Deep in the country’s interior, the global gold and diamond trade begins with back-breaking labor, environmental destruction, and uncertain profits.
GUYANA’S PORT CITY OF Bartica sits where the Cuyuni, Essequibo and Mazaruni rivers meet. It has long served as a launching point for gold and diamond miners—known as pork-knockers—on their dangerous journey into the wilderness in search of fortune. Nicknamed after the pickled peccary, or wild hog, they often eat, the pork-knockers scatter throughout the dense jungle in small mining outfits of a dozen or so people.
Countless pieces of jewelry gleaming in shop windows around the world have their origins here, in the back-breaking labor of the pork-knockers and other unsung participants in the global gold and diamond trades. This is their story.
Seasoned diamond miner Clinton St. Louis has agreed to take me deep into the highlands of nearby Kurupung to see his operation at work. Our small, shared boat speeds past jagged rocks and gut-churning rapids, its captain relying on memory and a basic GPS in the near-darkness of early morning. The other passengers are hardened miners of Guyanese descent, Brazilians, Venezuelans, and an Indigenous Akawaio family.
Other boats zip past carrying cases of beer and mining machinery, dwarfed by larger dredging boats that suck up the riverbed in search of diamonds and gold, creating mountainous sand banks. The jungle’s impenetrable green walls tower over us on either side of the river, hiding from view the camp St. Louis runs.
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