Sulphur Mining at Ijen, Indonesia


I was intrigued by the stories of the sulphur miners at Ijen. Many documentaries have been shot about the precarious situation that people went through to mine sulphur at an active volcano vent on the edge of the lake. This active vent is where escaping volcanic gases were channeled through a network of ceramic pipes, resulting in condensation of molten sulphur. The sulphur, which is red in color when molten, pours slowly from the ends of these pipes and pools on the ground, turning bright yellow as it cools. The miners break the cooled material into large pieces and carry it away in baskets up the steep crater. Miners carry loads ranging from 75 to 90 kilograms per trip up the 300 meters to the crater rim and then about 3 kilometers down the mountain to a weighing station. Most miners make this journey twice a day. A nearby sulphur refinery pays the miners by the weight of the sulphur transported. There are about 200 miners working on a good day.

However, when we were there, the active volcanic vent just erupted and huge amount of dangerous volcanic gases were spewing from the vents. We were forbidden to climb down the crater to the mine. Only a handful of miners worked that day. I met a miner, En Ahmad, who was climbing up the crater. I had a good talk with him on the workings of the mine. He stayed nearby the volcano crater and every morning he would wake up in the wee hours of the morning and made his way to the mines. It was an hour’s climb by his standards from the bottom of the cater to the top and then another 15 minutes down the crater. He usually arrived at dawn and collect the sulphur slabs and carried it to the refinery. It was no easy task carrying 70 to 90 kgs of sulphur slabs up the carter and down to the refinery which was about 3 km away. He was paid according to the weight of the sulphur he carries. He does that two times a day and often would finish his work around lunch if the weather is fine. On this day, he was one of the few miners who reported to work. He intends to do only one trip. He has been working in this mine for more than 10 years now. He showed me the scars from his daily routine.

I would certainly come back when the mine is working at full force.

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Miners climbing up the volcano crater from the sulphur mine


Met up with this miner who told me his story


At the crater rim


The injuries accumulated over time from carrying the sulphur slabs.


One of the miners preparing lunch at the weighing station


Some of the miners in their spare time craft artifacts for sale to the tourists


Some of the handicrafts crafted from sulphur made by the miners in their spare time.




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