During the 1690s in southeastern Colonial Brazil, when Portuguese colonists known as bandieritas roamed the countryside looking for indigenous peoples of Brazil to capture for the slave trade, gold was discovered. The discovery changed the history of eastern South America, expanded the use of indigenous and African slaves in the Portuguese colonial regions of the continent, and contributed to the borders of present-day Brazil. The bandieritias had found gold in the present day Minas Gerais region.
Unlike other gold rushes in the world’s history, the Brazilian Gold Rush lasted the longest, from the 1690s into the 19th century. In contrast to the 1840s−1850s California Gold Rush, which helped the United States establish new “Industrial Revolution” era infrastructure, the Brazilian gold rush saw mass migration but little new non-mining infrastructure in the colony. Much like other gold rushes around the world of the era, the natural resources received notable environmental degradation from the mining process. What sets the Brazilian gold rush apart is that the consequences from losing environmentally crucial resources did not hinder the mining of gold.
Between 1693 and 1720 some 400,000 Portuguese and 500,000 slaves had relocated to southeastern Brazil to mine gold. Such was the growth that, by 1725, half Brazil’s entire population was residing in Minas Gerais. The excitement of the thought of instant wealth brought many people to the mines. The Brazilian Gold Rush also provided a new excuse for slavery to thrive as thousands upon thousands were forced to do the work, while the slave/mine owners prospered.
The Gongo Soco gold mine, operated by the Imperial Brazilian Mining Association of Cornwall using skilled Cornish miners and unskilled slaves, produced over 12,000 kilograms (26,000 lb) of gold between 1826 and 1856. The initial Brazilian Gold Rush lasted up until the late 1800s
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. Those present day village residents known as garimpieros still try to make a living from gold mining.
Brazilian miners, garimpieros, came from all walks of life and corners of the country out to the Amazon rainforest to mine for gold. These men, much like the 49ers in California, ventured out on their own and mined the jungle without interference from the government or any other entity. Makeshift towns and enterprising people followed these men into the jungle. “In all Garimpos there is a considerable floating population of non-garimpieros supplying goods and services; cooks, male and female prostitutes, mechanics, mule drivers, gold buyers, police troopers, traders, pilots, doctors, dentists, entertainers, photographers, and others”. The culture that surrounds these camps is on one hand a brotherhood where every miner looks out for one another, however on the other hand it seems that it is survival of the fittest. “Life inside Garimpos is wild and anarchic. It sees other garimpieros as competitors rather than comrades. Gold is seen as fundamentally corrupting. It ignites greed and amorality in people who seem, and may even once have been, honest and likable”. These makeshift pop-up towns seemed to resemble that of the Wild West in America, where the law was scarce, and a sense of Darwinism was established
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While the fleeting wealth brought all the Garampieros, they brought the destruction of the ecosystem. From the beginning up until the present-day, miners are still looking for their wealth. The difference is that today’s technology vastly accelerates the mining process in the jungle, effecting double or triple the amount of land before. The recent popularity surge in gold mining is due to the unstable global economy over the past two decades. The price of gold has nearly tripled in that time. “Researchers from the University of Puerto Rico have shown that between 2001 and 2013, around 1680 km2 of tropical forest was lost in South America as a result of gold mining, which increased from around 377 km2 to 1303km2 since the global economic crisis in 2007”.
Gold mining in the Amazon rainforest has destroyed whole state-sized chunks of rainforest. However the destruction is not simply kept to where the mining is taking place. Mercury is used to purify gold in the Amazon. Unfortunately this toxic element has been reported downstream and poisoning the fish that fishermen catch and sell in the markets. This technique of separation, called amalgamation, is done without protective equipment and without any regulations to discard of the mercury safely. Therefore, a massive amount of mercury has been flowing down the Amazon River since it first made its way into the hands of the miners. According to the University of Idaho, it is believed that gold mining contributes approximately 80% (168 tons annually) of mercury contamination. Mercury has devastating effects on wildlife and ultimately to the people who ingest this deadly poison. It can harm the fetus of a pregnant mothers, which results in abnormal growth/malformation of the baby’s central nervous system. The two main sources of mercury contamination is the fish that these communities consume and how close to mining the individual is, more importantly the exposure to amalgamation.
Many experts have speculated that ever since the global economy took a crash over 2 decades ago, gold’s worth has been on the rise ever since. “The price of gold, which stood at $271 an ounce on September 10, 2001, hit $1,023 in March 2008, and it may surpass that threshold again. Gold’s recent surge, sparked in part by the terrorist attack on 9/11, has been amplified by the slide of the U.S. dollar and jitters over a looming global recession”. This jump in gold prices was especially drastic in 2005 when the price continued to climb every year at a rate of nearly 200 dollars per year, which previously took over 160 years to achieve. This spike in price is an ominous warning to the global economy. However, this would explain why deforestation rates during the same period has reached an all-time high. Gold mining over the past five years in the Amazon however has taken a hit due to the unpopularity of gold Yellow Women Dresses.