12. tammi, 2018

Eden, a hellish piece of paradise

We’re in the 16th century, in medieval Mexico and the highlands have been inhabited by native indians for centuries, in perfect harmony with the surrounding nature. Then, the first spaniards arrive. There’s this one native guy who is keen to make friends with a spanish settler, and in an attempt to show friendship he gives the spaniard a gift; a little bit of the silver found in the mountains, that the indians have been using for jewellery making. The spanish guy is intrigued to know where the indian had found the silver and so they ride up the mountain together. The indian has no idea yet of the catastrophic consequences his friendliness would unfortunately lead to.

The spanish guy tells all his countrymen about the silver and in no time at all a mine is built on the site. The native tribe are forced into slave labour in the mine and they hack away at the mountain with pick axes from dawn until dusk, receiving only a couple of coins for their work, barely enough for a measly meal. Over the years the mine extends up to 200m deep under ground and the indians are forced to carry up sacks of materials on their backs from the depths, using wooden ladders to climb up and down the narrow tunnels. Children as young as eight years old are forced to work in this way, and they’re often preferred over the adults, since they can fit even in the narrowest of passageways.

As times goes on, more materials are found and the mine now produces gold, iron as well a silver and other minerals. The prosperous mine gets it’s name; “Eden”, due to the paradise-like luxury it affords it’s owners. For the locals, however, it’s more like hell. Workers die in their hundreds in accidents and of lung diseases after breathing in the noxious air in the tunnels. The slavery continues for nearly three centuries, passing from one generation to another, while all the gold and silver get shipped overseas to Spain.

In 1829, the freshly elected president Vicento Guerrero finally abolishes slavery in Mexico, but the back braking work in the mine still continues, now with the added tool of dynamite, causing huge accidents, where parts of the mine collapse or fill up with gushing water. There are some benefits to technological advancement too though, access to the vertical tunnels is made easier by using ropes and baskets instead of ladders and a little further down the line proper lifts are installed. Drills are introduced to replace the manual pick axes.

Eden stays active until the 1960’s, but these days it serves as a museum, allowing the public access to the mine on guided tours. We get taken to a memorial site that’s been carved into the wall inside the mine, and I find myself reflecting on the sad history of this place, as I watch the candles burn , in honour of all who lost their lives here.