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THE SAPPHIRE SLAVES Ilakaka, which was formerly a small peaceful village, has become, in a few months, something of a ÂŤ far west Âť town. A population reaching almost 100 000 due to the discovery, in 1998, of one of the biggest deposits of sapphires in the world. a Photo story by Patrick Castagnas / LightMediation


2658-34: The digging of a wells around the mine in order to check the seam. The shafts are dug with rudimentary tools and there are often accidents inside.

Contact - Thierry Tinacci - LightMediation Photo Agency +33 (0)6 61 80 57 21 email: thierry@lightmediation.com


2658-01: Paysage aux abords du village d Ilakaka au sud de Madagascar.///

2658-02: The mean street in Ilakaka a hut where sapphires are sold.

2658-03: The poor salary is spent to buy food and to play games

2658-04: A hut where sapphires are sold, it's a little far west.


2658-05: Street in Ilakaka, a hut where sapphires are sold.

2658-07: In order to protect their skin women wear clay. Many young girls lose themselves in prostitution.

2658-06: Street in Ilakaka

2658-08: Rossy is a Malagasy singer who took refuge in France while Mr Ravalomanana was president of Madagascar. He is now in his country giving concerts and supporting the new president.


2658-36: Food is brought to the workers in a well.


2658-09: Ilakaka village, a lot of people are poor and live in a hut made with wood.

2658-10: Rossy is a Malagasy singer who took refuge in France while Mr Ravalomanana was president of Madagascar. He is now in his country giving concerts and supporting the new president.

2658-11: Rossy is a Malagasy singer who took refuge in France while Mr Ravalomanana was president of Madagascar. He is now in his country giving concerts and supporting the new president.

2658-12: Rossy is a Malagasy singer who took refuge in France while Mr Ravalomanana was president of Madagascar. He is now in his country giving concerts and supporting the new president.


2658-13: Rossy is a Malagasy singer who took refuge in France while Mr Ravalomanana was president of Madagascar. He is now in his country giving concerts and supporting the new president.

2658-14: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included.

2658-15: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included.

2658-16: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included. workers working with ordinary tools


2658-17: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included.

2658-18: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included.

2658-19: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included.

2658-20: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included.


2658-21: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included.

2658-22: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included.

2658-23: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included.

2658-24: The extracted gravel is likely contained sapphires.


2658-46: Every night the workers come with their little precious stones hoping a good price.


2658-25: The extracted gravel is likely contained sapphires.

2658-26: The gravel bags are emptied near the river where the families live .

2658-27: The gravel bags are emptied near the river where the families live .

2658-28: The gravel bags are emptied near the river where the families live .


2658-29: The digging of a wells around the mine in order to check the seam. The shafts are dug with rudimentary tools and there are often accidents inside.

2658-30: The digging of a wells around the mine in order to check the seam. The shafts are dug with rudimentary tools and there are often accidents inside.

2658-31: The digging of a wells around the mine in order to check the seam. The shafts are dug with rudimentary tools and there are often accidents inside.

2658-32: The digging of a wells around the mine in order to check the seam. The shafts are dug with rudimentary tools and there are often accidents inside.


2658-30: The digging of a wells around the mine in order to check the seam. The shafts are dug with rudimentary tools and there are often accidents inside.


2658-33: The digging of a wells around the mine in order to check the seam. The shafts are dug with rudimentary tools and there are often accidents inside.

2658-34: The digging of a wells around the mine in order to check the seam. The shafts are dug with rudimentary tools and there are often accidents inside.

2658-35: The digging of a wells around the mine in order to check the seam. The shafts are dug with rudimentary tools and there are often accidents inside.

2658-36: Food is brought to the workers in a well.


2658-37: Children help the families working in the well.

2658-38: Children help the families working in the well.

2658-39: The gravel is panned in the river to extract the sapphires.

2658-40: The gravel is panned in the river to extract the sapphires.


2658-52: Those workers that couldn t sell their stones the night before, come back the next morning hoping to find a buyer. The principal buyers are Pakistanis, Indians, Tha誰s and a Swiss group.


2658-41: The gravel is panned in the river to extract the sapphires.

2658-42: The gravel is panned in the river to extract the sapphires.

2658-43: Small collection of sapphires after panning.

2658-44: Every night the workers come with their little precious stones hoping a good price.


2658-45: Every night the workers come with their little precious stones hoping a good price.

2658-46: Every night the workers come with their little precious stones hoping a good price.

2658-47: Those workers that couldn t sell their stones the night before, come back the next morning hoping to find a buyer. The principal buyers are Pakistanis, Indians, Tha誰s and a Swiss group.

2658-48: It s the end of the day, workers go back to their huts.


2658-16: The sapphire mine are open cast dug by hand to a depth of twenty or thirty meters to find the geologic level where sapphires are included. workers working with ordinary tools


2658-49: Those workers that couldn t sell their stones the night before, come back the next morning hoping to find a buyer. The principal buyers are Pakistanis, Indians, Tha誰s and a Swiss group.

2658-50: Those workers that couldn t sell their stones the night before, come back the next morning hoping to find a buyer. The principal buyers are Pakistanis, Indians, Tha誰s (on the picture)and a Swiss

2658-51: Those workers that couldn t sell their stones the night before, come back the next morning hoping to find a buyer. The principal buyers are Pakistanis, Indians, Tha誰s and a Swiss group.

2658-53: Those workers that couldn t sell their stones the night before, come back the next morning hoping to find a buyer. The principal buyers are Pakistanis, Indians, Tha誰s and a Swiss group.


2658-45: Every night the workers come with their little precious stones hoping a good price.


The sapphire slaves Ilakaka is situated in the southern part of island of Madagascar. The river, of the same name, has witnessed and increasingly current phenomenon in this country : the discovery of deposits of precious stones. Ilakaka, which was formerly a small peaceful village, has become, in a few months, something of a ÂŤ far west Âť town. A population reaching almost 100 000 due to the discovery, in 1998, of one of the biggest deposits of sapphires in the world. Many adventurer has tried to fit into this mining town but the stakes are high and illusions are quickly dissipated when confronted with reality. Hard, poorly paid labour, racketeering, crime and prostitution are the characteristics of this modern day eldorado. The mineral resources of Madagascar before it was colonized were scarcely exploited. The 1920s saw the arrival of the French who decided to undertake a geological prospection of the island in order to establish a list of sites that could eventually be exploited. It was in the ilakaka stream, in the middle of an arid zone, that the first sapphires were discovered in 1946 by some French prospectors, but mining on a large scale only started in 1998. This province belongs to the Ihosy district, situated between Fianarantsoa and Tulear in the south of the island. Ten years ago there only scattered huts where cattle breeders used to live. Since then town, which bears the same name as the river, has grown like mushrooms and now has a population

of a least 30 000 inhabitants, resembling a town of the "far west", with its wooden huts and its dusty alleys. A town split in tow by the mythic "national 7", a road lined with agencies sporting brightly lit and colourful signs. Where the nightly sales of sapphires are negotiated. However behind this façade looms poverty, that of former farmers and shopkeepers who have come there to seek fortune. Yet, this mirage continues to attract, daily hundreds of individuals wanting to try their luck. Not only does one find here in Ilakaka all the ethnic groups of Madagascar but also a significant foreign community, composed mainly of Thai, Pakistani, Indians and a Swiss group. This foreign community constitutes the economic power of the town since it's they who are the main buyers of sapphires. One can distinguish two types of protagonists : the big important ones who work in organized structures whose firms have their headquarters in large Asian cities like Bangkok for example. And then there are the small ones who often only have a tourist visa and who have come there to try and "hit the jackpot" or buy the stone at a low price and hope to get rich by selling a hundred times its price to merchants, when they go back home. But, more often than not, due to a lack of real possibilities, they en up serving as touts to the "big ones". You normally need a permit, of course to exploit the terrain, but a large number of small explorers mine the deposit illegally, since there is little or no control. The mining site within the vicinity of the town covers an area of 500 km2 , one of the largest in the world, the landscape resembling a battle-field, where the many mounds of soil testify to the number of excavations. The mining site for sapphires can be done in two ways. The first consist in digging a

large opencast hole to a depth of 20 or 30 metres till the vein containing the sapphires is found. The large seams are exploited by the foreign companies, since the investment necessary to reach the deep veins of sapphires ( the purchase of pumps, fuel, tools, etc. ) can be very important. The task is titanic since the digging is done by an armada of workers who transport the soil to the surface only using an array of simple tools. Small terraces are dug on the sides of the shafts, just large enough for the workers to receive the soil that is raised to them from below. Hundreds of cubic metres are thus heaved to the surface every day, from sunrise to sunset.


THE SAPPHIRE SLAVES  

Ilakaka, which was formerly a small peaceful village, has become,in a few months, something of a « far west » town. A population reaching al...

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