Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

Stimulating Consumption: Yerba Mate Myths, Markets, and Meanings from Conquest to Present

Christine Folcha1

a1 The Graduate Center, CUNY

Before Najla passes me the gourd brimming with yerba mate, she makes sure to wipe the end of the metal drinking straw with the fragrant leaves of a local herb—for the flavor and to clean it she explains in her Venezuela-accented Spanish. We sit under the welcome shade of a veranda, each taking our turn to drain the gourd and then returning it to Najla to fill once more with warm water from the teakettle. After splashing a pitcher of cold water on the concrete to cool it, her husband offers us a rare privilege: the liberty to ask any question we wish about the Druze religion. The Druze, an offshoot from eleventh-century Shi'a Islam, are endogamous and usually reveal the tenets of their faith only to those born within their community. Though we are speaking a mixture of English and Spanish, we are all guests at the Lebanese mountaintop home of Najla's deceased grandfather, an important Druze warlord during the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s. Najla and her husband are vacationing from their home in the Persian Gulf and staying with her unmarried female cousins, our hosts.


Acknowledgments: I wish to thank Marc Edelman, John Collins, Fernando Coronil, Nathaniel Barksdale, Jane Rubio, Rola Ayash, Rabih Nassar, the members of the New York consortium workshop “Works in Progress in Latin American Society and History” (WiPLASH), and four anonymous CSSH reviewers for their valuable comments and critical suggestions on previous drafts. Shortcomings that remain are solely my own.