Mate: Not Just an Item
If memory serves me correctly, some fans were annoyed at Peace Walker as a sign of “what is this series coming to,” claiming that Metal Gear was becoming sillier than ever, what with the inclusion of pink shirts, tank boxes, Monster Hunter references and “a new item called mate that looks like a damn cauldron.” Well, my friends, unlike tank boxes and dragon monsters, that damn cauldron is a very realistic and popular drink throughout South America, And there’s like a million explanations and references to it in-game so as to ignore what it is if you’ve played the game, and complain about it in such ignorant and dismissive ways as if it were just a weird silly item created for the game.
Mate (pronounced mah-teh), is basically the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, and certainly one of the most popular infusions in the Southern Cone. It is very popular as well in countries such as Brazil, Chile and Bolivia. It is served with a metal straw from a hollow calabash gourd, called mate. The straw, made of silver, nickel or stainless steel, is called a bombilla in some Latin American countries, and a bomba in Portuguese. Even if the water is supplied from a modern thermos (which we call “termo”), the infusion is traditionally drunk from mates. The leaves used for drinking the infusion are dried, chopped, and ground into a powdery mixture called yerba, and are usually referred to as yerba mate. The bombilla is used as a a straw to drink the infusion and a sieve to wedge into the yerba. The submerged end is flared, with small holes that allow the brewed liquid in, but filters out the yerba bits.
Uruguayans consume 400 million liters of mate annually (at the rate of one liter of water every 80 grams of yerba) in a market that imports 32 million kilos and bills some U.S. $ 90 million a year. Mate consumption surpasses even all brands of soda put together, which, according to the consulting firm Retail Id, sell about 290 million liters annually.
There is also a legend behind mate; the Guaraní people, one of the native tribes of South America, started drinking mate in a region that currently includes Paraguay, southern Brazil, southeastern Bolivia, northeastern Argentina and Uruguay. The Guaraní have a legend that says the Goddesses of the Moon and the Cloud came to the Earth one day to visit it, but they instead found a yaguareté (jaguar) that was going to attack them. An old man saved them, and, in compensation, the goddesses gave the old man a new kind of plant, from which he could prepare a “drink of friendship.”
In Peace Walker, in yet another reference to Che Guevara, Big Boss and the staff at Mother Base adopt the custom of drinking mate. The drink, known throughout the Southern Cone for its function as a social drink and for its highly nutritive properties, is featured as an item is in the game where it recovers psyche, the character’s mental stamina. I was literally astonished when seeing this. Mate? The most well-known and characteristic drink of my country in a Kojima videogame? It was just too much. And the characters absolutely love it, notably serving a minor plot role in lifting the spirits of Cécile after succumbing to physical exertion. The fact that the whole point of mate in-game is to raise your psyche is spot-on. It’s precisely what we use in Uruguay when we are feeling blue or tired. Why did Kojima make something as South American as mate the ultimate cool drink for the MSF? Is it because it looks exotic to North Americans, or rather because he is already separating Big Boss from the US and its ideals and making him embrace a more cosmopolitan worldview? And let us not forget, Che and his comrades loved mate …
What’s wrong, Kaz? You sound beat.
Yeah, the problems never seem to end around here…
You should take a break. Share a cup of mate with the other guys. It’ll give you a chance to connect with them.
I wonder if Che and his men ever sat around drank mate.
I bet they did. Che was famous for his love of the stuff.
Man, whoever thought of this was a genius. You can put it in a gourd and carry it around, and there’s a special straw with a filter attached so you can drink it anytime.
That’s not all. It’s full of essential vitamins and minerals, too. Nice to have in a guerrilla war when food is short.
Yeah, I wish I had a chance to share some with a blonde Parisienne when I was out hiking.
…How do you know about that?
It takes a thief – or should I say it takes a snake – to know one, Snake.
It is very hard to describe how important mate is for us and the role it plays in our society. There are literally entire books written on the subject. How it is constantly present wherever we go is always pointed out by tourists, who claim how curious it is to see Uruguayans stroll by down the “rambla” (marina) carrying the “termo” (thermos) under one arm and the mate in the other. This is strictly a Uruguayan custom that has been slowly adopted by Argentines, who usually don’t drink it on the go and use a “pava” (kettle) for water instead of a “termo.” The phrase “¿querés unos mates?” (do you want some mates?) is always uttered when sitting down to converse with someone at their home, for example during visits. To say it’s present wherever you go would be an understatement; it’s as common as seeing people holding Starbucks cups in New York City.
To make you understand how important mate is to Argentine and Uruguayan societies, know this; in the 7th of August 1961 during Che’s visit to Uruguay, Che and Eduardo Victor Haedo, the President of the National Council of Government (the ruling body in Uruguay at the time) drank mate in the Punta del Este residence of the president, and photographs of the meeting surfaced later. Benito Nardone, Haedo’s predecessor of the same party (Nationalist Party), suggested organizing a campaign of “desagravio al mate” (redress of mate). According to him, mate had been basically defiled by Che Guevara and needed to be redeemed. As with every single campaign seeking to discredit a powerful figure, Nardone’s story was much darker. In 1958, E. Howard Hunt, a senior official of the CIA, recruited Nardone as a “political operative,” a profession he exercised until 1963. Nardone died on the following year.
At present, photos of the meeting between Haedo and Che are included in touristic brochures promoting the luxurious resort town of Punta del Este, along with texts describing the event. In the same manner, countless mates with the face of Che are readily found in Punta del Este. In contrast, no images of the right-wing Benito Nardone can be found anywhere.
A campaign of vilification of Che, purely for something as trivial as drinking mate, already existed in the ‘60s. It’s certainly not surprising seeing what the Latin American right and the Unitedstatian government did to him in the media in following years after his death, to eliminate his status as legendary icon.
To sum up, all of the above supports the idea that the entire game of Peace Walker was done thinking of Che both in a subtle and not so subtle way, that Big Boss’ role was to emulate the Comandante including the fact that Che and Big Boss are both reviled and admired equally and both are enemies of the US and of the capitalist world order, all so as to make the fanbase understand Big Boss’ future brushes with the US government and its allies and make them think outside their little bubble. Che was the perfect role-model to mold the character of Big Boss and illustrate his plight, and perhaps in some way, Kojima’s. Certainly, Kojima felt drawn to Che when he heard of his visit to Hiroshima while researching on him, and throughout Peace Walker’s briefing files we can assume that he didn’t just take his image of Che from the 2008 film. There’s just so many little details in the briefing files about his life that it would be silly to assume he didn’t did his own research after watching the film, which he seems to have enjoyed greatly.
Che Guevara is to be admired, as Big Boss says, not precisely due to ideology, but because he fought for what he believed in to the death, faithfully, rejecting comfortable positions in life to mix in with those poorest and run back to the battlefield instead of cower from it in the rear like so many military strategists. Socialism is an ideology which puts man, culture and equality before profits, which places intellectuality above consumerism. That’s why Che fought for it. That’s why there is no equivalent to a Che fighting for “the other side,” that is, for right-wing ideals, because the right-wing is the ideological current of those in power, of the oppressors, of the exploiters and abusers of this world. Furthermore, the right doesn’t produce anything of real value, doesn’t fight for anything noble and clings to the established order when it is threatened by improvements of the times. The arts, the social movements, the fight for improvement are all associated with the left-wing for a reason. The fact that there just aren’t figures like Che “fighting on the other side” further illustrates the nobility and romanticism of fighting for left-wing causes, for the interests of the poor, for those left so abandoned by society that made Che tremble with rage. Instead of tossing a few coins or support a charity, Che chose to bluntly change the system altogether so there may never be people living under those conditions, and he knew what was at stake. He gave his life for it.
Throughout the entire world and especially Latin America, Che is admired and held in high regard for his fighting spirit, his unbreakable ideals, his hard-working character and his great wisdom, exemplified by his philosophical writing, his contributions to Marxist theory and his beautiful poems. The “most complete human being of the 20th century” lived exclusively according to his ideals and died for them. Whether you agree with his ideology or not, nothing can suppress this, not even the lies and deceit of those who seek to diminish his role in Latin America’s plight and destroy his image so we may always be under the heel of Unitedstatian capitalism. In Latin America, we are no longer submissive and blind. We are very much aware of whom the enemy is, and the tactics it uses to deceive us. This is the era of information. We are awakening to this new era, and games like Peace Walker, with a positive portrayal of Che, prove this. Nothing will vilify his image, and the feelings of love and admiration he wakes in people worldwide 47 years after his execution. Che is alive and well, and his example shines on to inspire rebels on all fields… even Japanese videogame developers.
At the risk of sounding perhaps a little melodramatic and unfriendly, I feel I must express how after researching for this article and getting to read what gamers who played Peace Walker thought about Che Guevara and other aspects of Latin American culture, it is incredibly painful to see nowadays the same dismissive cynicism, narrow-mindedness and ignorance that permeated North American society in the ‘50s. Aside from being unable to think beyond the bubble of their reactionary media and develop curiosity for the little things Kojima gave a special emphasis like mate, unthinking gamers incapable of performing the research I did for this article and finding out Kojima’s possible intentions for portraying Che Guevara in a positive light and the US in a negative one, demonstrate how little society has changed in North America, particularly in the United States, and how we are still viewed, sadly, as little more than an exotic banana backyard inhabited by crazy revolutionaries with evil intentions and poor people, and how the US is still viewed as a beacon of liberty and democracy with all the atrocities it has been proven to do to the world. I sincerely hope this article might spark debate and conversation, shed light on why Che is demonized as he is and above all else, make North Americans, particularly Unitedstatians understand and respect our views, our icons and our identity, which clearly, they know very little about. After all, how many North Americans are capable of speaking Spanish or willing to learn it? Spanish is essential to understand our culture and motivations.
Simply put, an average Unitedstatian individual incapable of speaking Spanish cannot analyze these issues and look at them from the inside, to see Che beyond how the media or the Unitedstatian history books might paint him and how to us, the United States government coupled with its neoliberal financial system is the unequivocal oppressor which brings misery and poverty not only to us, but to its own peoples as well.
When encountering games such as Peace Walker, which openly exhibit anti-US content, Unitedstatian gamers usually have this reaction; “why does the world hate us? Why are we portrayed in this way?” Throughout this article I believe you may have an idea. With its foreign policy, the US has caused much damage to the world through aggressive expansionism and to force countries into adopting its political and economic views. As a Latin American, I understand these things from a deeply personal and geopolitical scale, and personally, I get truly frustrated when seeing games where the square-jawed burly US white guys have to shoot the evil dictatorial Socialist Hispanics bent on world domination. Games like Peace Walker invert this scenario, providing authentic and historical reasons as to why characters in-game might hate the US, and the general response is “this is unfair, propagandistic and offensive.” If anti-US games were widespread I would understand Unitedstatians feeling this way, but the rule is that Unitedstatians get to shoot every single nationality and race without anybody asking questions, while the few games where the US is depicted as the bad guy are instantly singled out as offensive, anti-democratic, totalitarian, pro-terrorism, etcetera. It’s a shame that the themes depicted in Peace Walker didn’t manage to make Unitedstatians question the reality of what their national media tells them and perform their own research too. I simply hope that before asking those questions, gamers put themselves in the shoes of the people they are often forced to shoot in the name of the US.
I honestly believe nothing can be done against the cynical jingoism and xenophobic hatred Unitedstatian society breeds and instills in people from a young age, through its main
institutions and its media. Before speaking ill of Latin America and Che, however, I recommend detractors to think at least twice, because as you were able to see here, and how you might be able to see by the current international situation, the good guys don’t always come from the land you’re born in, and the geopolitical reality of countries is never quite as simple as the black and white portrayal the media instills in you. But that must be pretty difficult to understand while inside the belly of the beast, where most TVs in bars and restaurants are tuned to Fox News, and where the Nobel Peace Prize winning president allows for Middle Eastern children to be killed regularly by mistake with drone strikes. I for one am extremely proud of the country I was born in, a country which first fought to break free from European colonization and then to reestablish democracy and freedom against a brutal US-backed dictatorship. I’m also proud of my humble and noble anti-capitalist guerilla president, who fought for democracy and then was democratically elected by the same people he fought for. I can sleep soundly at nights knowing my country doesn’t harm its own citizens, destroy forests, outsource jobs for ruthless corporations, impose sanctions on other countries, employ slavery, spy on its own citizens and the citizens of other countries, destabilize foreign governments, support murderous dictatorships, drop nukes on small towns or wage wars in smaller countries for their resources, and that’s something that sadly Unitedstatians cannot say about their country, which has performed throughout its history, every single one of these actions. What an unspeakable burden it must be for them, and how ashamed noble, progressive and peace-loving Unitedstatians must feel for their own country. Let’s hope that one day these things will change, and that we won’t have reasons to see Unitedstatians as the enemy. Hatred breeds hatred, and many are predicting already that something bad will happen to the US with the enemies it has made abroad.
In Latin America, there’s nothing we want more than a united and peaceful America, an America for all Americans without exclusions or hidden interests, and it pains us to see the US putting its own interests first in front of true peace and stability in the region.