The Very Argentinian Ritual of Mate

A plant inherited from the indigenous populations has become a friendship ritual

Día de Elecciones en el Norte (1937) by Alfredo GRAMAJO GUTIERREZGustar

Mate’s origins date back to the indigenous Guaraní people, who were the first to make infusions with its leaves. They also used it as an object of worship, and as currency exchange with other populations. In the Guaraní language, the word caá means herb, plant, and jungle. For them, the yerba mate plant was essentially a gift from the gods.

El carnicero (1924) by Cesáreo BERNALDO DE QUIROSGustar

The conquistadors observed the natives and realized the energizing properties of mate. They spread the word about the plant and its uses, from its region of origin to the borders of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. The Jesuits who had settled in the north also contributed by growing the crop on their reductions. They also included it in their recreational activities after services, when mate was always shared, accompanied by music and dancing.

La chacra en Paraje Nueva Argentina. (2020-12-26/2020-12-28) by Fotógrafo 1: Julio Noguera.Gustar

This demonstrates how the culture of maté existed in Argentina long before it was established as a nation. In colonial times, mate was a great equalizer and connected the social classes: whether rich or poor, slave or master, native or Spaniard, everyone drank mate, and everyone shared. “We are all equal before mate,” stated Valeria Trapaga, the first mate sommelier in the country, highlighting the equalizing quality of the infusion. 

Yerbal (2021-02-11/2021-02-13) by Fotógrafo 1: Julio Noguera.Gustar

It was the French landscape architect Carlos Thays who laid the foundations for the industrial production of yerba maté in Argentina in the late 19th century. Until that time, yerba mate grew naturally in a process of germination that required the seeds to be ingested and digested by hens. Thays, who was also responsible for countless beautiful Argentinian parks, devised a method for artificial germination, using hot water. This set large-scale production in motion.

Pulpería (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

Mate is the traditional drink par excellence of Argentinians. The average annual mate consumption is 22 gallons (100 liters) per person.

Puesto de comida (2021-01-15) by Leo LibermanGustar

Its production is mainly centered in the provinces of Misiones and Corrientes, where the plant originated. They offer excellent conditions for its growth, thanks to their subtropical climate and soils.

Mate (2021-01-11/2021-01-12) by Humberto MartinezGustar

In 2020, the country produced more than 660 million pounds (300 million kg) of yerba mate (ground and packaged). A curious detail: Due to migration between the Middle East and Argentina, mate is very popular in Syria, which is the biggest importer of Argentinian yerba.

Mónica y Leticia toman mate (2021-01-27/2021-01-29) by Fotógrafo 1: Julio Noguera.Gustar

Mate is an integral part of Argentinian life, and its ceremony is tied to feelings of friendship and kinship, with both friends and strangers. The act of pouring and sharing mate is an act of love and dedication, governed by certain unwritten rules for those participating in the round. There is a well-known saying: “Mate that changes hands is ruined.” This makes reference to the custom that the mate pourer cannot be changed mid-round; the same person must pour all the way through. 

Facturas (2021-02-05/2021-02-05) by Juan Pablo LanciottiGustar

Argentinians drink mate every day, at any time, and in any situation. In social situations and at work; in the morning as an energizer and in the afternoon as a digestif; on its own or accompanied by a sweet pastry; bitter or sweet.

Mercado (2021-01-11/2021-01-13) by Ivan SlodkyGustar

Mate gourds come in all different sizes and colors, and some include phrases or symbols. There are also bags called materos designed to hold the gourd, the thermos, the yerba, and the sugar. The national infusion is part of everyday life in Argentina, and will be that way forever.

Credits: Story

Editing: Diego Marinelli/Text: Juan Marinelli 

Credits: All media
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