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WHERE DOES THE PONCHO COME FROM?

 

A poncho is an outer garment designed to keep the body warm, or if made from a watertight material, to keep dry during rain. It was created by the ancient peoples of the Andes and is now known in over 150 countries over the world.

 

Types of poncho

 

The poncho is essentially a single large sheet of fabric with an opening in the center for the head with a piece of fabric that covers the head. Rainproof ponchos normally are fitted with fasteners to close the sides once the poncho is draped over the body, with openings provided for the arms; many have hoods attached to ward off wind and rain.

Alternative ponchos are now designed as fashion items. They are the same shape but of different material. They are designed to look fashionable and provide warmth while remaining breathable and comfortable, rather than to ward off wind and rain. These are often made out of wool or yarn, knitted or crocheted. Ponchos with festive designs or colors can be worn at special events as well.

The modern rain poncho was invented in Baltimore, Maryland in 1958.

 

Traditional ponchos


Mapuche cacique Lloncon wearing a poncho in 1890.

 

The poncho, commonly associated with the Americas, has spread worldwide. As traditional clothing, the local names and variants are:

  • Poncho, most of Spanish-speaking countries and worldwide
  • Chamanto, only in central Chile, poncho in the north and south
  • Jorongo, usually larger or full-length, and often used for special occasions or horse-back riding
  • Gaban, typical in Michoacán, Mexico
  • Ruana, in cold regions of Colombia and Venezuela
  • Zarape (pronounced "serape" in English, sometimes "sarape"), a poncho made in the Mexican state of Coahuila in north-eastern Mexico, near the city of Saltillo
  • Poncho chilote, a heavy woolen poncho of Chiloé Archipelago.

 

The Aaron Fletcher poncho

 

The poncho was first used on a regular basis in the 1850s by Aaron Fletcher in the Great Plains. These early military ponchos were made of gutta percha muslin, a latex-coated, waterproof cloth. Ponchos made of gutta-percha or india rubber coated cloth were officially adopted during the American Civil War, both as rain clothing and as a ground sheet for sleeping. While originally intended for cavalry forces, they were widely used by infantry as well; General Sherman's Union troops, lightly equipped and living off procurement demand from the local populace, wore ponchos during wet weather encountered during the march through Confederate Georgia to the sea.

 

Discontinued after the Civil War, the U.S. Army again issued ponchos of waterproof rubberized canvas to its forces during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Two years later, both the Army and the Marines were forced to issue waterproof rubberized cloth ponchos with high neck collars during the Philippine-American War in 1900. With the entry of the United States into World War I, both doughboys and Marines in France wore the poncho; it was preferred over the raincoat for its ability to keep both the wearer and his pack dry, as well as serving as a roof for a makeshift shelter.

 

Just prior to World War II, ponchos were significantly improved during testing with the U.S. Army Jungle Experimental Platoon in the jungles of Panama, incorporating new, lighter materials and a drawcord hood that could be closed off to form a rain fly or ground sheet. Ponchos were widely used by United States armed forces during World War II; even lightly equipped foot-mounted forces such as Merrill's Marauders, forced to discard tentage and all other unnecessary equipment, retained their blanket and poncho. During the 1950s, new lightweight coated nylon and other synthetic materials were developed for military ponchos. The poncho has remained in service ever since as a standard piece of U.S. military field equipment. Today, the United States armed forces issue ponchos that may be used as a field expedient shelter. These garments are also used by hunters, campers, and rescue workers.

 

During the World War II, the German Army (Wehrmacht) issued the Zeltbahn, a poncho that could be combined to form tents. A typical four-man tent used four Zeltbahnen.

 

In the infantry of Australia and the United Kingdom, a poncho is termed a shelter half, which may serve as a raincoat or as an individual shelter. In operations in which ponchos are used, one shelter half is carried by each person as rain gear; when two are combined, they form a two-person tent.