Academic journal article Oceania

The Gender of the Gold: An Ethnographic and Historical Account of Women's Involvement in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mount Kaindi, Papua New Guinea

Academic journal article Oceania

The Gender of the Gold: An Ethnographic and Historical Account of Women's Involvement in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mount Kaindi, Papua New Guinea

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The mineral price boom of the late 1970s and early '80s led to the opening of new mining ventures in many previously isolated and marginal areas of the Asia-Pacific. As these locales had been traditional foci of ethnographic research, regional anthropologists became increasingly preoccupied with the dynamics of resource extraction and its implications for indigenous lifeworlds (Ballard & Banks 2003). In Papua New Guinea, where law requires environmental and social assessment studies to be conducted for all proposed large-scale mining developments, this type of research was given additional momentum by consultancy opportunities both within the industry and for donors and advocacy groups with a stake in the sector. As a result, the past two decades have witnessed the development of a very rich 'anthropology of PNG mining' (for a few examples see Banks 2000; Filer 1990, 1997; Hyndman 1994; Haley 1996; Hirsch 2001; Howard 1991; Kirsch 2002; Macintyre & Foale 2004; Rumsey & Weiner 2004; Toft 1997).

Besides a few isolated cases (Biersack 1997, 1999; Clark 1993), however, PNG anthropologists have focussed exclusively on large-scale extraction, so that little ethnographic insight exists on the country's largely indigenous artisanal and small-scale mining sector (ASM). (1) Indeed, even after the Mount Kate gold rush brought it to international attention (Hancock 1994), commentaries within the discipline have remained so few that anthropological audiences could be forgiven for ignoring the very existence of an ASM sector in Papua New Guinea.

And yet, even conservative estimates suggest that at least 60,000 Papua New Guineans--or around 1.25% of the country's entire population--are already directly engaged in this type of production, with an additional 420,000 of them dependent on it in some way for their livelihoods (Susapu & Crispin 2001; Crispin 2004; Lole 2005; MMSD 2002). Despite their low level of financial and technological capital, these miners extract an estimated 150 million kina of gold and silver per annum, equivalent to around 1.4% of the national GDP (Susapu and Crispin 2001). And if these statistics were not already sufficiently impressive, all economic indicators suggest that the PNG ASM sector is not only here to stay, but to grow significantly in the near future.

In recognition of its mounting importance and in tune with a global trend towards its revaluation and valorisation, the PNG government, (2) international donors, (3) and private interests (4) launched a range of recent initiatives to promote ASM through scientific research, financial assistance, and technical support (Banks 2001; Lole 2005; MMSD 2002; Susapu and Crispin 2001). Far from being aimed at increasing mining production per se, these efforts stem from the recognition that, if properly stimulated, harnessed and regulated, ASM could become a positive force for 'sustainable and equitable development', particularly in the most deprived rural areas of Papua New Guinea (for amore detailed outline of the development potentials of ASM see Blowers 1983; Crispin 2003, 2004; Lole 2005; Hinton, Veiga and Beinhoff 2003; MMSD 2002; Stewart 1987, 1989, 1997; Susapu and Crispin 2001).

In PNG, artisanal and small-scale miners operate in a great variety of geo-historical settings, from the wintry heights of Mount Kate to the lush meanders of the Sepik, from historically marginal areas to regions of long colonial experience, and from new mining frontiers to established sites of large and small-scale resource extraction. In addition, they exploit deposits that differ dramatically in nature, dimensions, ease of reach, and average ore grade and fineness through techniques as diverse as sluicing, dredging and tunnelling by means of anything from shovels and pans to water pumps, portable floating dredges, and hydraulic excavators. Similarly, they bring an astonishing spectrum of 'traditional' political forms, cosmological outlooks, gender ideologies, kinship practices, landownership systems, subsistence strategies and modes of ritual exchange to bear on how they regulate access to mineral deposits, understand the environmental and health and safety risks connected to resource extraction, assess the viability and durability of their enterprises, and organise the production, distribution, and consumption of their mineral resources. …

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