Culture of Mining: Health Hazard or Cultural Identity?

Beneath the mountains. A pocket miner’s only safety gear: helmet, boots, and headlight.

The silence of the mines were deafening. Not a tinge of music or crackle of laughter. The mines were also scentless. Just the rainfed rancor of the earth and nothing else. It was a holy ground for the miners.

For the people of Dalicno, Itogon, Benguet, mining is not the usual job, it is a holy duty where they regard the mountains as the great giver of gold. Balitok is the deity of gold and mines that the community believes in.

The Ibaloi community has great regard for these deities that they have established rules inside the mines in fear of the anger of the gods. Other deities include the tommungao, Anito, and Diwata.

Rituals and Beliefs

First and foremost, the Ibaloi believe that the mines are the sacred grounds where the spirits and the unseen dwell. And a miner must not cause disturbance in their presence.  It is their belief that the deities are their very own ancestors that take care of them and their livelihood. Thus, practices in their daily life and their work as miners are one.

The elders, along with the other officers and community folks decide when to start and stop practicing mining. Since small-scale farming is handed down from their ancestors, the tradition and practices are also handed down.

Foods with strong odor are prohibited inside the mines. Miners abstain from eating meat products such as dog, beef, goat, duck, and fish. Further, spicy and dark colored foods such as chili and onions are also excluded in their diet before going to the mine site. When drunk, one must not enter the tunnel in the belief of bad omen.

Miners are also prohibited from singing while going into the mine sites. The miners work silently in fear of the deities and they respect the traditions or practices of the community regarding mining. The miners believe that creating noise like singing, whistling, fighting and talking to others will cause stones to break and erode leading to accidents and the disturbance of the tommungao.

Their fear from the deities’ anger leads the miners into offering gifts by butchering pigs to pacify deities and give them a bountiful reward.

A miner, who was also a respondent to a study, shared that giving offering to the deities will give beneficial results. He said that his mining site was experiencing low gold production. But after an offering of a pig shared by all miners and community folks, the partial production was gathered and found to be good.

Further, no work during dunduno (offering) and dangtey (ritual done to bring back good luck) is observed. These are rituals that Dalicno pocket miners strictly observe to make peace with the deities through offerings for better production and allowing miners to work safely.

Miners are also required to perform the lawit when someone in the community passed away. They are prohibited to enter the mines and must perform the ritual after the wake.

This is a sample wheelbarrow that is used in transporting sacks of gold ore. Men were given the heavier jobs requiring strength and endurance. Women on the other hand were given the lighter jobs such as cleaning the ores and processing the gold.
Photos by Mary Rose Catapang et al.

Health hazards of miners

According to the study titled, “Factors Affecting Lifestyle and Health Status of Pocket Miners of Benguet,” by Mary Rose B. Catapang, Louisa F. Laron, Manolita N. Alvaro, Doris S. Natividad, Janet Lynn S. Montemayor, and Maureen E. Gay- as of the College of Nursing, the health status of the pocket miners are affected by their culture, environmental hazards, workplace condition, resources and nature of work.

It is also found that pocket miners are prone to Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) due to urinary retention among men. One of the customs is not to bring bad odor to the mines; men abstain from urinating inside the mines especially when they are deep inside the mining areas.

According to the study, many respondents admit that heat, heavy load, improper sitting position and irregular meal intake contributes a lot to their health condition.

The environmental conditions, mining practice, and nutrition affect the health status and life style of the miners. The miners are exposed to different environmental hazards like the fumes, lime, gas, chemical, charcoal, heat, and cigarettes.

Discovered during the study are some pocket miners that have hazy infiltrates in one or both lungs from the dust and other chemical inhaled. Out of 28 pocket miners, 3 males and 3 females were found to have lung infection.

Potable water in the residential area as the source of water is far from the mining site.  But in the mining site, there is short supply of potable water. The lack of potable water supply makes it harmful to miners, especially since it is warm inside the tunnel.

The study recommends health and safety education for better culture among miners and information dissemination on the food pyramid, life style improvement, and environmental health hazard prevention.

To this day, the cultural practice in mining of the Dalicno community lives on. However, culture does not have to clash with or deprive people of good health practices. Culture is dynamic; it is not static but continuously evolves with people’s development. Thus, culture can also be adapted to human needs, to improving human conditions.

Because what is wealth when there is poor health?

//Mikeen Penchog





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