Grasslands of South America: some short notes

In North America, there are prairies and plains. In South America there are pampas and llanos. All four are relatively level grasslands.

In the south of South America one often hears the word pampas. In the north of that continent, one more often hears the word llanos. All of these wide grasslands have their stories. The following may be taken as a kind of appetizer for those stories. 

Only 10,000 years ago people were killing and eating doedicurus not far from the present location of the great Argentinian city of Buenos Aires. I case you are not well acquainted with the doedicurus, they are a kind of glyptodont. You might  want to call those doing the killing and eating, America Indians.

In the late 1500s Spanish Americans began to settle the pampas. By 1833 there were about 40 million (million!) head of 'wild' cattle on the Argentinian grasslands. These cattle were the offspring of those bought and "lost" by the earlier explorers and settlers. Sounds reminiscent of happenings in North America, doesn't it? During the increase of these heards on the Pampa there was a decrease in the numbers of Native Americans there. Between that 'increase' and 'decrease' one might imagine an interesting story or two.

Heading to the north of the continent we could learn about Laneros, men and women of the llanos. Llaneros formed most of Bolivar's cavalry. That cavalry did much to overthrow Spanish rule over the people of the continent in the 1820s.  Descendants of those Llneros can still be found in the llanos of Colombia and Venezuela. Some of them now resist the dominion of "Yankee Capital and Imperialism." I famous old song contains the refrain, "Sobre mi caballo, solo yo; y sobre yo solo mi sombrero" Its about liberty and freedom. In English, it might go "Over my horse, only me; and over me, only my hat." 

Among the first noted horsemen to explore the llanos were German "conquistadors" who's patrons had loaned vast sums of money to Spanish royalty. What did influential Spaniards do with the wealth they gained from their "new world" colonies? What did influential Americas do with the enormous wealth they gained from the great America empire? The sponsors of the three German groups sent to South America gained little wealth from their ventures. Still, Spaniards were able to pay their much of their debts, and Germans profited from starting and running the first South America airlines.

About 270 years after the first Germans were allowed to explore the llanos the Spanish allowed another prominent foreigner into South America and its llanos. That person was the baron Alexander von Humbolt.  Every educated American and European ought to know that name. I do not think that he began his travels as baron, but I choose to call him so. The baron was a Prussian naturalist and much more. He would become the father of modern geography and.... except for Napoleon ... the best known European of his time.

I think that Humbolt told the story of a camp on the llanos where his host was so disturbed early one night, that the baron too felt the disturbance. Unknown to either of them, in the dry packed earth directly beneath his host's hamaca, a very large alligator-like animal was hibernating through the dry season. Just as his host was composed for sleep, something disturbed the crocodilian. To the surprise of all, it erupted from the earth noisily. However it soo left; with an evident air of disgust; one imagines to, to find a more peaceful resting place. The camp too was soon resting peacefully.   



by Richard Sheehan

for Mago Bill