Saturday 31st October 2020

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On Vimeo: Artisanal miners dive for diamonds in Sierra Leone

by Greg Klein | October 7, 2020



The work is tough, the conditions are bad but “if Allah decides it’s your time, then you will find.” So says one of a five-man river-diving crew interviewed by Laurent Cartier. But, as the filmmaker told Rapaport Magazine, instead of organizations providing grants or charity, “geologists could go down and help them in finding more diamonds.”

The Divers of Sewa offers a nine-minute look at miners who undertake the rare method of submerging as far as 10 metres without oxygen tanks or protective gear to scoop riverbed gravel into a bucket by hand.

“I know the different sands and gravels,” one miner tells Cartier. Still, months of work can go unrewarded.

The miners, aged between 18 and 50, have other sources of work but hope for a big find to free them from poverty. That goal has become even more elusive than in 1930, when diamonds were first discovered in Sierra Leone. In 1978 about 100 diamonds a day were being found in the Sewa River. During the civil war of 1991 to 2002, the country became notorious for blood diamonds.

These miners work independently, although they’re committed to sell stones to a supporter who grubstakes them. Such efforts can produce an occasional overnight millionaire, yet hope and luck have become increasingly essential to the craft.

“But one day when you find a diamond, you’ll forget all that time you failed,” one man says.

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