The Social Life of Matte: a study of matte consumption and significance among the Druze

Contribution de Lubna Tarabey, Université Libanaise, dans le cadre du projet: Matière à relation : Liban Globalisé

Introduction

Matte, a herbal tea like infusion made from the Ilex Paraguayensio shrub indigenous to Brazil and Paraguay and cultivated in Argentina (Joycee, 1934), has traveled to the middle east with the early waves of returning Druze immigrants in the early 20th century. Unlike the lack of interest in Matte in much of Europe and its inability to compete with other drinks such as tea and coffee, Matte found a welcoming environment in the Middle East, especially among a particular religious group mainly located in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, namely the Druze (Folch, 2010). The Druze of the Levant are considered to be the first consumers of Matte whereby a herb not indigenous to the area has been transformed, culturally acquiring a social life of its own and through various socio-cultural and political processes has developed a social biography of its own, one that is different, but not dissociated, from the origin of Matte.  Kopytoff claims that “What is significant about the adoption of alien objects – as of alien ideas – is not the fact that they are adopted, but the way they are culturally redefined and put into use” (Kpytoff, 1986, p. 67) . Matte, as such, is a commodity that has a life history or a biography that is culturally regulated acquiring a social identity and reflecting a culture.

Study aim

The study aims at analyzing the way this herbal drink gained a socio-cultural identity among the Druze through adopting a perspective that focuses on Matte as a commodity with its own historical and social biography. The study “follows Matte” espousing the idea that “the meaning of objects are inscribed in their forms, their use and their trajectories” (Appadurai, 1986, p. 5) and become socially and culturally loaded with and reflective of meanings. The study further looks into how Matte has become so tightly associated with Druze identity that the practice of consuming the drink has continued through generations of Druze migrants living outside Lebanon. Since the study is being conducted post the Covid pandemic and the economic crisis in Lebanon and knowing that the Matte requires socially a sharing of the drinking straw, part of the research will look into the effects of both the pandemic and the economic crisis on the consumption of matte among the Druze

Method

For the purpose of gathering data both, inside and outside Lebanon, two tools will be utilized. In-depth semi-structured interviews will be used in Lebanon targeting members of the Druze community who consume matte. Forty such interviews will be carried out. The second method utilized is an online survey that would be distributed in Lebanon through snow ball techniques. A modified version of the survey would be used for Druze residing in Canada, France and United States of America through contacting Druze associations who would distribute the questionnaire through the lists of registered members and through personal contacts of the researcher with Druze living in these countries.

References

Appadurai, A. (1986). Introduction: commodities and the politics of value. In A. Appadurai, The Social Life of Things (pp. 3-63). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Folch, C. (2010, January). Stimulating Consumption: Yerba Mate Myths, Markets, and Meanings from Conquest to Present . Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52 (1), 6 – 36.

Joycee, T. A. (1934, November 10 ). Use and Origin of Yerba Mate. Nature Publishing Group, 722 – 724.

Kpytoff, I. (1986). The cultural biography of things: commoditization as process. In A. Appadurai, The Social Life of Things: commodities in cultural perspective (pp. 64-91). Cambridge: Cambridge Uiversity Press.


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