So I seem to have lived up to the promise of my first post of not really updating this…for the 4 of you who have checked this since late September (hi Mom and Dad), sorry about that. And I certainly can’t promise that there will be more frequent updates, since (as you 4 are about to learn) I’m about to be quite busy and probably with less internet access over the next month. Why? Our Independent Study Projects, or ISPs, are starting.
So tonight I leave: a 10 hour bus ride dropping me off in Potosí, Bolivia. Potosí is and has been the mining center of Bolivia (and during the Colonial period, mining center of the Spanish Empire) for the past 500 years. From the amount of silver extracted and the amount of workers who have died, you could make two bridges between Potosí and Spain: one of silver, one of bone. With this long, important history is a system of beliefs that has fascinated me since our group took a small trip to Potosí, which is what I’m going back to study.
At the heart of the belief system of miners is the figure of El Tío. El Tío, in part created by the Spanish conquistadors to have a power within the mines, resembles in figure the Christian devil, but his role is more complicated. El Tío is both protector and enforcer of the mines; the miners give him offerings of coca, cigarettes, and alcohol to appease him and have his protection from the dangers of the mine, and when accidents happen, it’s because El Tío is angry. There’s a statue of El Tío in every mine to whom they give the offerings.
One of the most interesting things to me about El Tío is the large amount of syncretism involved. One of the creation stories of El Tío (from a book I’m reading called Los Ministros del Diablo), roughly translates to this:
“According to the story most frequently told, El Tío is a fallen angel who responds to the name Jorge or Supay (devil in Quechua). According to an indigenous belief, this Supay is the brother of Jesus. But, unlike his brother, he the will of God, his father. As punishment he was exiled underground where he took control of underground wealth”
Most of the miners are Christians, but when they’re in the mines it’s another realm. In the mines, they do not mention Jesus, and generally continue to go to church. This relationship is something I’m interested in studying, but the thing I’m most curious about is the myths like the one above and how El Tío affects their daily life.
So over the next month I will be interviewing miners and folkloric experts, and with the information I gather I will write a creative story in 3 parts. The first section will be about the myths of El Tío, especially those of creation. The second will be about the Colonial period and look at how the Spanish used El Tío to help them control the indigenous population. The final section will be about the miners today and how El Tío impacts their lives. I’m hoping to use this story as a base for my final project in creative writing for my major.
I’m incredibly excited to start this project. It’s the largest creative writing project I’ve ever attempted, but I believe that I’m up to the challenge. If anyone has any questions for me or words of support, please comment here or send me an email!