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Sapphire mining

Graeme Williams

Ilakaka Sapphire mining, Madagascar

The discovery of one sapphire under a road bridge let to the formation of Ilakaka, a village of wooden shacks, gangsters, prostitutes and prospectors. The landscape is pitted with holes where prospectors have worked their claims. The small police force tries to maintain a semblance of law and order, but with more and more fortune hunters arriving, the shanty town often resembles the wild west.

The techniques of mining are very rudimentary, and safety is not a major concern. The miners work in teams to shovel the loose sand from pits, sometimes twenty metres deep. They balance on small ledges and work the sand up to the surface. Some smaller operators pan the river gravel for sapphires, while others choose to dig their own small claims.

Gem buyers wait in wooden shacks, arguing with prospectors to push prices while the prostitutes lounge in makeshift bars for a client to hit the big money.

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