What is the origin of mate?
Mate is a South American drink, really popular in places such as Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. To grasp its relevance, it is key to know its history.
The Guaraní and their yerba
The drinking of Mate goes back to the Guarani people (natives of a few South American regions), as proved by the research of poet and journalist Amaro Villanueva. They would chew the leaves straight, or would place them in a calabash gourd with water, and take sips. Actually, the term “mate” stems from the guarani “Caa-mate” (“Caa” stands for plant or grass, while “mate” represents the gourd). Other peoples such as the Incas, the Charruas and even the Araucanos ‘embraced’ mate from the former. For the locals, the mate plant was a holy present from the gods, and mate had a special and spiritual meaning, apart from its nutritional value.
Popularity in colonial times
Due to its advantages, mate turned popular very quickly among the Spanish people that colonised South America. The yerba was taken from its place of birth all through the land under Spanish rule, and mostly the Jesuits were in charge of extending the usage of mate by having it in their reductions, though they took boiled mate, and used no gourd. They also found out that mate plants germinated only in certain areas of South America – a secret confirmed 50 years after by the French naturalist Aimé Bonpland.
The “gauchos” and their love for yerba mate
Along the long process of Argentina’s freedom in the 19th century, the custom of mate gathered momentum in the country’s folklore. The “gauchos” (a sort of Argentinian cowboy) embraced mate as part of their culture, together with horseback riding and wearing leather clothes. They took mate in groups with the different meals of the day, and also before going to bed.
Yerba mate, today
Yerba mate grows in Argentina, Paraguay and the South of Brazil, in which temperature, soil and humidity conditions are fit. Mate is part of the everyday life of an average Argentinian person, just as for the old gauchos. It is drunk at home, in the office, parks, universities, not just because of its benefits, but for the social bonding role it plays.