Corpus has published a book by the British historian Eric Hobsbaum. Analyzing the most diverse trends in art and social thought, from classical music to the artistic avant-garde of the 1920s, from modern to pop art, from feminism to religious fundamentalism, Hobsbaum tries to understand where the world is going. With the kind permission of the publishing house “Medusa” publishes a chapter from the book of Hobsbawm devoted to cowboys: why, unlike the peasants, they did not participate in American politics – and that in principle meant for American culture. Translation of Nikolai Okhotin.
I will begin my thoughts about cowboys, this famous American made-up tradition, with one or two questions that lead far beyond Texas. How did it happen that horsemen who herded cattle became heroes of a powerful and, as a rule, heroic myth? And why, among the many myths of this kind, it was precisely this one, created by a socially and economically marginal group of rootless adventurers who had arisen and dissolved over a couple of decades, that outstanding, truly unique fate and world fame fell out? I am unable to answer the first question, I suspect that he will lead us to the bottomless depths of the Jungian archetypes, where we will definitely get lost. The ability of shepherds on horseback to generate such heroic images, by the way, is not quite universal. I doubt whether it extends to nomadic pastoralists – Huns, Mongols or Bedouins. For the sedentary population, with which the herders must coexist as a separate community, they are more likely to pose a social danger: necessary, but threatening. It is easiest of all to create a heroic myth, in my assumption, those groups where horse riding is cultivated, but in a certain sense there is a connection with the rest of society; for example, a peasant or a city guy can present himself as a cowboy, gaucho, or Cossack. Is it possible to imagine a ranch for tourists, where the mandarins of the Chinese empire lead the way of life of the Mongolian nomads? Most likely no.
But where does the myth come from? What is the role of a horse in it, an animal clearly carrying a powerful emotional and symbolic charge? Or a centaur, personified by a man who spends life on horseback? One thing is clear: this myth is primarily male. Although cowgirls appeared on the show and rodeo of the Wild West during the interwar period and were in fashion (probably, by analogy with circus acrobats, since the combination of femininity and courage brings some cash), since then they have completely disappeared. Rodeo has become a completely machist fun. Women from the upper class, who knew everything about horses and hunted with dogs no worse than men – and even better, because they had to ride in women’s saddles – were not rare in Victorian England, and especially in Ireland, where fox hunting was very dangerous now. At the same time, no one doubted their femininity. You can even maliciously assume that, in combination with horses, femininity was valued more, because on this island, men are still said to be more interested in horses and drinking than with sex. And yet the myth of the rider remains primarily a male myth, and the best riders with admiration compared with the warlike Amazons. Myth to the image of a warrior in all its glory, the aggressor, barbarian, rapist, and not raped. It is extremely characteristic that the design of the European cavalry uniform in the 18th and 19th centuries, which was invented mainly by aristocrats or members of the royal family, was often inspired by the robes of semi-wild horsemen, from which additional military units were formed during the regular army: Cossacks, hussars, pandurs.
Today, similar shepherds and horsemen exist in many regions around the world. Some of them are completely analogous to the cowboys — the Gaucho of the plains of southern South America, the lieneros savanna of Colombia and Venezuela, and possibly the Vakeiros of northeastern Brazil, specifically the Mexican vaeros, from which both the costume and the main dictionary of cowboys are known: the mustang, lasso , lariat (lasso), remuda (horse herd), sombrero, caps (leather gaiters, from Spanish chaparro), cinch (cinch), bronco (mustang), wrangler (herdsman, cowboy), rodeo, even buckaroo (cowboy, from use vaquero).
In Europe, there are similar ones: chikoshes in the Hungarian Pusta (steppe region), Andalusian horsemen in cattle-breeding districts, whose fanciful behavior probably gave the original meaning to the word flamenco, various Cossack communities of southern Russia and the Ukrainian steppes. I will not talk about various other, non-top forms of herding or about very small communities of pastoralists and even noticeable European communities of drovers, whose function was exactly the same as that of cowboys: namely, to drive cattle from distant places where it was raised on trade fairs. In the 16th century in Europe, there were exact equivalents of the Texas Chizema trail, which connected the Hungarian plains with fairground cities: Augsburg, Nuremberg or Venice.