The Mate Gourd
The Guarani people called the container used for drinking mate a Caaigúaa, while the Quechua people called it ‘mati’. Mati ended up being the term adopted by the Spanish people to refer to both the cup and to the infusion prepared with yerba máte. According to J.J. Paliiere (1823-1887) the Spaniards found the word mati easier to pronounce and for this reason it was adopted. The first máte gourd ever made was from the fruit of a climbing plant called Lagenaria vulgaris, which belongs to the native pumpkin family that grows in South America.
The Guarani aborigines also used this fruit to make bottles, cups for grain storage, and even to wash clothes. A máte gourd is prepared by drying and hollowing out a calabash. The empty calabash is then ‘cured’, which is the term used for the conditioning of the calabash to prevent growth of mold or odors. Curing also prepares the gourd to cope with hot water without breaking. People carve and paint calabash gourds to make them more personal and beautiful; paintings include monograms, crosses, fetishes, shields, symbols, legends and carving all sorts of political messages on them.
Máte gourds are also leather-wrapped to protect them from breakage. In the mid-seventeenth century, máte gourds became a luxury item. They were introduced to the homes of high society families and these people applied silver or gold coatings to the calabashes. They also created máte gourds made entirely of silver. Sometimes the máte gourd was carved in carob or lignum wood, made from coconut or ivory horn, clay, plastic or enameled metal. In the early twentieth century, máte gourds were made of earthenware and porcelain. These máte gourds, including those currently made of aluminum, plastic, glass or crockery do not need to be ‘cured’ and a simple wash leaves them ready to be used.
This process involves cleaning and removing the skins from the inside of the gourd up to its mouth, adding yerba máte in the calabash with warm water and leaving it to stand for a day. After a day, discard the used yerba máte, scrap out the insides of the calabash with a spoon and repeat this process twice in order to clean the calabash gourd completely.