Yerba Mate: An Indigenous Stimulant, Money, and Empire Building

Julia Sarreal, Associate Professor, School of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Fellows Theme: 
Academic Year: 
2016 to 2017
Fellow Type: 
IHR Fellows

This project broadens our understanding of what can and cannot be considered money by exploring the use of a commodity (in this case, the South American beverage, yerba mate) as a form of money in a region lacking coinage. And in this role, yerba mate took on further importance as a tool for empire building. Such a development entailed significant cultural change. Europeans first found the indigenous (Guaraní) caffeinated beverage repulsive but consumption spread so widely that within decades many claimed it a basic necessity. The combination of economic and cultural history makes this project transdisciplinary and firmly rooted in the humanities.

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