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Ilustração: Luciane Stocco

Yerba mate in the 19th century: the apex of the economic cycle

Between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, the former province of Paraguay, now the Viceroyalty of Paraguay, increasingly linked to the orders of the Spanish crown, lost political strength in the regional context of the Platinum region to the viceroyalty of Rio de Janeiro. Prata, whose capital was based in Buenos Aires, which now began to act more influentially in the region. The instability of the Spanish crown was triggered by two consecutive abdications to the throne, which took place in 1808, which meant that the rights to the Spanish kingdom fell on the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, who named his brother, José Bonaparte, as José I, king. from Spain. A series of revolts took over the political situation in Spanish America, and in 1810, Argentina proclaimed its independence.


The Paraguayan government, supplier of practically all the yerba mate consumed in Argentina after the Guaranitic Wars (1750-1755) that destabilized the missionary production system, and an important trading partner of that nation, does not recognize Argentine independence, which inevitably already imposes some trade barriers between these neighboring countries of Brazil.


In 1811, Paraguay also proclaimed its independence from the Spanish crown, however, due to internal political disputes, it went through a period of three years in a practically anarchic state, until, in 1814, José Gaspár Rodriguez de Francia was declared the perpetual commander of Paraguay. , from then onwards Paraguay would be governed under nationalist dictatorial tutelage, closing itself off to foreign nations with the intention of building an autonomous national society. The Paraguayan way of government isolates the country from any commercial, cultural and productive contact with foreign nations, the river ports of the Paraguay and Paraná rivers, where yerba mate was exported, among other products, are closed. As Argentina did not have native herbs and as of now it no longer has its main supplier, the opportunities on the Brazilian side of the border are growing immensely, and this is the introductory context for the production systems of yerba mate, especially in Paraná and part of the current territory of Santa Catarina, to consolidate themselves as the largest producers of Ilex paraguariensis in the world.


The collections of yerba mate in the forests of the interior of Paraná started to mark the generations born in the region. In the images above, recorded between the 1910s and 1920s, show carijos in which caboclos and settlers worked in the processing of the plant. Source: Weiss, 2017.

The yerba mate from Paraná and the origin of the productive tradition


In the context of Paraguay's independence and the establishment of a closed economic regime, several producers who lived between Asunción and Buenos Aires, selling yerba mate, were faced with sudden unemployment, their roles in the yerba production and commercial chain had disappeared. Among several producers who lived from the yerba mate trade in the region, many began to import Mate produced in western Paraná, especially in the region of the Iguaçu River valley, but that part of the state was not yet very well consolidated logistically, and the production was quite limited due to difficult access. Francisco de Alzagaray, a traditional producer and exporter of Argentine yerba mate who lived in Paraguay at the time of independence, analyzing the possibilities that existed for the trade of the product of Paraná origin, notices, on a map, that the coast of the then fifth region from the province of São Paulo, Paraná from 1853 onwards, could be a viable outlet for the production of weed from the first and second plateaus of Paraná, towards consumer markets not only in Argentina, but also in Uruguay and Chile.

Task workers were charged with carrying large quantities of yerba mate to the processing sites. Source: Gallardo, 1897.

Thus, Alzagaray decides to take a risk, formally presents his proposal and receives, in 1820, the concession from the then King of Brazil, D. João VI, to build the first sugar mill installation.  mate herb  on the Brazilian coast, located in Paranaguá. THE  mate herb  it was brought from Curitiba's herbs, already sapecada, and was processed in the Alzagaray soque mill, packed in wooden barrels, placed on ships and finally sent to consumers in the Rio de la Plata region.

The new productive system, idealized by Alzagaray, soon attracted other traders who were active in platinum commercial exchanges, and, as early as 1821, the merchant of  yerba mate, born in Catalonia but eradicated in Paraguay, Manuel Miró founded the second yerba mate mill in Paraná, inaugurating one of the most prosperous mate industries in the state. These initial years of production in Paraná would be decisive in the course of history not only of this state, but also in the relations of economic power and transformation of space throughout the southern region of Brazil.
The reopening of Paraguay after the death of General de Francia in 1840 would not be enough for a new displacement of the productive pole of  yerba mate, especially if we take into account the Paraguayan War, which we will deal with later on on this page, as the Mate mills in Paraná spread not only along the coast, like Morretes and Antonina, but it is estimated that, in the year from 1852, there were 29 Mate beneficiation mills in Curitiba¹¹. The possibilities that were consolidated in the fifth district of São Paulo through the Mate production chain, its transport, processing, taxation, export, proved to be decisive points that weighed in favor of Paraná, becoming an independent province of São Paulo. , by imperial decree of December 19, 1853.  
There were several influences of yerba mate in the creation of Paraná, such as the evident possibilities of exports that only expanded, the intensification of territorial occupation in this state and economic consolidation of the region, in addition to the fact of the increase in tax collection, given that Mate, historically, was never understood by the people of São Paulo, but from the region of the old Guairá, and there its manufacture could be improved and possible industrialization, so desired by the government of Dom Pedro II.

War of Paraguay as the advent of Graciosa and the Railroad – permanent marks of yerba mate in the memory of Paraná

In December 1864, Paraguayan troops crossed national borders and invaded a portion of Brazilian territory, taking the city of Corumbá, in Mato Grosso do Sul. This is an episode that, in addition to several other factors in the southern cone's regional policy, triggered the outbreak of the War of the Triple Alliance, also called the War of Paraguay. The war, which would last until 1870, with the death of the president and supreme chief of the Paraguayan armed forces, Francisco Solano López, was responsible for a series of events in South America, and in our case, as we aim to understand more clarity the history of  yerba mate, we will see what outcomes this war unleashed for the  Ilex paraguariensis.        

The outbreak of war, in which the governments of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay came together to face the Paraguayan enemy, resulted in the blockade of trade and civil maritime flow in the waters of the main tributaries of the Plata, such as the Uruguay, Paraguay and Paraná rivers, because at the time the war lasted, these rivers would be used only for military purposes. Thus, the suspension of activities resulted in the fact that, once again, Paraná would become the only supplier for the entire
  mate herb  consumed in Argentina and Uruguay, and the end of trade in the platinum basin meant that the export volume of  mate herb  by Paranaguá and Antonina.

The demand for  mate herb  Paraná is so large that, from that moment on, the flow of production along the coast of Paraná requires drastic changes in its operation - until this moment, the transport of yerba mate sapecada was carried out on the back of mules, which went down the indigenous path of Itupava , which connected the coast to the plateau, unloading the huge bales, precariously, in canoes, which transported the herb from Porto de Cima, in Morretes, to the ports of Antonina or Paranaguá, where they were processed – and from there From this demand, the emerging need for the construction of a road linking the coast to the Curitiba plateau became even more evident. Estrada da Graciosa, completed in 1873, definitely marked the history of Paraná and the path of yerba mate in its path through space and time.
As a result of the completion of the connection between the coast and the Paraná plateau, the soque de herb mills moved up the mountain range and a large part of them now produced the  mate herb  in Curitiba and also in Ponta Grossa. Between 1875 and 1879, 3/5 of all Mate consumed in South America came from Paraná, and at the national level, Paraná was responsible for 80% of the herb consumed in the country, with 85% of all the herbs consumed in the country. state exports were directly linked to products from the  mate herb  (This number counts the exports of wooden barrels, which became an important industry related to the exploitation of herbs, for example.

Between 1880 and 1885, the construction of the railroad took place, also connecting the coast of Paraná to the plateau, but this time not Antonina to Curitiba, as Estrada da Graciosa did, but Paranaguá to Curitiba. The construction, designed by André Rebouças, is to this day an incredible feat of engineering, admired for its technical difficulty and location of the work, as it crosses the entire Serra do Mar of Paraná in 13 tunnels, excavated in granite, in the middle of the Atlantic forest. The railroad continues to be used until today as the most important vector for transporting large loads from the interior of the state to the port of Paranaguá, but during the period of its construction, it was used to transport  mate herb  processed in Curitiba and wood extracted from the interior of the state, during the timber cycle, parallel to the Mate cycle.

To reference this page, please cite:  CEDERVA The history of yerba mate: yerba mate in the 19th century - the apex of the economic cycle. Curitiba, 2020. Available at: .html

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