Mining moves matter – people, goods and materials. Gold in its various material forms – ore in hard-rock quartz or alluvial ‘free’ gold - can move within the space of the mine, in orebodies, and in mud and water, and by extraction through different machinery. Wide open pits, deep horizontal tunnels, near surface river beds, the form mining takes shapes the movement of extracted matter. Old and new infrastructures often become combined in a mine, helping or hindering extraction. Before, alongside and after the gold, comes vast quantities of rocks, soil, stones, and into the mine go props, pulleys and people. Water rises up from the ground and down sluices, and rivers form waterways for transport of miners and goods. Mercury, cyanide and supplies come into camps, people and gold go out. This gold follows trade lines: from mine sites to smelters and jewelers, to consumers, and into the vaults of banks; while innovation takes it into new markets, traversing the globe. As matter moves so do people, and for women, men and children this is often in different ways, on foot and by bicycle, motorbike, car, truck, buses, trains and planes. These infrastructures connect mine sites and mining matter to a wider world. Through the social mobility of miners, traders, entrepreneurs, all with aspirations, mining may be a stepping stone helping people move downwards, upwards, outwards.
In the Amazon, gold mining is a major driving force, moving people, goods, and materials. Mobility involves a spectrum of different conditions and modalities. The materiality of gold itself passages within the space of the mine, both manually and through water and mud, using different machinery, like hoses and sluice boxes. Inside the mines, enormous quantities of soil and supplies are moved and removed when extracting gold. In underground mining, (garimpo de filão), the gold vein is embedded with rocks. Garimpeiros build long underground tunnels to follow the vein (filão). Through a system of pulleys, people and materials go up and down. Outside, the Amazon reveals its magnitude. Rivers represent the most important way to access this environment. However, in the 1970s, during the military dictatorship in Brazil, the plan to integrate the Amazon into national society resulted in the construction of highways, such as the BR-163. Roads became the new rivers: trucks, cars, buses, and any means of terrestrial transportation are now possible. Wherever these are insufficient, small planes cover the distance, moving matters and people to a garimpo.
The movement of matter is integral to mining, whether gold flowing down a river or excavation by miners. People, ideas, technology, goods, and gold, are all highly mobile. In the wetlands of Busiaand Buhweju, miners deploy rhythmic panning to move matter for a livelihood. In Buhweju, the excavation of gold is intimately bound to directing the movement of water. Use of banana fibers is ubiquitous for diverting and capturing small river channels. As well as for materials, bananas are the basis of local agri cultureand a staple food for miners. Some mine sites on the hillslopes coexist with bananas. Where there is water, these sites may be transformed into artisanal distilleries for waragi, banana liqueur. In Busia, people have mined rich gold reserves for generations, more recently attracting new technology, innovation and finance. Change is not linear; many technologies and practices co-exist. ASMOs facilitate movement. Miners have travelled to Tanzania to learn and Tanzanian engineers have returned. This has led to innovation and to gold moving into new markets; some is sold internationally as ‘fairly traded’ or‘ecological’. All the while, this movement of matter transforms the local economy, society, and environment.
Mobility is an important characteristic of gold mining. The residences built on mining sites may testify to temporarity: people may come and go, sites may be abandoned. Mining sites are in flux, but so is gold itself. Gold moves in trade lines from mining sites to jewelers, to consumers, and vaults of banks elsewhere. Before gold matter leaves mining sites, processing the ore also involves moving matters: equipment moves and is often imported from elsewhere. Mining sites are connected to the world at large. They may also be a stepping stone for miners to move upwards and/or outwards. In this series we portray social mobilities of miners to find out what moves them: what are the aspirations in life and where can these be realized?
The use of big machinery allows garimpeiros to removed and wash huge amount of soil over a very extended area.
A typical group of five garimpeiros working: one garimpeiro with the maraca (big hose for vacuuming material); two with hoses to stream of water to remove material; and two with picks to help the process.
While they are still preparing the underground mine, the men use the dala to find a little gold at little cost (fuel) so that they can make a living until the mine starts producing.
Men, tools and heavy machinery working together to move, carry and wash material to extract the gold.
The mixture of water and sand sucked up by the maraca in the pit is pumped on these sluice boxes. Here the gold is retained by the carpet at the basis of the box. Slope and length determined the speed of the water and efficiency of the extraction.
This road was built at the beginning of the 1980s to connect the region of gold extraction to broader markets. It connects Morais Almeida, a little village along the BR-163 highway, to Creporizão, a village of garimpeiros on the Crepori riverbank.
This highway was built to connect south to north of Brazil, crossing six states and thousands of kilometres. This route triggered the movement of people, supplies and products. Its central role in the region made it the axis of encounters, conflicts and transformation.
Heavy machinery used in mines transported on the Transamazônica highway. This highway was built in the early 1970s, during the military dictatorship and connects the north of Brazil with the rest of the country. It is one of the most important routes used by miners to transport machinery and supplies.
A small plane moves garimpeiros, tools, supplies and gold from local garimpos to Creporizão. Wherever terrestrial and fluvial means of transportation are insufficient, small planes like this one cover every distance.
Ferry navigates the clear waters of the Tapajós river to enter the city of Itaituba from the BR-163 highway. The Tapajós one of the main affluents of the Amazon river and it is several kilometres wide. The ferry takes around half an hour to cross it.
Boats transporting fuel to garimpos on Munduruku indigenous lands. Raissa Moraes visited Jacareacanga, the pole city for the Munduruku indigenous people. Nowadays, thousands of garimpeiros mine on Munduruku’s lands.
Waterway transport is essential for the transit of people and supplies in the Brazilian Amazon. Every day, in the port of Jacareacanga, boats transport workers and supplies to the garimpos located on indigenous lands of Munduruku people.
On the border of Suriname and French Guiana, it is commerce in the service of illegal gold mining in the French national park that provides work and income for men and women of all ages and nationalities. Here, men carry food, oil and parts for mining machines in a canoe that will enter French territory some distance away. There, they will unpack everything to continue their journey on foot. If they are back in time, they will make another trip like that today. If it is later, they will not bring another load until tomorrow.
A garimpeiro descending the tunnel. In this type of mining (garimpo de filão), the gold vein is embedded with rocks. They build the underground tunnels following the vein (filão). Through a system of pulleys, people and materials go up and down.
The pulley operator uses a flexible tube to communicate with the garimpeiros underground. The tube also transports fresh air directly into the tunnel. Ensuring good communication and fresh air is fundamental for the men working underground.
Here, the only entrance of an important small-scale underground mine containing primary gold deposits of Lourenço District. This mine has been open since the 1970s. The owner of the operation is responsible for employing more people who live in the local community.
The Chinese shopkeeper tells Marjo and Sabine that "every trade has its risk". The French gendarme regularly intercepts some of the loads of smuggled goods that leave for the mines at the French side of the border.
From out of the ore. Extracted at SAMA by first crushing ore to a powder, then using the gold kacha, followed by the gold konka, a new technological innovation that doesn’t require the use of mercury for amalgamation.
From out of the wetland. Extracted through river panning, a technique that takes knowledge and skill but no mercury.
Akalega means scales. Until the 1980s, such akalega were used by local traders to weigh gold bought from artisanal miners. Colonial and modern coins with different weights were used as the unit of measurement. Weighing marks an exchange that signals gold’s value for miners’ and journey away from the mines.
A gold miner repairs a plastic basin used to transport earth from the bottom of the pit to the washing points. Having scarce capital at their disposal, miners strive to reuse practical and low-cost tools. Plastic basins have the advantage of being light. Their drawback is that they can be easily broken.
A group of miners starts washing the extracted earth after organising the space around a small stream of water. The arrangement of the banana trunks, the construction of canals for the flow of water and small dams must be wisely managed to achieve the desired result.
Two miners sift the earth extracted from a hole using two banana tree trunks, a hoe, and their hands. This apparent simplicity should not lead one to think that artisanal technology is rudimentary or primitive. On the contrary, it requires expert knowledge accumulated over generations.
Gold mining can coexist with banana cultivation. Gold veins may be rich enough to entice landowners to grant permission to dig their land in exchange for a percentage of the earnings. Materials are separated and moved; once the work is complete, the holes are covered with the same stones and part of the earth extracted.
Once the gold is finished, miners have to find a new job. In this case, miners have become distillers using bananas grown on the same land where they had worked until a few days before. From banana juice can be obtained an alcoholic drink known as waragi.
The banana juice is distilled by cooking it in barrels placed on the fire and connected to pipes cooled with water from streams.
The photo reveals how in Busia, the mining technologies open-casts (made by excavators) and timbered shafts (made from eucalyptus wood) are complementary, used in close connection. Outsiders tend to moralise technologies and compare them. In practice, however, they each make sense under specific conditions that include geology and momentum.
An old shaft is found, when miners excavate an open-cast for bigger exploration. In the future the miners from Tiira Landlords and Artisanal Miners Association (TLAMA) aim to build new timbered shafts to reclaim the surface.
An engineer from Tanzania explains how to transform an open-cast into a timbered shaft. This mine of Tiira Landlords and Artisanal Miners Association (TLAMA) was first built open - to explore - and then covered again to leave only a timbered shaft. The surface is being reclaimed.
This gold kacha is a washing machine for gold mining. It centrifuges water and powder (crushed gold ore). The gold is separated and concentrated by the gravitational power. NGO Environmental Women for Actions in Development (EWAD) facilitated a gold kacha for SAMA and BUSCO to stimulate mercury free mining.
Residues from gold mining, tailings, are since recently repurposed in Busia by the technology of cyanidation. Tailings still contain lots of gold. SAMA built this advanced plant and lent out their gold kacha - SAMA now receives the tailings from the gold kacha.
Timbered shafts enable underground mining that is safe and requires little land. This technology traveled to Busia from Geita (Tanzania). SAMA timbered this shaft. The geology in Busia and Geita differ, which made the first attempts by Tanzanian engineers complex.
Miners use this oxygen pump as a telephone, a communication tool. Via the pipe of the pump, miners at the top of the timbered shaft can communicate with the miners down in the tunnel. The oxygen pump is crucial, too, for underground mining.
Local migration flows have always been important for ASGM in Guinea. Gold rushes can produce high, and often short-lived, concentrations of migrant miners in limited areas. Here, a mining site composed mostly by miners migrating from neighboring countries, bringing new extracting and processing techniques with them.
A buyer weighs gold before buying it. Local buyers are part of broader networks connected to large-scale traders and smelters based in cities, or abroad. They sometimes support the work of miners through loans and pre-financing, which helps them strengthen their web of trust- and debt-based informal relations.
While ASGM is generally a very mobile space, marked by the fast movement of people, finance and technology, Ghana's 2017-2018 moratorium on ASM largely brought the sector to a halt. This picture shows an empty processing site: usually a bustling and noisy place, in November 2018 it was all empty and silent.
Left-over material from a ´cyanide washing site´ in Ghana is washed into a neighbouring garden where, among other things, bananas are grown. Although sand-sacks are placed to prevent this from happening, gold-related matter is moving out of the sector here, thereby adversely affecting other activities that are located in proximity.
The map illustrates flows and relationships connecting the different mining areas in the surroundings of Kampti (southwestern Burkina Faso). Areas are specialized in different stages of production (excavation, processing, sale): miners and materials move between them and also travel to the nearest villages and towns.
Housing units in secco (straw) for miners in Bantara
A group of miners resting near a shaft after spending the night digging underground, while the second team started its shift. Site named “Hong-Kong” (likening the shape of the shafts to architecture in Hong Kong), currently area of “Line waafo” (snake-sized line, also referring to the shape of the gold vein).
A manual weighing scale used to weigh gold.
Three-wheel cargo motorcycles are easy to maneuver and facilitate a rapid transport of the rock from extraction areas to processing sites. In Guinea they are called katakata, possibly after the noise produced by their passage. Here, an association of katakata drivers and sellers.
In Burkina Faso three-wheel cargo motorcycles are called Apsonic. In the dry Sahel region, they are often used to transport water to sites where gold is processed.
A Chinese engine, cooled down through the water in the barrel on its left. Import of machines and chemical products is essential for, and fueled by, technological innovation in ASGM economies.
There is a strong Chinese presence in Ghana’s gold mining: Chinese engineers, Chinese materials, Chinese shops with equipment are very visible near mines. Here, Chinese engineers build new infrastructure with materials that have just arrived from China.
Chinese business in and around mining is booming. The two Chinese women sell equipment, and since they have not been in Ghana long they speak in signs or use Google translate to talk to visitors.
Portable metal detectors (first brought to Guinea in the late 2000s by an Australian company and later popularized by cheaper reproductions) increased the flexibility of miners, allowing them to move around in small teams in search of new deposits. They can also be used to inspect the extracted ore.
Chinese have recently introduced a new way of powdering ore: a wet pan grinding mill. Ghanaians expressed admiration at the efficiency, speed and dustfree way of working with this machine.
The jacket of a Ghanaian mine hoist operator who works in a small-scale mine in Tarkwa, Ghana for an operation established as joint venture between Ghanaian and Chinese actors. Since approximately 2006, the Chinese have steadily carved out an important position in the Ghanaian mining sector.
This wagon is descending to collect waste material as part of the process of reopening an abandoned industrial underground mine in Tarkwa, Ghana. Typically, such activities are propelled by the influx of (Chinese) capital and technology in the country´s small-scale mining sector.
Zakari travels regularly from his mining place in northern Ghana to Obuasi in the South, where his parents live. Zakari is building his house here, aspiring to a life with his wife. He is moving his gold to a future elsewhere, from a miner leading a ‘gang’ to a husband taking care of a family.
Zakari in front of his future house. The house, he hopes, will be filled with a family. His T-shirt is spelling out what he should do: ‘Mama must Chop’ refers to the obligation of taking care of children.