LAS TRES FRONTERAS
In South America, the Guarani’s ancestral homeland is located along the Tres Fronteras region – an area roughly overlapping Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. Whilst the Guarani did not build cities, temples, or pyramids, by the time the Spaniards reached the shores of South America, there were still roughly a half-million Guarani living there.
AN ANCIENT & VIBRANT CULTURE
Because the Guarani had only an oral tradition (i.e. no written form of their language existed or was used for record-keeping purposes), we have very little information about their lives pre-European contact, when the Jesuits arrived and began officially documenting Guarani traditions and culture.
Though early observations of the Native Guarani were in many ways flawed, we do know that they lived much the way early indigenous peoples in North America did: The women maintained their homes and cared for the basic forms of agriculture the Guarani practiced (growing maize, yams, and cassava), while the men hunted fish and game and went to war with other Indigenous tribes. Additionally, the men tended to the growing, harvesting, and preparation of Yerba Mate for consumption.
Yerba Mate represents the penultimate tree to the Guarani people, a literal “Gift from the Gods” for them. Yerba Mate had become a fundamental aspect of their society, being used for medicinal purposes, part of their religious ceremonies, and a vital part of life in general. The Guarani harvested wild Yerba Mate from the surrounding grasslands and forests and, although it was complicated to prepare, the Guarani had been doing so for centuries before Europeans arrived.
INTERNATIONALISM & TRADE
Yerba Mate was quickly recognized as a cash crop / exportable product by the Spanish, and by the mid-1500s ships regularly departed the coasts of Guarani country full of Mate leaves as well as other plunder. For many years, Yerba Mate was the primary export of the Las Tres Fronteras region of South America, surpassing even tobacco, sugar and wine. Around 1600, many Spanish & Portuguese were drinking yerba mate at home.
Eventually, as the colonial relationship between Spain and the original inhabitants of South and Central America devolved into inequity, unrest and rebellion, the cultivation of Yerba Mate for export became unsustainable and production decreased accordingly.
Yerba Mate wasn’t popular until the turn of the 20th century when other South American capital cities such as Santiago, Lima, Caracas, and Buenos Aires discovered that Mate was not only as caffeinated as imported coffee and tea from abroad, but cheaper as well. Today, Yerba Mate is ingrained in the culture of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil. It’s rare to walk down a city street without seeing people with their ubiquitous thermoses, gourds, and bags of Yerba Mate.