all possible directions. In others, we also find a point in the middle of the crossings, which represent the sun and the moon, two very important astronomical bodies in the life of the gaucho. Others also associate it with a deity, the creator of everything, the complete truth or simply, God.
The rungs on the crosses and motifs are another remarkable characteristic of these ponchos. They symbolize unity in nature; the cohesion of man and his surroundings. They represent the depth of his soul, of his woes but also of his aspirations. We see how behind what was at some time mere sheep shearing there is a whole story to be told.
The mistakenly named “pampa border”
The pampa border ponchos are generally confused with ponchos that come exclusively from the province of La Pampa, but this is an erroneous idea. Their origin lies with the Mapuche communities, located in the South of the country, such as the provinces of Santa Cruz, Río Negro, Neuquén, together with the province of La Pampa. Moreover, we need to take into account that this civilization originates in Chile, the country on the other side of the Andes mountain range.
Talking in terms of symbols, there is nothing ‘pampa like’ in these ponchos. Pampa means flatland, but these sort of ponchos are far from being like that. The history behind this garment is a history of lakes, human aspirations and wars; at no point does it mean flatland.
To date there are few locations where completely artisan ponchos continue to be made with the class and dedication of the old ones, but some can still be found in the provinces of Catamarca and Neuquén.
Colors that tell a story
Colors have been used by different civilizations throughout history to communicate messages. Blue always stood for safety and tranquility, while red marked passion. White has been used to represent honor or peace, while yellow has stood for and is pure joy.
And that is how it was for our dear pampa border ponchos. In the past, ponchos were dyed black to signify hierarchy and respect among gauchos, although they were also used to mark mourning. You can see this in the painting “The death of Güemes”.
Red, on the other hand, was a color to dye the ponchos of the great warriors. It represented the valor of the gaucho in action. Bravery, courage and determination are the virtues around this garment.
Colors also represented the abundance of fruits and plants in every region. This is so because ponchos are dyed with natural tints. Ceibo, the national flower of Argentina, is used for red, while blue is obtained from blackberries. Yerba mate is also used, as well as onions, walnut shells, among others, to cover a wide range of colors.
Parts of the poncho
The is mainly made up of four parts. On the one hand we observe the ‘ñancal’, which is the hole of the poncho. This goes over the head to wear it. Then we have the ‘chuñai’, which would be the different fringes that cover the garment. Then we have the ‘wirin’, that is the different areas that are decorated. For our dear pampa border poncho, these would be the areas covered with crosses. Finally, ‘tue’ are the plain parts of the poncho.
More than a poncho
We see then the depth that surrounds the “Chieftain Border. When seen from afar, all you can do is admire the famous crosses in their trip in unison across the fabric. But it is much more than that.
The hand of the artisan that weaves has a whole untold world behind him. They hide civilizations, native colors, natural landscapes, aspirations of the soul, gauchos in combat and lots, lots more.