Ilakaka is a small town in southern Madagascar that became the epicenter of sapphire mining on the island almost 20 years ago, and is presently one of the world’s capital cities in the trade of this gemstone. Its population has gone through a severe increase (from 20 inhabitants in 1997 to more than 60,000). To this figure we should add several thousands of other people living in a radius of about 62 miles, thanks to the exploitation of new deposits.
Something similar happened in the case of the ‘gold rush’ in the US, after a series of years marked by chaos, greed and violence, and although these negative elements have not completely disappeared, the sapphire market is beginning to bring a little prosperity and a hint of a future to this desert area by way of schools, markets … In fact, if a word has taken special relevance and marks every day in the life of the city’s inhabitants, that is ‘hope’: ‘hoping’ to find a stone valuable enough to allow them to retire for good and engage in less dangerous occupations. This is what keeps thousands of people clinging to an iron rod and a shovel, digging deep narrow unventilated holes for months and years finding virtually nothing but tiny stones that hardly allow them to survive. There are no slaves in Ilakaka; at least no more than in other parts of the world where any individual clings to his work day after day in the hope of getting through.