El Tio Bolivia

Mining is one of Bolivia’s main industries, but being one of the World’s poorest Countries, conditions are tough and dangerous down the mines, some of which have been worked constantly for hundreds of years. Cerro Rico in Potosi has been a huge source of silver and during Colonial times the Spanish had a compulsory drafting system for workers of indigenous origin, in addition to the thousands of slaves working down the mines, sometimes not coming above ground for weeks on end. Conditions have improved since then, but the miners still use primitive tools and dynamite to extract the hugely diminished resources of silver and tin from the mines of the Altiplano, around Potosi and Oruro.

Legend has brought about a tradition based around El Tio (Uncle) – the God of the Underworld, or as some might call him, the Devil. The miners fear and revere him, as he is said to have an insatiable appetite for destruction and vice. Therefore every mine in Bolivia has a statue of him at the entrance where the workers sit with him daily to offer him alcohol, coca leaves and tobacco to keep his hunger at bay. Stories say some miners have offered the ultimate sacrifice of human life to El Tio, in exchange for finding a large vein of silver and prosperity. From these legends, the tradition of the Ch’alla has come about over hundreds of years. At the end of lent and just before the annual Carnival, the miners make a significant offering to him in the form of lucky llama’s blood and heart to keep him satisfied for the year ahead. The ceremony marks the start of the Carnival celebrations and involves a great deal of drinking, debauchery, dancing and feasting, all in hope of a safe and prosperous year.

Cerro Rico (rich hill) in Potosi is an infamous place, known for producing tonnes of silver, but also responsible for the death of thousands of miners over the last 500 years. Conditions in the mines are tough, with little protective equipment and outdated tools. Potosi, BoliviaMost of the miners rely on alcohol and coca to get through the working day and keep their hunger and thirst at bay. Potosi, BoliviaDynamite in still used for blowing away the rock face whilst mining for tin and silver. Potosi, BoliviaMiners pulling a cart onto the rails before entering Cerro Rico, Potosi, Bolivia.Limited access to modern equipment makes the mining dangerous and hard work. Potosi, BoliviaDynamite in still used for blowing away the rock face whilst mining for tin and silver. Potosi, BoliviaEl Tio (the uncle) is the God of the underworld. Often likened to the Devil, he has an insatiable appetite for vice and destruction, and therefore needs to be appeased daily. Miners spend long hours underground, breathing in cyanide and silica dust, which leads to life threatening lung conditions. Making the average life expectancy under 40 years old. When Carnival is kicking off all around the Americas, the miners have their own version of the celebrations, the largest event being in Oruro. Potosi, BoliviaRepresentations of desired items made of cornstarch are blessed to give prosperity for the coming year. Oruro, Bolivia.Miners and their families drinking and celebrating the Ch'alla ceremony in Itos mine, Oruro, Bolivia.The ceremony is all in the name of El Tio, and therefore vice and violence is a part of it. Oruro, Bolivia.The llama is a sacred animal in Andean folklore, and therefore is offered as a gift for El Tio, for him to feast on it's blood, and keep the miners safe for the coming year. Oruro.The llama is a sacred animal in Andean folklore, and therefore is offered as a gift for El Tio, for him to feast on it's blood, and keep the miners safe for the coming year. Oruro.A Yatiri (Shaman) blsses the heart of the llama, and offers it up to El Tio, asking him to protect the miners during their dangerous work. Oruro, Bolivia.The miners then take the heart and the blood for a private ceremony with the statue of El Tio, one of which is present in every mine in Bolivia. Oruro, Bolivia.The celebrations then continue, and the Carnival of Oruro begins, with elaborate costumes and hedonism for days. Oruro, Bolivia.
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