GOLD CHIMERA [Serra Pelada]
What is now lake was once a 200m deep hole, and before that it was a hill.
The transformation from hill to lake involved the removal of over 30 tons of gold.
Welcome to the greatest open sky gold-digging ever: Serra Pelada, the naked mountain!
Decades have passed since the gold rush in the 80’s that turn the heads of brazilians and foreigners across the globe. Serra Pelada had nearly 100,000 men digging in the dirt in search of the yellow metal, like Sebastião Salgado’s famous pictures have shown the world. No alcohol and no women were allowed. Farmers, doctors, drivers, engineers, and even priests came in search of the Promise Land. They dug using the same techniques that slaves used in the XVIIIth century. Many, many died.
Nowadays, the situation is even more complex…
Located in Curionópolis, in the state of Pará, Serra Pelada has a population of a few thousand people. And their basic occupation is… to wait. For several years now the brazilian government gave the concession of the land to the greatest mining company in Brazil: Vale do Rio Doce. Vale forbids all kinds of digging in the area. The water and soil are poisoned with metals (eg. mercury), and this activity constitutes a health hazard to the population. Studies have shown that around 33 tons of gold are still buried in that ground, and an international partnership between mining companies was established to dig again, but the project failed to happen.
Today the Serra Pelada mine is abandoned and the giant open pit that was created by hand has filled with water, creating a small polluted lake.The locals wait and resist. Most moved there in the 80’s with the hope of getting rich, but they never quite managed that. Well, some did achieve prosperity, but lost it all soon after. Ashamed to return to their native villages even poorer, they decided to commit to Serra Pelada, either they would get rich or they’d die trying. Sometimes they use some simple tools to dig for gold in their backyards. Most of the times though, they just sit and drink themselves to oblivion. In a gloomy and not friendly atmosphere, Serra Pelada is now a lost place, gathering the old and young gold-diggers, and their families. Why do they stay, in a place frozen in time? After a few interviews it was clear that some wait with hope for better days, some wait in laziness, and others wait because they’re too old for doing something else. Complex and intense feelings erupt in such a place, it seems there’s no human way to escape the Gold Fever.
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images by ©Miguel Pinheiro
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Somewhere in the North of Brazil...
A precarious village frozen in time.
The main street.
The houses and the soil have the same colour, one feel's like it is a Ghost City.
The giant open pit that was created by hand (200m deep!) has filled with water, creating a small polluted lake.
The very old gold-diggers remained in Serra Pelada, and up to this day they dream of getting rich finding gold.
Old gold-digger spending his time in the local pub. A way into illusion and into oblivion.