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Vaquero of the Brazilian Northeast

The cowboy's ethnic type comes from the contact between the white colonizer and the Indian, during the penetration of cattle in the sertões of the Brazilian Northeast.

Vaquero of the Brazilian Northeast

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 07/06/2022

By: Regina Coeli Vieira Machado - Servant of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - PhD in Information and Documentation

The vaquero’ ethnicity comes from the contact between white colonizers and Indigenous people during the penetration of cattle in the backlands of northeastern Brazil.

The vaquero is the central figure of a farm. His work is hard and continuous. He spends much of his time riding the farm, inspecting the pastures, fences and water (fountain, river, pond, or any spring on an agricultural property).

The biggest problem he faces is related to water. Sometimes the cattle must be taken for 10miles to find sources of water. At the time of migration, they must conduct the cattle to distant places on the way and back.

In some properties, seasonal migration is unnecessary due to the close existence of watery. In these regions, cacti are usually abundant, such as in the Moxotó valley in Pernambuco. The stubble of cotton, bean, broad bean, and corn are also used to feed the cattle, as well as cotton seed or branches of the catingueira, mulungu, jurema, and angico, which must be pruned by the vaquero. In the driest years, some cacti – such as mandacaru and xique-xique–need to be burned before feeding the animals. Macambira, besides being burned, must still be chopped.

Vaquero must also gather the animals in the corral, in addition to branding them, that is, use a brand iron that was heated in a fire to identify the owner.

One of the things that characterize the vaquero is the aboio – a typical singing without words they sing when driving the cattle to the corral or in the pasture. They also use aboio when they need to guide a companion who is lost in a mountain range or is lost in a caatinga.

Dealing with cattle in the caatinga full of branches and thorns is very difficult, so the vaquero must wear specific clothes, able to face the caatinga, and that works as a cuirass or armor. The vaquero’s clothing is characterized by the predominance of raw and tanned leather, usually using primitive processes, giving to it a rust color, and a flexible and soft texture (removes all fur). In the past, the leather of the brocket deer was used, but due to the extinction of this species, the leather of sheep and goat became usual.

The garment consists of a long-sleeved jerkin, chest piece, leggings, gloves, coat, and hat.

The long-sleeved jerkin is adorned with topstitching and closed with leather cords. The pectoral is secured by a strap that passes by the neck. The leggings – that cover the legs from the foot to the groin – are fastened at the waist so that the body is free to ride. The gloves cover the back of the hands, leaving the fingers free, and on the feet the vaquero wears flat shoes or boots. The coat looks like a shawl , made of sheepskin, being usually worn at parties. It has two fronts: one for the cold of the night, where it preserves wool, another of smooth leather for the heat of the day. The hat protects the vaquero from the sun and the blows of the thorns and branches of the caatinga, and sometimes his crown is used to drink water or eat.

The vaquero always wears a pair of spur and in his hands a leather whip, indicating that, if not mounted, he can do so at any time.

His National Day is celebrated annually on July 20 and the traditionally most important party for the northeastern vaquero is the vaquejada. In Pernambuco, the Vaquero Mass is also celebrated on the third Sunday of July, a tribute to Raimundo Jacó, a vaquero murdered by a fellow in the municipality of Serrita, PE, in May 1954.


Recife, July 24, 2003.


sources consulted

ANDRADE, Manuel Correia de. A terra e o homem no Nordeste. 4.ed. rev. e atual. São Paulo: Ciências Humanas, 1980.


ARAÚJO. Alceu Maynard. Brasil, história, costumes e lendas. São Paulo: Ed. Três, 1982. v.2, p.168-169.


BARRETO, José Ricardo Paes. Vaqueiro: vida, lazer e religiosidade. Recife: Fundaj. Inpso. Centro de Estudos Folclóricos, 1984. (Folclore, 164).


TIPOS e aspectos do Brasil. 10.ed. atual. E ampl. Rio de Janeiro: IBGE, 1975. p. 267-268.


how to quote this text

MACHADO, Regina Coeli Vieira. Vaquero of the Brazilian Northeast. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2003. Available from: Access on: Month. day, year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2020.)