Following the introduction of cattle into the Caribbean in 1493, during Christopher Columbus’s second voyage, cattle ranching proliferated along a series of frontiers across the grasslands of North and South America. While historians have recognized that Africans and their descendants were involved in the establishment of those ranching frontiers, the emphasis has been on their labor rather than their creative participation. In his recent book, Black Ranching Frontiers: African Cattle Herders of the Atlantic World, 1500-1900, historian Andrew Sluyter explores their creative contributions. In the article below he describes one such contribution, the balde sin fondo (bottomless bucket) and its role in cattle ranching on the Pampas of Argentina.
Africans did not play a creative role in establishing cattle ranching on the Pampas during colonial times. Yet by the early 1800s the presence of enslaved and free people from Senegambia (present-day Senegal and Gambia) on ranches resulted in the introduction of an African water-lifting device: the bottomless bucket, or balde sin fondo. With victory over Spain in 1818, Argentinean independence, and the opening of new export markets for livestock products, ranching expanded across the vast Pampas grasslands, and new practices dramatically changed the colonial herding ecology. Africans played a particularly creative role in a key aspect of that transformation, the supplying of drinking water to the herds as they expanded into pastures distant from major perennial streams. That challenge was familiar to Senegambian herders who had to supply water during the long drive southward from the fringes of the Sahara to the banks of the Senegal and Gambia rivers as the rains ended and the vegetation of the Sahel turned from green to brown.
The bottomless bucket provided the solution before windmills rendered it obsolete in the early twentieth century. The bottomless bucket lifted water from wells with the labor of a single person, even a child, on a horse. Observers at the time