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

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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