The pride of Salta

On this year’s anniversary of the patriot Martín Miguel de Güemes, Luciana Fernández, Community Relations (CORE) Analyst, recounts the scene of one of the most popular events in her town, complete with a gaucho parade, bonfires and lots of dancing under the stars in the foothills of the Andes.

Ever since I can remember, we’ve held our traditional Watch Under the Stars to honor the anniversary of the death of our hero, Martín Miguel de Güemes, on June 17. The Watch takes place on the eve of the date in question, when a group of gauchos gets together, decked out in typical attire reminiscent of the folk heroes who fought for American independence. They gather around the Monument to Güemes, which stands like a sentinel at the foot of the mountains, guarding the city, and build bonfires that they keep burning throughout the night. This is an occasion when hundreds of gauchos remember the vigil held by the ‘infernals’ in the Quebrada de la Horqueta in June 1821, as they accompanied their general during his last hours.

Güemes was an idealistic young man whom I greatly admire. At the tender age of 21, he fought in the English invasions with heroism rarely seen in someone so young. He trained in the military, was later governor of Salta, and defended the northern border with his group of ‘infernals’, using guerrilla tactics unknown to the traditional militias, making it impossible for the enemy to advance.

The story goes that Macacha Güemes, the heroine who was his sister, before mounting her horse, tied branches to the sides of her saddle to raise dust clouds as she galloped along, making the enemy believe that a full battalion was advancing, when they were merely a group of gaucho soldiers. Macacha carried out several espionage missions to obtain information for the internals from the royalist troops, at times even hiding papers in her skirt. This tactic was of use in the Gaucho War, where the paucity of resources was offset by a great deal of ingenuity, battling the elite of Salta to defend their lands which were never again conquered by the royalists.

The gauchos were the protagonists of the independence war waged on the northern border.Today they still wear their traditional finery at occasions such as these.

It was only in 2006 that the law declaring General Martín Miguel de Güemes as a ‘National Hero’ was passed, a necessary step to highlight the extent of his participation alongside José de San Martín and Manuel Belgrano in the struggle for Argentine and American independence. In 2016, June 17 was declared a national holiday, and Güemes was given the importance he truly deserved.

Every year, more and more gaucho associations come to join the Watch Under the Stars, with their horses and typical dress. Traditional folk dancing takes place around campfires to the sound of plucked guitars, which is how I found out about this event. As a girl, I used to enjoy my dance night. Over the years, the dynamics changed and at one point, when things started to go on very late, they ended up setting some rules and organizing a stage.

The next day is the main act, attended by all the authorities, and the gauchos parade proudly in all their finery. Then it’s time for the empanadas and the locro stew to appear. The great thing is that before, teenagers used to come with their parents and today there are children dressed as gauchos. Curiously, also due to tourism, it so happens that you can’t get any handmade ponchos in Salta at this time, because everyone buys them for Güemes Day.

As the night draws on, fires are lit, people start strumming guitars while dancers whirl to the beat of the zamba. -

As for dance, when I was a girl, I used to dance with a folkdance company, something which encouraged me to listen to folk music and go to festivals. These are basically just big parties where, in addition to listening to live music, everybody dances. You have to have a big white kerchief with you, it’s de rigeur, because you will almost certainly end up dancing. And there always seems to be flour flying around, a little bit like what happens at carnivals. When Sergio Galleguillo, who is a well-known popular singer, plays, you already know that people are going to challar, which is an Andean carnival ritual. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s about popular tradition.

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