Potosí: Inside the Devil’s Mine
This is Tío. Their god inside the mines. Outside they pray to God, but for them God does not exist inside the mines. So who will take care of them down there? The Devil. Tío.
The miners adorn him with confetti and give him offerings of coca leaves, alcohol and cigarrettes in exchange for his protection inside the mines. They believe that if they don’t do these things, he will cause accidents. The word Tío came from Dios (God). The letter “D” was not in the Quechua language and so the indigenous people pronounced it with a “T” and evolved into “Tío.”
The mine, Cerro Rico, overlooks the city of Potosí. At about 4100 meters, Potosí is one of the highest cities in the world. Founded in 1545, the mine contained rich silver deposits and made Potosí the major supplier of silver for Spain.
My visit started in the Miner’s Market. It is customary to bring presents for the miners when visiting the mines. I got some coca leaves, alcohol, soda and cigarrettes. The coca leaves help the miners to not feel fatigue and hunger. Most will not work without them. I got the alcohol, soda and cigarrrettes because today was a special day for them. Today, August 1st, is the day for K’araku.
Inside the mine was cold and damp, and then hot much lower down. There were many tunnels and beams that seem to offer little support against collapse. Most areas were so low we had to crawl through them. As it was a holiday, very few miners were working.
After visiting the mines we went out to join in the festivities. All the workers were outside chewing on coca leaves, smoking, and sharing drinks with each other. They happily welcomed us in their group. K’araku during the first of August is a ceremonial offering of llamas to Tío. Two llamas were given coca leaves and alcohol to prepare them for the sacrifice. They were then sacrificed at the entrance of the mines. The blood was scattered across the entrance, walls, and machinery for Tío to feed on, hoping that this would appease him and not claim human lives in the mines.
I know that mining is a very hard life for these people. Perhaps it was better that I was here on August 1st and I saw them in a much relaxed day of their life.
(The documentary “The Devil’s Miner” did a great job showing the truth about the lives of miners. I highly recommend watching it.)