Grim Ilakaka Village turned into a mining hub overnight with the discovery of pink sapphires!
This little village, South of Madagascar with only 85 inhabitants in the early 90’s was flooded with travelers seeking their fortune. Thousands of people came looking for pink Sapphires which boosted the population to 10,000.
These Sapphires of high quality were found in alluvial deposits and extracting the gems was very easy. As no industrial operations were required, they were simply accessible to anyone with a shovel and picks willing to dig.
Stories of fortune attracted people from all ranks of society. Many miners would, at times, spend months searching, only to find stones of little value.
This has resulted in the expansion of illegal mining over the last 15 years. It has led to deep holes and residents scavenging knee-deep in red clay.
In July 2017, photographer Massimo Rumi visited the village for a documentary.
He said: “Speaking to some diggers I was told that many people have lost their life, either because holes sometimes collapse without warning or because of the harmful gas in the sapphire pit.”
He observed that most of the people lived on less than $2 per day. The mining is extremely dangerous and has caused widespread cholera due to lack of infrastructure in the overcrowded town.
Rumi would spend most of his nights away from the main town due to its bad image. He had heard rumors of violence in the area. During the day time, he would visit the town where he was escorted by the soldiers.
Despite all the rumors, he had a pleasant journey.
He said: “However, I have to admit that it didn’t feel dangerous at all. When shooting around, people were very welcome and smiling and didn’t mind my presence.”