Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Taste of Freedom

Magnet # 326:  Uruguayan Flag with Mate Gourd and Thermos

Material:  Ceramic

Purchased By:  Dad

Down in the South American coastal nation of Uruguay, they're celebrating their independence today.  And they have plenty of reason to be happy - the quest for independence there was a long one. I've already mentioned their national hero on here, Jose Gervasio Artigas, and how helped start and lead the initial fights for freedom. But even after his defeat and exile in 1820, the battle still continued.  By then, the Portuguese had managed to take Uruguay from Spain but they annexed the territory, then known as the Eastern Province, to Brazil in 1821 when that nation won its independence.  By 1825, they were fed up with Brazilian rule and a group of patriots called the Immortal Thirty-Three declared their independence on August 25.  With what would become Argentina on their side, they fought hard in a 500 day war, but neither side emerged victorious.  Finally, tired of blockades interfering with their trade, the British intervened, negotiating the Treaty of Montevideo in 1828.  Uruguay was recognized as an independent republic and adopted its first constitution in 1830.  It was on its way to becoming one most prosperous nations in South America.

Not only does this really nice Uruguayan magnet my Dad picked up for me on a business recent trip to the country feature the flag, it also depicts mate, which is a very popular drink down there. In fact, it's the national drink of Uruguay and can be found in many other South American countries. It's made from steeping dried leaves of the yerba mate, a plant from the holly family, in hot water - sounds a little like tea. The drink is both prepared and served usually in a gourd, most often a calabash gourd. These are often decorated with stylish cuttings on the surface, bright colors painted on, and having silver added on parts of the gourd, particularly the opening and the bottom, where legs may allow it to stand on surfaces. Mate is also drunk with a straw and the most popular variety is a silver one with holes at the bottom to filter out the yerba leaves. Lots of people down there like to take their mate to go, so they carry along a thermos filled with hot water so they can continue to make more throughout the day. In fact, the thermos is almost as important as the gourd itself, as evidenced by its inclusion on this magnet. But there are some limitations as to where Uruguayans can drink their mate - because the high rate of accidents caused by scaldings from hot water, they are no longer allowed to drink it while driving. There is also a long-standing tradition where a group gathers together, perhaps in a home, to drink mate, all from the same gourd, and all from the same straw. The preparer of the brew always drinks the first serving to ensure it isn't too cold or too strong. When satisfied, he or she will pass the gourd to whomever is seated to his or her right who will drink all of the liquid in the gourd without thanking the server. The mate continues to go to the right of each participant, until all have had their fill. It is not until the drinkers finish the mate and want no more that they thank the preparer of the brew. And they must also not drink too slowly, or others will politely urge them on. Sounds like a pretty long occasion, but it would be a nice way of uniting a group, if not entirely sanitary. And I'm sure there are friends and family gathering on this day in Uruguay to celebrate and drink mate together. For the most part, Independence Day there is like many others around the world, with schools and businesses closed and parades and firework shows being held. Some community organizations take place in fundraising events.  But it's always a great excuse for Uruguayans to get together and take pleasure in each other's company and pride in their nation.  This country has come a long way since its early colonial days and it seems to have a bright future ahead.

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