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 EFFORT OR LUCK? THE LIVES OF MOGOK RUBY MINERS


MOST people believe that a person's success is determined by the amount of work they do and the effort they put into it. According to the Buddha, the three essential elements for a successful life are luck, wisdom and diligence. Without proper effort, nobody can achieve their goals.

In the ruby mining town of Mogok, however, effort of ten bears little fruit. It is a place where most most people believe that success is determined by luck within a fi rather than by hard I work.

There are many ruby miners in town who dedicate themselves to the virtues of hard work and full effort, and yet fortune does not smile on them. They are still waiting for good luck to come their way.

U Tun Naing is a 40-year-old man who started searching rubies when he was a teenager. He now works as an experienced twin sara (pit boss) at a local mine, and he continues to struggle to make his dream of uncovering riches come true.

"I have some shares at the ruby mine, and I also manage the mining process. I have been a mine worker as well as a pit boss," he said.

The pit boss plays an important role. He must explore the mine first, facing any possible dangers before anyone else. If he does not have much experience or knowledge about ruby mining, the mining process will not go smoothly or safe. The more expertise a pit boss has, the greater the prospects of ruby production.

"When I was mine worker I never faced serious, danger because my pit boss was an expert on gravel structure and the natural 'processes of ruby mines. Now I try to b$,a good pit boss for my workers," he said.

"Long-term experience is essential to be a good pit boss. And it is necessary to have a keen interest in ruby mining, an eagerness to take risks and a complete lack of fear," said U Tun Naing, who was employed for a mine worker for nearly 20 years before landing a job as a pit boss.

"Exploring a mine is dangerous. There is a constant danger of mine collapse when you are working underground," he said.

U Hla Myint, an ex-ruby mine worker in his 50s, pointed to a scar on his cheek and said, "This scar is a reminder of the time that I barely escaped death from t1le collapse of the ground while I was working in a mine." Another mining danger is the scar-city of air, a problem that grows more acute as workers dig deeper.

"If we don't notice the lack of air in time, we can suffocate," U Hla Myint said.

"As you can imagine, we risk our lives by digginglS0 f~ or more down into the earth, and working inside a narrow, grave-like pit the entire day," he said.

"When miners find byone, an ore layer that indicates the possible proximity of precious stones, we get very excited. But byone has become increasingly rare as the mines are exhausted, so now we must dig down to 200 feet or more, increasing the danger further," U Tun Naing said.

Over the years mine workers have developed a number of superstitions to help them face these dangers.

For example, conversations about the Buddha and Dhamma are forbidden in the mines. Instead of the word kyar (tiger), workers must use taw kaung ( animal that lives in the jungle), and mwye (snake) must be substituted with ah kaung shay (long creature).

Eating eggs, peanuts and pork, as well as wearing shoes, must be avoided underground. Miners must also, refrain from using foul language that may offend is a the spirits. Furthermore, pregnant women are not when allowed to come near I ruby mines or byone.

The strongest belief, however, is that one should pray to Mogok Bo Bo Gyi, the = chief of the seven spirits of Mogok.

"Many people in Mogok still hold these beliefs, but some workers from other regions of the country do not accept them," U Tun Naing said.

"I a1ways keep the five Thilas (Buddhist precepts) and pray to the Buddha everyday. I believe this works because I have never faced any serious danger in ruby mines," he said.

U Tun Naing has not faced danger, but he has not had success in finding precious stones either.

"It all depends on luck. I have been working hard for about 25 years, but I haven't found any precious stones. Some people who are favoured by fortune might dig up a big ruby worth millions of kyats within a few weeks of beginning their search. So luck and fate are very important in gem trading and mining in Mogok," he said.

"For a long time I was depressed about not finding any precious stones, so I got married in my early 30s. Now I have two children," he said with a smile.

Though he is absolutely absorbed by his work in Mogok, he said he does not want his children to become involved in mining or any other aspect of the ruby business.

"This kind of work is not very promising. We must rely on invisible fortune all the time. So when my children grow up, I want them to be involved in a business that can provide a regular income," U Tun Naing said.

"When I started working in this business, I dreamed of getting rich like others. And now it's been nearly 25 years, and I am not rich yet. But the dream has not died. As long as I am working, I have a chance to achieve my hopes, but if I stop I have no hope at all and my life will become boring," he said.

U Hla Myint, who stopped ruby mining a few years ago, said he intended to get back into the business again next year.

" As long as I can work, I want to keep going. I think gem mining is the most exciting job in Mogok, " he said.

Young men travel to Mogok from all over Myanmar with similar dreams of adventure and wealth. Members of one group that traveled from the Shwe Bo region in upper Myanmar said they all hoped to strike it rich.

Mine owners proyide workers from other areas with shelter, food and even healthcare. The workers keep 20 per cent of the value of any gems they find.

Others are paid monthly salaries to work at new ruby mines I where the potential to find precious stones is not very high.

One local inhabitant said there were about 700 ruby mines in Mogok.

Many are in town, while others are more isolated, five miles or more away, surrounded by high mountains and alive with workers, pit bosses and business owners.

But the entire region is filled with hopes, dreams and disappointment, all presided over by the voices of heavy machinery.

 

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Prepared by DPS. Last Modified: 23 May, 2008 (slm)

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