Devil’s Gold

This is a story of Murahman, 27 years old, who works as a sulphur miner for nine years now, carrying sulphur two times a day, making a daily climb 3 km up the mountain, then heads downward more than 800 metres into the volcano, where the sulphur crystals form.

In his search for “devil’s gold,” as the miners call it, he works without any protection in stifling heat—all while breathing sulphurous gas that burns his lungs and makes tears stream from his eyes. To retrieve the sulphur, he attacks it with a metal pole to break it into slabs, then makes the reverse journey bearing reed baskets that weigh 68 to 90 kilograms. All this for about five dollars a day.

Average life expectancy of miners barely exceeds 50 years. They suffer from a disfigured back, deformed spine, and bent legs. Most sulphur miners take little time to rest and recover from the exhausting physical effort of carrying the sulphur from the volcano’s crater to the base camp.

The sulphur mine near the Kawah Ijen volcano, on the island of Java, Indonesia, has been active since 1968. It employs about 300 miners who face excruciating heat, toxic fumes, and huge loads in exchange for about five dollars a trip. The mine produces 14 tons of sulphur per day, which is mainly exported to China and Southeast Asia. Sulphur is used to manufacture countless products—from matches, rubber, insecticides, and fertiliser to cosmetics, batteries, sugar, and film.

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