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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.

Collaboration avec la National University of Singapore (NUS)

La collaboration entre Delphine Pagès-El Karoui, géographe au CERMOM/INALCO, et Brenda Yeoh, géographe qui dirige le groupe Migration Asie, au Asia Research Institute (ARI) de la National University of Singapore (NUS) a débuté en mars 2016. Brenda Yeoh est venue présenter son travail sur le cosmopolitisme à Singapour, dans le cadre du séminaire MAGMET (Migrants in Global Metropolises) du programme interdisciplinaire Sociétés Plurielles d’USPC (Université Paris Sorbonne Cité), organisé avec Catherine Lejeune, Camille Schmoll (Université de Paris) et Hélène Thiollet (Sciences Po).

En 2017, Brenda Yeoh, Michiel Baas (NUS) et Delphine Pagès-El Karoui ont ensuite obtenu un appel à projet conjoint NUS/ USPC pour organiser une conférence à Singapour Migrants in Global Cities: Experiences from Asia, the Gulf and Europe. Les résultats seront publiés dans un numéro spécial, en cours d’évaluation dans la revue internationale City. En 2018, ils ont obtenu un deuxième financement dans le cadre des appels à projets Merlion de l’Ambassade de France à Singapour. Une conférence a été organisée à Paris, Migrants in the Globalizing City: Spaces, Places and Mobilities in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Delphine Pagès-El Karoui participe actuellement à l’axe thématique 1 du Global Research Institute of Paris (GRIP), consacré à l’étude des villes globales. En janvier 2020,  elle a été invitée comme Visiting Professor à NUS. Elle y a présenté ses travaux lors d’un séminaire : https://ari.nus.edu.sg/events/20200120-delphine-pages-el-karoui/ et a rédigé avec Brenda Yeoh un article, “Migration and Non-Integration in Two Non-Western Cities”,paru dans Asian Population Studies (2020). Brenda Yeoh et Delphine Pagès-El Karoui envisagent de poursuivre leur collaboration, en rédigeant un article comparant les politiques migratoires et les stratégies d’inclusion et d’exclusion des migrants à Dubaï et à Singapour.