The Gleam of Gold and the Smell of Witches

Small-scale gold mining

Small-scale gold mining

During two periods in the history of the Guiana Maroons gold mining was a focus of economic activity. Between 1885 and 1915 gold was mined in French Guiana and Suriname. The smaller deposits in the coastal regions were soon depleted. The attention of thousands of fortune hunters shifted to the interior of the Guianas, covered by rain forest and only penetrable by way of rivers, barred at many places by rapids and waterfalls. Only one group had the means (dugout canoes) and the skills to reach these remote places: the Maroons of Suriname. Saamaka and Ndyuka Maroons earned fortunes as river transporters. Soon after the beginning of the gold rushes, massive witch cleansing operations started in the home areas of the boatmen. Witches were seen as envious have-nots.

Gold mining in the Sella Creek, a tributary of the Tapanahoni, started in earnest shortly before the beginning of the civil war (1986). Now Ndyuka Maroons were the gold miners; during the 1990s their Brazilian competitors were pushed out of the Sella Creek region. Once the area had been ethnically cleansed of the Brazilians, the gold miners rallied behind a new witch finder to eliminate the presence of a number of witches. The suspects usually were entrepreneurs who owned the expensive machinery that makes gold mining in that region so successful. They were forced out of business by accusations of moral turpitude, culminating in accusations that they had enlisted the help of the demon dwarves (Bakuu).

Land Tenure, Migration, and Socioenvironmental Changes in Relation to Gold Mining at Porgera, Papua New Guinea

In this paper, I examine how changing land tenure regimes related to migration due to gold mining differentially structure access to mining production areas. Traditional social life in Porgera is characterized by extremely flexible social arrangements as an adaptation to a high altitude subsistence system. Pressure from in-migrating outsiders and state and multinational development schemes is altering flexible and communal property regimes toward regimes that are more restrictive and exclusive in determining appropriate users and uses of these resources. The consequences of these developments are greater social conflict and deforestation as people struggle for control over key resources in areas of overlapping and transforming tenure regimes.

Placing mining practices in Burkina Faso: development from tradition to modernity?

Comparative research on mining sites in different parts of Burkina Faso shows how variations in mining practices are informed by geological circumstances and historical importance of gold in a region, but also by local practices of hosting immigrants and providing access to land, the type of (international) companies engaging in mining activities, the choices of municipal authorities, and working preferences of different groups of miners. The paper investigates how different actors – ranging from representatives of host communities, women mining in the vicinity of their homestead, immigrant miners, senior staff of international mining companies, policemen, and municipal authorities – compare and comment upon these variations.

Three issues are dominant in the commentaries: social processes of opening up specific places for gold mining activities; the making of social (dis) order in and around mining sites; gold as a source of wealth that may or may not lead to bright, sustainable futures.

The paper demonstrates how valuations of actual working arrangements on different mining sites may mimic as well as contradict developmental discourses which presuppose an inevitable trajectory of social changes from traditional to modern practices. Moreover, what is labelled as traditional or modern and who is supposed to take the lead in practices distinguished as such are the outcome of specific collaborations across a hybrid range of actors, engaged in co-producing moralities for placing mining practices both at tangible sites and in imagined futures.

Gold, Women And Taboos: Transcending Socio-Cultural Barriers That Affect Women‟s Work In Artisanal And Small-Scale Mining Communities

This paper is about women who make a living in and around gold and gemstone mines. It identifies social norms and cultural taboos that restrict the participation of women in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector, and analyzes when and how these common law rules are negotiated. The analysis builds on anthropological fieldwork among male and miners and mining service providers in Suriname, Zambia, Nigeria, and Senegal. In these different cultural settings we find both distinct cultural restrictions as well as shared socio-cultural norms that affect the working lives of women in mining communities, such as the depreciation of sexual promiscuity and prohibitions on women working underground. The author argues that such taboos are social constructs that are continuously reformulated for practical -often economicreasons. These fluid codes of conduct may adapt, for example, to an increasing need for women‟s auxiliary services at a mine site or for income. Macroeconomic and political factors, historical processes, and the personal capacities of women are mediating these changes. The author concludes that women from places with a strong tradition of entrepreneurship, who possess personal managerial capacities, are most likely to overcome barriers created by gender-induced taboos. To these women, gold and gemstone mining can provide an important means to reach livelihood objectives and build a better future for themselves and their families.

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