T h e Devil and
t h e Mountain i
Where the magical realism is real
PHOTOGRAPHS AND TEXT BY
MINER IN THE BOLIVIAN CITY OF POTOSí, by the very nature of his endeavor, is a gambler
thrust into a savage endgame governed by forces beyond his control: geopolitics, the world
economy, nature, and fate. Like Goethe’s Faust, he is obliged to form a pact with the Devil
and risk not just his life but his soul for a shot at prosperity.
The miners of Potosí have a deep, mystical relationship with
Cerro Rico — a mountain that can either make them rich or consume them. In the light of day they are devout Roman Catholics, but upon entering the darkness of the mines they shed all
vestiges of Christianity and kneel before a devil-god known as
the Tio. His origin is said to be the Quechuan god of the underworld— Supay or Huari—but the first slave miners of Cerro
Rico gave him the red, horned visage of the Christian devil, the
beard of a Spaniard, and a large phallus.
A miner’s relationship with the Tio is profound and influences every aspect of his life. Gifts of coca leaves, alcohol, and
tobacco are required daily, and at least twice a year the miners
sacrifice llamas, throwing their blood over the entrance to the
mine. They bury the animal’s internal organs inside, sometimes
with a llama fetus, for the Tio to eat so that he will not eat them.
TO THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE of the Bolivian Andes, mountains
are considered apus, or sacred deities. They have the power to
provide life via the waters that trickle from their glaciers and the
variegated climate zones of their slopes on which crops and animals can be raised throughout the year.
Although its jagged foothills were never of much agricultural
value, the eerily conical 4,824-meter Cerro Rico (“Rich Hill”) has
always been a sacred mountain. For centuries the Quechua and
Aymara people lived respectfully in its shadow. The clear water
that flowed from its snow-dusted heights watered their crops and
animals — but to set foot on its slopes was to risk a confrontation
with the heavens. When Huayna Capac, Inca leader of the most
powerful empire of the period, arrived in the late fifteenth century in search of treasure, his men exploring the mountain heard
a great thundering noise — a potojsi. The ruler of the Inca heeded