Mined to Death
Working at an elevation of 16,000 feet, Quechua-speaking miners in Potosi, Bolivia, dig out zinc, tin, and silver much like their Incan ancestors did more than five centuries ago. This poignant documentary explores the lives and work of the miners as the veins of ore in the sacred mountain they are mining become increasingly depleted and ever more difficult to discover and remove.
Rising more than three miles above sea level, the crusty red mountain of Sumaq Orqo dominates the landscape of Potosi, just as it did in the time of the Inca. More than 550 years of mining has marred its cone-shaped mass, and stone openings lead down vertiginous dark shafts to galleries where ore is dug out by pick ax and, where possible, by mechanized drills. Over the centuries it is said that some eight million Indian miners have died working the mines.
Today 28 indigenous mining cooperatives eke out a living on the mountain. They drill into the veins of ore, fill the mining carts, and drag the carts up to the surface. Commentary by the miners, their wives, and their children powerfully convey the hardships and tragedies of life in the Andes.
A few miners who have escaped the hard labor of the mines now return to the shafts — guiding tourists. For $10, tourists can experience first-hand the perils of the mines: noxious gases, unprotected paths, extreme heat and cold, and little to eat or drink for several hours while walking through the bowels of the earth. Interviews with European and American tourists reveal their conflicted emotions after witnessing these harsh conditions.
Miners put their faith in the subterranean deity called Tio, who they hope will lead them to a rich vein of ore and protect them as they blast out the metal. Transnational mining companies, however, predict an end to the mining on Potosi mountain. Like the miners, the mountain is exhausted and dying a slow, difficult death.
Mined to Death provides an illuminating case study of suffering and hardship that is common among indigenous peoples in the developing, post-colonial world. Its dramatic visuals and forthright testimony will engage students and inspire discussion in a variety of courses in cultural anthropology, Latin American and Andean studies, development studies, tourist studies, and human rights. It was produced and filmed by Prof. Regina Harrison, University of Maryland, who also produced the acclaimed Cashing in on Culture: Indigenous Communities and Tourism.”