The Tío of the Mine

by

Víctor Montoya
(Translation by Elizabeth Gamble Miller)

 


 

Dear Uncle Tío, Devil and God of the Mine,

Your little clay statue is in high relief in this photograph taken inside the mine. Surrounding it are offerings of the miners who sit on their tree trunk callapos in the gallery of the mine, chewing coca in your presence, while pleading for the richest vein of tin ore and protection from sickness and danger. The bottles of brandy are to assuage your thirst and render you homage, but also to celebrate with a ch'allan ritual honoring Pachamama, the Andean Divinity Mother Earth, who although invisible holds the riches in her entrails.

If I look closely, scrutinizing the details of your image, I can see your nose and mouth are blackened from the cigarette smoke of k'uyunas; your eyes are round like marbles, your arms slightly flexed, and your body is covered with some kind of concoction and paper streamers. Actually, it would be accurate to say that your face is more disfigured than the Phantom of the Opera's and your body a worse conglomeration than a horned monster with a tail. Maybe that's why you live in the deepest, darkest part of the mine. The galleries are not the kingdom of Hades or the hell of Dante, but a gloomy alcove only known by the miners. There the devotees fear you more than God, and the superstitious ones venerate you more than the Virgin of the Caverns.

On the other hand, according to the Catholic version, you, Uncle Tio, are the celestial angel who, having rebelled against the supreme will of your Creator, was condemned to suffer an eternal punishment in the flames of hell. But you, who engenders both good and evil works, didn't even reach the gates of purgatory; you preferred to meld with the huari, the mythological bull, and the Supay, the Satan of the Andes also called Thiula (Tío), and to go into the caverns of the mine. In its dark shadows you installed your throne and kingdom. Since then you have been the owner of the minerals and the master of the miners. Their attitude is one of submissive veneration; they show respect entering and leaving the mine. They pay tribute with coca leaves, k'yunas cigarettes, bottles of brandy—the only purpose being to show their faith and affection—proposing to come to an agreement with you through a kind of miraculous ritual. Although you are an ambivalent being, a mixture of Good and Evil, you exercise a decisive influence over the lives of high plains inhabitants of the altiplano, where you dared to compare your satanic strengths with the divine strengths of God.

On Carnival Eve, the miners ch'allan your cave sprinkling alcohol on the ground, adorning your neck with paper streamers and throwing handfuls of sweets and other gifts around you, while you sit on your throne and notice how they stare at your large, long penis in erection. Then you disguise yourself as Lucifer and leave the mine to dance gaily in the fraternity of devils, taking drinks from anyone who offers and falling in love with the most beautiful maidens. And the maidens, in honor of your perverse she-devil wife (la Chinasupay), dress up as she-devils, wearing high-heeled boots, short skirts, flimsy blouses, and jackets decorated with Sauria, Arachnida, and Batrachia. The she-devils' masks have bulging eyes and long eyelashes, ruby cheeks and sensual lips, so sensual that, besides offering a faint, tempting smile they give a glimpse of precious stones set in the teeth.

You dance to the musical rhythm of drums and clashing cymbals, sweeping the air with your velvet cape and your scepter of command, while, besieged by the jukumaris bears, and the mallkus condor, the she-devils flirt with Saint Michael, displaying their shapely legs and covering their tits with hair gathered into braids.

Your Lucifer costume, seemingly fashioned of lights and dreams, is one of the most enviable in the Carnival of the Oruro population, and everyone looks and admires you from the depths of their fright. Your velvet cape, luxuriously embroidered with gold and silver thread, is adorned with snakes, lizards and dragons, while your short skirt and your shirt, sprinkled with buttons, sequins and crystals, have figures adorned with gleaming, precious stones. Your boots and gloves display frogs, spiders and scorpions in relief. The great scarves around your necks blending with your abundant hair are an adornment that floats in the air like flower bouquets. Your masks, horribly disfigured, have a mashed nose, pointed ears, and fierce teeth. Your eyes, large and rolling like a chameleon's, send out bright colors in the daytime and phosphorescent colors at night. And to instill fear and respect in your subjects, you wear a three-headed serpent around the elaborate horns on your forehead.

After indulging completely in the marvelous aura of Carnival, giving yourself to dancing, love, and alcohol, you reenter the dark shadows of the mine, now no longer Lucifer but Uncle Tío protector of miners. You are considered the cultural syncretism between the Catholic religion and ancestral paganism, not only because you are part of a legend that encompasses the mine and its affairs, but also because you are a mythic being capable of enslaving and liberating men with your magical powers.

Moreover, now that I look at your image again, I have the terrible sensation that you are pursuing me as if you were my shadow. Sometimes you are closer to me than Faust's Mephistopheles, and I sense that you want me to fall into temptation, and are trying to induce me to commit horrendous sins that not even death would save me from. At the same time, in the mysterious labyrinth of dreams I, myself, assume your voice and speak like the devil. It's as if you existed in our reality and not only in the fantasy of those besieged by fear and superstition, who imagine you are more dangerous than the dragon and more ferocious than the half beast, half human Minotaur.
 

montoya@tyreso.mail.telia.com


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© Traducción: Víctor Montoya, Elizabeth Gamble Miller (2008)

FOTOGRAFÍA: Fotografía del tio de la mina (Wari, Tiw) en Oruro (Bolivia) By Erios30 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], vía Wikimedia Commons.
LEE EL ARTÍCULO DE BENIGNO DELMIRO SOBRE LA LITERATURA MINERA DE VÍCTOR MONTOYA.

 

Versiones de éste artículo::  Original en castellano /      Francés /     Italiano    Sueco

 

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El Tío de la mina

(Selección de textos breves de Víctor Montoya; guión y realización Pedro M. Martínez)

 

 

 

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Crónica sobre El Tío de la mina

(Animación y video: Miro Coca Lora - Lectura y voz: Víctor Montoya)


 





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