This gourd can be your best mate

When my brother, a potter, told me he had been asked to make 57 gourds for a customer, I wondered if she was out of hers. What would she use them for? What size and shape would they be? And why pottery?

When my brother, a potter, told me he had been asked to make 57 gourds for a customer, I wondered if she was out of hers. What would she use them for? What size and shape would they be? And why pottery?

We are familiar with naturally grown gourds that begin as squash, are dried, hollowed out of their seeds, halved from top to bottom and used as dippers in Africa or South America to ladle out dry foods from lentils, beans and grains to flour, sugar, and spices.

“Humans have harvested gourds since time immemorial”, says one website. “They are believed to be one of the first domesticated crops, used by Neolithic peoples for everything from ceremonial objects to containers to prosthetics.”

“Gourds today are used for much the same things as they were in antiquity”, says another Google website. “In the southeastern United States gourds are predominantly made into birdhouses. These creations can be utilitarian or whimsical, plain or elaborately decorated. Gourd decorating is also a recognized art form, and can be just as beautiful as any sculpture or painted canvas. Gourds are also made into musical instruments including drums, shakers, guitars and more. In South America they are still used for bowls, cups, serving dishes, and to drink yerba mate from.”

Yerba is a type of holly. Its chopped leaves are steeped by a cebador (the equivalent of a Starbucks barista) in an apple-sized gourd. (Gourds can also be smaller, or larger). The gourd is held cupped in the hand like a grenade, and passed from one person to the next as each drinks through a straw filter called a bombilla. (Makes me think of a cow sipping from a straw-covered puddle.) After each person has drunk his fill, the gourd is refilled, and passed to the next person.

This excerpt from “The Mate” by Mónica G.Hoss de le Comte describes the mate ceremony: “When people gather to drink mate (mah-tay) something magical happens. It is a simple, daily custom and yet it has all the characteristics of a ceremony. Like any ceremony it has rites which are carefully performed in the same way, day after day.

“Silently the mate gourd circles from hand to hand. And then, slowly, conversation starts, people come closer together, confidences are exchanged. The mate ceremony resembles the American rite of the calumet, the pipe of peace. There too, the pipe goes from hand to hand, completing the circle, offering hospitality and goodwill.

“Yerba mate is the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil where it is consumed 6 to 1 over coffee.   In Argentina, over 90 per cent of the people drink yerba mate with a gourd and bombilla.

“Mate is drunk by everybody: it is drunk by the trucker and his companion in the loneliness of the long, never-ending routes (they use a vessel with a wide mouth into which it is easy to pour the hot water in spite of the jolts along the track); by students, when studying; by workers during their midday rest; at home for breakfast or on any other occasion, rain or shine, in summer or in winter.”

These 57 gourds were requisitioned by a Winnipeg woman for her  national retail/wholesale store where she sells yerba mate tea bags as well as bulk amounts. Pottery gourds do not have to be as carefully looked after as natural gourds; they do not crack from drying out, nor do they mold.

She herself daily drinks yerba mate from her special gourd because its smaller-than-teacup opening keeps her tea hot longer.  And as do many North Americans, she just enjoys the taste and the “ritual” of preparing yerba mate in her gourd. 

A local health food store in Terrace sells 20 yerba mate tea bags for $8.99 but does not sell pottery gourds.