Harvesting the Earth: The Chigumula Stone Chippers
Along a busy stretch of the highway leading to the Thyolo Tea Estates from Limbe, huge piles of crushed stones line the roadside. Teams of men sit among the piles tapping away at large pieces of stone. These are the stone chippers of Chigumula. They are tireless manual labourers who literally chip out a livelihood from the boulders of their valley. The process is staggering to Western eyes. It involves: burning tires below overhanging boulders to create fissures in the rock; smashing at these fissures with full-size sledgehammers until giant sections of rock fall to the ground; again smashing these smaller sections into manageable giant pieces that can be carried 100 metres uphill to the roadside; cracking these pieces into smaller rocks with medium-sized sledgehammers; then sorting these and breaking the pieces into 1 or 2 inch gravel with a small mallet; shoveling this gravel into piles; and waiting for lorries to haul it away. All by hand. The chippers work in teams and they do this everyday, with no shade and no shelter from the rain. They are literally farming the rock for use in gravel foundations for residences and shops in town. The photographs below show one team of stone-chippers (led by Simon) working in the dry season in Chigumula.