Before you purchase a Criollo knife ("Cuchillo Criollo" in Spanish) you will need to know what exactly a Criollo Knife is and what kind of Criollo Knives exist.
The Criollo Knife is the generic name of the Gauchos' knives. Gauchos are horse riders that live in the pampas of South America, mainly in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Gauchos are analogous to the cowboy of the American west and the Mexican vaquero.
Origin of the Criollo Knife: first patterns were brought to South America by Spaniard conquerors (circa 1536).
The Cuchillos Criollos were used as a weapon in duels, which were to mark rather than kill an adversary. Besides it, they have a reputation as a truly multipurpose tool and were also used for tasks as diverse as slaughtering and skinning cattle, working leather, cutting wood, making adobe bricks and many other uses.
Terms "facon (facón)" and "punal (puñal)" are used generically to describe Criollo Knives but it is certainly wrong, as they are types of Criollo Knives.
Generally, Criollos Knives are highlighted for the handles and sheaths artworks and the blades are mentioned in second place, that's why these knives are commonly displayed in their sheaths. It is probably due to the blades origin variety and to the gauchos antique tradition of showing their decorated knives (high decorating, high status) to the rest of the gauchos as sign of social status or bravery.
Authentic Antique Criollo Knives are extremelly hard to find and they are valued at more than us$ 2000. Some silver and gold made pieces reach us$ 8000. Nowadays we can also find excellent handmade pieces made by the best Argentine knifemakers.
Types of criollo knives:
There are 4 variants of Criollo knives and many sub-variants whose names are taken from many circumstances as the place the knife is worn, the elements that can work, etc.
1) Puñal: is the form that survives till today. Blade shape: single edged spear point with a false edge near the tip (Nowadays, only a bevel): No guard, just a button (botón), a kind of knot. Blade origin: early types from Germany, Spain, France & England; in the present time also Argentine made blades. Main use: multipurpose in countryside/farm
2) Cuchilla: blade shape: normal, single edged flat blade spine but with impressive deep-bellied edge. No guard, no button. Blade origin: early types from Germany, Spain, France & England; in the present time also Argentine made blades. Main use: butchering.
3) Facón: early type of the gaucho's knife. Blade shape: dagger, thin and long blade, very sharp point although having a single-edged blade (only sharpened on one side); Always equipped with Double guard, "S" guard, "U" guard, or Crossguard. Blade origin: from broken/obsolete swords, sabers, bayonets and even machetes (Nowadays, blades made in Argentina). Main use: defence, combat, fighting.
4) Daga: it is also an early type of the gaucho's knife. Blade shape: dagger, thin and long blade, very sharp point although it is double edged. Guard: might be omited. If it is not omited it is indetical as Facon guards. Blade origin: from broken/obsolete swords, sabers, bayonets and even machetes (Nowadays, blades made in Argentina). Main use: defence, combat, fighting.
Sub-variants: verijero, caronero, capador, picazo, fachinera, rabón, tongorí, fariñera, flamenco, fillingo, alfajor, chaucha, asador, tararira, envenao, etc.
THE TRAPPINGS OF HISTORY.
In Argentina, to speak of leather is to irtermingle history and economics,to blend culture and popular mythology; it is to speak of the gaucho tradition, of the conquest, of indians and tanneries, of saddle craftmen and a daily life that continues to this day to maintain a delicate balance between material objects and custom.
In Spanhis, the word “cuero”, or leather – derived from the Latin “coriun” – is synonymous with “skin”. In the daily use of these two words, however, a shade of difference emerges where skin comes to mean the covering of the physical body while leather envelops the spirit. Leather protecs, covers and keeps warm but, more than anything else, it endures. It is a noble material, simple in every sense of the word and, like wood and iron, has been with man throughout the course of history, across cultures and traditions.
And perhaps somewere within this ancestral relation between things and men can be found the key to understanding why certain materials have resisted the passing of the centuries, the fashion an of technology. Leather as all raw material, if the end ofa process that develops through various stages. It begins with the skin of the animal being rendered unto the industry; it is traditionally the skin of bovine cattle, the same animal that came to Argentina with the first conquistadores.
According to the chronicles of the day, in 1536, when the survivors of the expedition of the first founder of the city Buenos Aires, Pedro de Mendoza, were decimated by hunger, indians and various diseases, the little cattle that they had brought with them became scattered across the pampean plains, an inmense region of endless pastures free of natural predators and surrounded by water courses.
In the year 1580, when Juan de Garay made his way down the Parná river to the Río de la Plata to found, for the second time, the city of Buenos Aires, the fields of the region were covered with wild bovine that over the previus 50 years had naturally reproduced. The numbers given in the accunts of the day – which mix astonishment and exaggeration with a vague attempt at being a testimonial – espeak of “millions of heads of cattle”.
The pampa, now opened to the eyes of the conquistadores, quikly became aparent: a sea of fertile land that diseppeared into a horizon adorned with horse and cow to unusual perfection. Out of this unintended and artificial combination between the cattle introduced by man and the vast fertile lands were born some of the most diffuse features of the Argentine identity: tender meat, the criollo horse and, by extension, the gaucho and all his liturgy. And this is how leather, an almost natural raw material, became mount, rein and lasso, footwear and protective clothing and many items that, from the skillful hand of, first, the indian craftsman and then of the gaucho, went on to become and integral part of the daily life of various generations.
History records the Indian as the first to make use of leather. In short time the Indians learned to ride horseback and become excellent horsemen. They used leather to build their tents and to make clothing and lassos. Yet, their most fearsome creation was, without a doubt, the “bolas”: a weapon made of three stones covered in leather and joined by a single lariat that is swung like a sling and then hurled at the feet of animals, at birds or at people.
Around the mid-1700s jesuit missionaries that had settled at different points of the Spanish colonies in America fostered among the Indians the making of a number of items. They introduced the first European craft techniques and managed to develop, with the first looms, an incipient textile industry.
With the passing of time the pampa was strengthened as a catlle zone, in contrast to the rest of the American colonies such as Peru or Chile, where economic activity was oriented towars mining. Buenos Aires was, at that time, a port facing Europe, a contraband paradise, and leather started to become a standard currency among the monies that circulated the city. The Pampa supplied an infinite resourse – the cows required no human effort because they bred by themselves as they grazed in the fertile plain, and the leather was exported raw once the cattle was slaughtered. This intermediate stage of economic and social development was called by some thinkers of the day “the age of leather” because – as was held in that time – the characteristics of Pampean geography had a definitive influence on the profile of the budding society.
The finer cattle, the two or three year old Pampean cow and bull, were and continue to be the origin of a process that technology has not been able to replace. Their leather is considered among the best in the word.
Once the animal is slaughtered, the leather many folow one of two courses: to be worked by hand for the manufacture of a small but highly specific group of items, or to be tanned for the making of traditional garments and classic leathercraft articles, including purses,shoes, bags, wallets and belts.
Argentina annually produces between 10 and 12 million hides, of which 90% is exported to some 60 countries. The United States, Asia and Europe are principal destinations.
Today, approximately 850 million dollars a year enter Argentina in exchange for raw and tanned leather exports. The industry directly employs over 15 thousand people in the tanneries and another 30 to 40 thousand indirectly.
Nonetheless, paradoxically, local production of leather items only began to develop in the middle of this century. Until then, Argentine leather was almost entirely exported. This gap between the finest quality leathers and the lack of a local manufacturing industry is actually what a llowed Argentina leathers to earn their wordwide fame, with finished items – shoes, purses and belts – having been made in countries with a more solid tradition in textiles, such as England, France or Italy. This situation is intimately ralated to the very origins of national development and dates back to colonial times when raw leather began to be exported to Europe. Production grew apace with the years and in step with the increasing renown of Argentine leather. The local saddlers specialized in articles related to life in the open country, to the horse and the certain goods for daily use. Many of these saddlers became veritable masters in rein-making, an aspec of a leather craft that speializes in the production of the various gear that form part of the trappings of the horse. The craft makes use of raw leather as the raw material and is softened and pressed by hand and sewn with leather from the haunch of the colt.
The heritage of the craftmen, though colored by changes in fashion and technology, is nevertheless preserved by the permanent presence of leather items and clothing in daily life tha, like links in a chain, unite modern man with is traditions. For this reason, boots and shoes, handbags as well as heavy luggage, or purses and wallets in all their possible models, were and will continue to be items of leather.