© 2019 by Terry Boddie.

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Coalman

All around the world, charcoal is made by an ancient process of carbonizing wood through controlled burning under mounds of earth over a period of weeks. The resulting coal is the only affordable source of fuel for families in many parts of the world. As a result, charcoal making has contributed to rampant deforestation in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

 

This subject matter has a deep personal resonance for me; my grandfather was a coal man.  When he died, my grandmother took over the business of making charcoal. I remember as a youngster helping to gather wood for the pit, and carrying the charcoal away for storage once the pit was excavated, or "hauled". I also remember being badly burned by the hot soil thrown from the mound during this dismantling process.

 

Making charcoal is backbreaking, dangerous work for the men and women who do it. The man seen in these images, Cuthbert Clarke, is one of the last remaining coal men on the island of Nevis in the Eastern Caribbean. In fact, he was taught the science of the pit by my grandfather. These images document Mr. Clarke in various stages of the arduous task of preparing the coal pit for the month long process of carbonizing wood into charcoal.