Of Rocks & Gopher Holes

Of Rocks & Gopher Holes

Mining in Madagascar is not easy! Doing almost anything in Madagascar isn’t easy. They have the most co-operative and willing population in any country that I have ever been in, but between broken down infrastructure, primitive methods and a corrupt Government system that makes our own and South American Banana Republics systems look like they have a “Honest John” President with Quaker Ministers, things get complicated. Add French style heavy beaurocracy into the conditions and things get sticky, dirty and damn near impossible to operate inside of. They do have fantastic Geology though and there is a wide and varied range of some of the most interesting gems, crystals, minerals, fossils and Industrial metals that one could dream up. I have everything from bags of Sapphire, tons of quartz crystals, full sized Dinosaur Skeletons, some little crystals (like the 2.3 and 4.2 ton crystals that were excavated). There is a whole wide range of minerals such as Celestite, killer Demantoid Garnet specimens, Septerye, Labradorite, Amazonite, Blue Calcite, the most beautiful Carnelian, Tourmalines (Lidicoatite Mercedez Star from Varkinankaratra Region springs to mind), Rutile, Pyrite, Petrified Wood and dozens of others (even Azurite and Dioptase more recently). Not only is there a huge variety of Minerals and Gemstone material available, but there is also a huge Lapidary Manufacturing fraternity to back the raw material up, and there are dozens of small family businesses that have a whole array of machines (mostly home- made) and the Lapidary business contributes significantly to the running and economy of Madagascar ( a leaf or three could be taken by our Government here). I have been backwards and forwards between S.A and Madagascar for over 24 years and have somehow managed to make it work with the help of a couple of good Malagasy folks (almost like a second family). We find, track down, manufacture a complete range of stone goods from Madagascar and have set up a network of guys in the Lapidary trade and have a fairly extensive knowledge of the Island and its contents. Obviously, sometimes we had off into the remote area’s looking for particular types of material. There are some beautiful places that are outstanding, and some extremely strange and wonderful wee beasties from Chameleons to Tenrecs, forked nose snakes, Boa’s and the good old Fusa Fusa ( Crypter Procter ferox) of The Madagascar Cartoon fame, and some of the weirdest and wonderful bugs that an entomologist could possibly wish to find. Most folks who are interested and have a passion for natural Minerals also have an ongoing love affair with all of Mother Nature and I comply to this norm to the nth degree and have much more than a decent amount of fun and excitement looking at the smallest to the largest rock, leaf, insect, animal, tree or landscape. Depressingly, most areas that were covered in massive Palisandre Rosewood trees 20 odd years ago(I am talking whole landscapes full) don’t have a tree left standing and the National Tree seems to be a bugweed, Chromalina, and scraggly Gum and Pine trees on the horizon….much like South Africa…with small exquisite pockets where it is in-accessible or the area just got lucky. These areas are obviously now mostly devoid of their natural fauna as well. There are, however some stunning natural areas left and they defy all of your senses with the variety of flowers, insects and animals that can be found in these regions. I often dream of creating enough $millions to be able to buy up or plan schemes to save these places (although we are busy in our own beautiful Lower Mpushini Valley, Pmb, area trying to create exactly this..a protected Area) …Back to Geology…(I get sidetracked!). Madagascar has a covering of Red clay soil on top of some quite seriously Geologically challenged landscapes. Mostly hill-mountain hybrid out-crops of ex-volcanic origins. It is a disseminating Geological landscape and water courses and rivers run between every hill and mountain, creating a Geologists paradise of places where you can see the actual ground formations. Quartz crystal plates hang out of the sides of the banks, water runs through fossil deposits and loosens up dinosaur bones and allows us to view sections of ancient sea-beds full of ammonites, deposits large nodules of fiery orange red carnelians, and gives us great clues as to what will lay in the associated layers close by. Erosion leaves natural (and un-natural) trenches for the rock- seeking-eye to follow and track down all sorts of minerals. Small scale miners dig in these deposits continuously. There is little large scale mining and all areas are open to locals to dig materials from the ground. This helps local economies subsidises their incomes from, mostly, rice and cattle. You can get quite a surprise when you visit a deposit where there are holes in the ground going in all directions and people of all gender and age digging happily away (Malagasy folks can only be described as “happy” above all else). In a country where the average income is around $1 per day (I pay my guys normal SA money..they are yuppies), they are surprisingly not always as poor as you may think. Most Malagasy folks have rice fields that set a permi-culture standard for water usage and there are mind boggling systems of hundreds of thousands of km of gulley, channels, drainage and zig-zagging water courses running everywhere from tops of mountains to plains. The houses are mostly double or triple story long tall houses…usually with no glass, 90% with no electric at all, but beautifully built thick clay brick houses with thatch or traditional baked clay and rice husk “club/half round style” tile roofs…and some wonderful, often ornately carved wooden staircases, paneling, window shutters and absolutely gnarly wooden cattle kraals, handcarved water troughs. Most remote Malagasy Villages look like 13th century Medieval European villages, not anything like anywhere else in Africa. Every household has 2.2 wooden carts..mostly beautiful made with big ole wooden spoke wheels and wood rims, painted and pulled by the family humped back Zebu cattle. Children help their parents in the field (although their education system is surprisngly good as well). I murder the French language reasonably well and speak a fair spattering of Malagasy and probably ask some strange questions and am often rewarded with finding out how flowers oils and antique oil presses work, peanuts are shelled, old fashioned milling devices work and get to collect all sorts of enriching information that is probably of no use whatsoever to my normal daily needs, although I admit, I have copied some of the styles, water usage systems and cannot help myself but to pick up the odd gnarly old item here and there to bring back home. I compare this to our own African system where everybody claims poverty, but earns 10-20 times more on average, but have mostly culturally poor systems in place and need everything, but there are rarely signs of agriculture or small business taking place. Malagasy folks don’t grow up with expectations of getting a job, so instead make cheese, have small Epiceries (grocer shops), have fruits stalls, sell duck pate, breed chickens, grow lots of rice and make moonshine… and celebrate a lot. I would much rather live in a Malagasy village on $1 per day or traditional Zulu area than in the average South African suburb personally but find our own beautiful country often devoid of real appreciated rich cultural practices..and few people that really want it back even if they could have it. Most of these Malagasy folks are well educated and are not primitive minded at all…something we could learn from in South Africa. Maybe we watch too Much TV and everybody wants to be a Hollywood Star or a Rap/R&B singer here and is in for the “rags to riches” overnight scenario and won’t settle for better realistic alternatives! Back to stones! I have recently found and tracked down a couple of Copper deposits in Ambatfinhandrana Region of Central Madagascar. We located a deposit along a 100km mountain range that is both rich and diverse in minerals such as lead, Copper, Iron, Plancheite, Chrysacolla, Chalcocite, Azurite, Zinc, Bornite, Cerussite, , Uranium (I wasn’t happy having found the yellow tell-tell traces in the one copper deposits actually) , Dioptase, Pyrite, Chalcopyrite, Malachite, Conichalcite, calcite and various others. Much of this is obviously industrial mineral, but there are also some outstanding mineral specimens here and there..especially if you can save them before somebody has managed to break them in half, pack them badly or damage them! I have located several decent sized deposits in a couple of different remote areas and applied for mineral rights for these places…many of these places I am often the first and only whitey that they have ever seen…quite an interesting phenomena and one assumes that people have been everywhere by now…not so. Government systems are more complicated than one could have possibly guessed, and I am guessing that have of the deforestation may have been sucked up in official paperwork that one is supposed to bribe everybody for along every step of the way…but none-the-less…….. Mining Methods….precarious to say in the least sometimes. I have attached some photo’s of the one mine near Ambatfinhandrana…..a gopher nest of holes running in every direction. Everybody is up in arms about Blood Diamonds, but nobody says a thing about the African/Malagasy folks who implement these systems and have children working long hours on mines for food. When you try and change these methods, you find you very quickly get blocked by a whole range of Colonels, local affairs politicians and National Ministers. “Colonials have been blamed for much of this sort of behaviour in Africa and nobody is pointing their fingers in the right directions. Efficient normal companies and people have good, effective policies and work practices and ethics that they abide by, but when systems have fallen apart, usually only people and companies that are prepared to take high risks will take up these offers of minerals…expecting much higher returns and with no care to how it operates, as long as they turn a good profit…and attracting exactly the wrong “Big Man” syndrome locals to “gangsterise” the deals. I am trying very hard NOT to go this route, as I have a lot of friends and have been there for many years, but it has proved very difficult so far. None-the-less, there are some fantastic and exciting new types of stones, crystals and fossils to be found in Madagascar. It is certainly mineral rich. I have walked in places where there are so many acres of sharp crystal points, you need to wear boots, as they break normal shoes and have been taken to remote spots to look at 32 meter long Dinosaur Skeletons, places where oil leaks out of the ground naturally and have been treated wonderfully by a couple of thousand of the local people who I have dealt with over the last couple of decades. This Island of approximately 1400km by over 400km wide houses a cornucopia of weird and wonderful Geological finds in many inaccessible places and we are always looking forward to what may pop its point up next. I am attaching a few photo’s for your interest of The Copper Mining, a 4.2 ton Quartz Crystal, a Sauropod Dinosaur Bone, a giant cut & polished Ammonite pair and a traditional Malagasy Village for your pleasure, plus a few extra’s. Regards Nick

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  • Zolia - April 18, 2019

    Thank you for sharing your experiences so colorfully about this totally amazing island in so much detail.. It truly is the stuff of fantasy. What comes through for in your writing is how you honor the locals and their way of life. (Not the Colonels!) Respect!

  • waqar saeed abdul - April 15, 2018

    hello , nice website do you accept the paypal ? i am missing good quality of copal from madgaskar , petrified wood chunks with diameter of 35 cm and above , i would buy florite in your web shop in coming days , thanks

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