Ijen Crater/Kawah Ijen (Java, Indonesia) - Mitchell Kanashkevich

Sulfur Miners of Ijen Crater (Kawah Ijen) Indonesia


Kawah Ijen is Java's famous sulfur-belching volcanic crater. It is also the regular workplace for almost three hundred men, who make the grueling journey up the mountain and down the crater rim to mine sulfur.

The men depend on nothing more than a metal rod and sheer muscle power. They have no special equipment to assist them with the mining and little to no protection from the poisonous fumes that the volcano constantly expels. The job of the men at Kawah Ijen might be one of the most difficult and dangerous in the world.

The miners load their creaking bamboo baskets with broken chunks of sulfur until the weight reaches 50kg - 100kg, depending on the strength of the individual. As they make their journey back, the terrain becomes more difficult to navigate. Steep mountain paths, crumbling rocks and a steady 'traffic' of other miners and tourists are a constant challenge. A step in the wrong direction can mean death.

At the sulfur collection base, each load is weighed. The higher the weight - the higher the pay. The average wage, despite being extremely low by 'Western' standards is at least twice higher than anything the men could earn elsewhere in rural Java. Those who have the energy or large debts, make two and even three trips to Ijen crater and back.


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Miner Paing being massaged at home

Miner Paing being massaged at home

Ijen crater or Kawah Ijen, as it is known locally is Indonesia's famous sulfur belching volcano. It is here that hundreds of men carry out one of the most gruelling and dangerous jobs in the world. The work at Kawah Ijen begins with a 5km climb up to the crater rim and down to the vent, where the sulfur forms. The sulfur is broken into manageable pieces with nothing more than metal rods. The miners have little to none safety equipment and have to battle the toxic sulfuric fumes which are constantly expelled from the vent. Once the sulfur is broken up, it is loaded into bamboo baskets. The weight of the loads starts at 50kg and sometimes exceed 100 kg. The men carry the sulfur up a winding path of crumbling rocks and sand, a step in the wrong direction can mean death. The reward awaits at Ijen sulfur collection base, where the miners can expect an amount of money considerably larger than anything they'd make from most other jobs in rural Java, Indonesia.

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