European explorers first learned of Yerba Mate in 1592 from the native tribes. Today, the pounded leaves of the caá, known as “erva mate” to those who now live in the lands of the Guarani, are used to brew a rich, stimulating tea, held to be synonymous with health, vitality and long life.
They get together to refresh themselves around a fire, socializing and passing around the “cuia,” as the gourd is called, so all can have a drink of the Yerba Mate. The ancient custom of drinking the pounded Yerba Mate herb in a gourd still survives and is a day to day habit among the people that now inhabit these lands.
The Tradition of Chimarrão. Early morning on the Pampas of southern Brasil, the Gaucho (Brazilian cowboy) gets up, yawns and stretches… After donning his bombachas (typical Brazilian cowboy pants), he puts on his slippers and walks out to a little shed behind his house. Bringing a handful of firewood from the shed into the rustic kitchen, he fans the coals left from yesterdays cooking until a roaring fire is going in the stove. He then puts a kettle of water on to heat and prepares his gourd with Yerba Mate, carefully following the traditional steps established by his indigenous ancestors. When the water starts “singing”, as they put it, he fills his gourd with hot water.
Walking out to the porch, he sits on a bench, setting the kettle beside him and meditatively sips the Yerba Mate infusion through the silver straw, gazing out over the plains toward the sunrise. When the kettle has emptied he interrupts his meditation and prepares breakfast for his family, leaving wood for the stove. He then dons his boots, saddles his horse, and rides out to drive the cattle to the pastures. When noon comes he gathers with all the other men under the shade of a tree. There they prepare a fire to roast a “churrasco” (A Gaucho BBQ), and pass the Yerba Mate gourd from hand to hand in the circle enjoying the fellowship as they roast their meal. Only when the sun lowers in the sky and the midday heat dispels do they ride off to work their rice fields, preparing for harvest.
Dating back to the time of the Indians, the custom of drinking Yerba Mate in a gourd has come to symbolize a lot for the peoples of southern Brazil. A Chimarrão circle became the culmination of tradition, uniting people of every race, belief, skin color and social class around a fire creating a common ground for all. This creates an environment of respect, uniting couples, bonding generations and solidifying the family nucleus. It brings people to a sense of community, enduring friendships, inspiring the sense of comfort as the gourd circles around. It maintains the feeling of affection and companionship and becomes a way of increasing communication, which is the essence of unity. Chimarrão is a spontaneous expression of the survival of healthy traditions, many of which are fading today.