Accepted paper:

The religious-magical dimension of mining technology among small-scale miners in the Tanzanite mines in northern Tanzania


Liv Haram (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the effect of neoliberal economy in the Tanzanian mining industry. Small-scale miners use religious-magical techniques as a means to secure their hazardous working conditions, and to make sense as to why some are blessed with fortune while others are not.

Paper long abstract:

The locus of this paper is the Mererani mining area in northern Tanzania and it explores some of the religious-magical technologies and strategies miners utilise in trying to secure their hazardous working conditions and to enhance their chances in their search for precious gems. Comparing their activities in small-scale farming the mines represent an exciting opportunity for most young men to 'try their luck' and to get 'quick money' - albeit more contingent than farming. The intimate connection between the miners' bodily movements and their tools is underscored by the youngest minors when they crawl like 'snakes' to access gems in the deep and narrow mining pits. Their bodies are their tools. They boost their bodies by taking drugs (khat) when they enter the dangerous and pitch-dark pits. The sweet scent also aims to keep evil forces such as hungry blood-sucking spirits at bay. Khat is, however, not impervious to spirits or evil forces. The most efficient religious-magical technique according to the miners is to sacrifice human beings or body parts (kafara) as a means to enhance their luck. The paper explores the cultural logic as to why sacrifice is an efficient means to enhance their luck in the mines. It draws on the concept of "technologies of anticipation" (da Cal and Humphrey) and suggests that such practices are used to confront and to make sense of what the miners perceive of as unfair distribution of wealth; why some are blessed with fortune while others are not.

panel P031
Mining technology: practices, knowledge and materials across and beyond the mines