LAS TRES FRONTERAS

The Guarani themselves live in the Tres Fronteras region – or that part of South America where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina roughly overlap. Whilst the Guarani didn’t build cities or temples or pyramids, by the time the Spanish arrived on the shores of South America there were still roughly half a million Guarani peoples already living there.

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AN ANCIENT & VIBRANT CULTURE

Because the Guarani had only an oral tradition (ie. no written form of their language existed or was used for record-keeping purposes), we really know very little about their lives pre-European contact, when the Jesuits arrived & began officially documenting Guarani traditions and culture on paper.

Despite the fact that many of these early observations were faulty at best, we do know that the Native Guarani lived in a similar way as many of North America’s early tribes did: The women maintained their homes & looked after the basic forms of agriculture the Guarani practiced (raising Maize, Yams & Cassava) whilst the men hunted for fish & game and went to war with other Indigenous tribes. The men also looked after growing, harvesting & preparing the Yerba Mate for consumption.

Yerba Mate was the penultimate tree for the Guarani, a literal “Gift from the Gods.” They used the harvested and prepared leaves as a part of their religious ceremonies, as medicine, and by the time the first Europeans arrived, Yerba Mate was an integral part of their native culture. Yerba Mate grew wild in the grasslands and forests where the Guarani lived, was simple if delicate to harvest, and whilst complicated to prepare the Guarani had been doing so for many millennia prior to the arrival of Europeans.

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Eventually, as the colonial relationship between Spain & the original inhabitants of South and Central America devolved into inequity, unrest & rebellion, the cultivation of Yerba Mate for export became unsustainable and production decreased accordingly.

It wasn’t until the turn of the last century that Mate saw a second increase in popularity, this time in other South American capitals such as Santiago, Lima, Caracas, and Bueno Aires, where citizens of those cities found that Mate was not only as caffeinated as imported coffee & tea from abroad, but cheaper as well. Today, Yerba Mate is an ingrained part of the culture in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Southern Brazil. It’s hard in many of those places, today, to walk down a street without seeing the locals with their ubiquitous thermoses, gourds and bags of Yerba Mate.