The beach in front of Elmina Castle has been taken over by gold seekers. Young men looking for a quick buck build gold sluices in the shadow of West Africa’s most famous slave fort. They pile the sluices high with beach sand, then drown the sand with buckets of seawater laced with mercury.
We arrived in Ghana four days ago, but we can’t shake the feeling that we’re still in Suriname. The streets are full of faces that wouldn’t be out of place in the gold camps of Brokopondo. Even the language triggers a sense of deja vu—Akan, a local tongue spoken in Ghana, somehow became “Aukan” on its way across the Atlantic, and is still the lingua franca of Suriname’s Ndyuka Maroons.
But the countries share more than a common ethnic heritage. 225 million years ago, during the time of the Pangea megacontinent, there was no division between West Africa and the Guyanas. The soil here is the same as the soil in Suriname. It nurtures similar crops, and holds similar treasures.
But we’re not here to look for gold. We’re here to look for people in power.
Right after we left Suriname, we got a write up in one of the country’s more progressive newspapers, De Ware Tijd.
They also put up the article on their registration-required website (boo!), but if you want to avoid all that hassle, just click on the fast & dirty cut & paste job we put together on the right and give it a read.
Guess what? There’s a gold rush going on in Suriname and its no joke.
Every day, gold seekers travel from the city to the bush, their hired minibuses stuffed with water pumps and pick axes. You can buy these items—along with knee-high waders and vials of mercury—at any of the Chinese-owned supply stores that line Saramacca Straat in Paramaribo. The mining itself mostly happens south of the city, on the ancestral lands of Maroon and Amerindian tribes. Tribal leaders are in on the game, and earn healthy commissions (paid in gold, of course) on everything that comes out of the ground.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Dutch explorers came to the Wild Coast of South America looking for gold. In the ensuing centuries, they found some deposits in Suriname, locked away in the impenetrable jungle of the country’s interior. Faced with the daunting prospect of creating the infrastructure necessary to extract the riches, the Dutch quickly shifted their focus to more profitable ventures, like the slave trade and sugar plantations.
Now that gold prices are through the roof and Suriname’s road system is (marginally) better than it was during Holland’s Golden Century, it’s time to take a look at the players behind one of the least documented mineral grabs in the 21st century.
Photo: a freshly-smelted 500 gram bar of Surinamese gold, market price $25,000
Empire: Migrants is on a tight production schedule: we’re setting up quick shoots in Brazil, Suriname, and Ghana, and won’t have time to edit our footage until this summer.
Luckily, the Public Archive of Espirito Santo took us in for a presentation about our work anyway. We struggled our way through an hour long explanation of Empire while showing video stills and video clips, as you can see in the photos.
Special thanks to Thiago Moulin for being our translator that evening! Photos: Carla Caliman.
An American filmmaker and filmed the Dutch town of Holland, in Santa Leopoldina for a documentary that seeks the roots of Dutch colonization in the world. The video will be presented on Monday, the 17h, the State Public File.”
…are our new favorite people. Behold 9 video stills from the latest film in the “Empire” series.
This new film tells the story of Holanda, an isolated community in rural Brazil. Established by a handful of Dutch immigrants in the mid 1800’s, Holanda has endured into the 21st century through a combination of rugged determination and flagrant inbreeding.
Holanda’s girls are the community’s pride and joy. Most don’t work the land like the rest of their families. Instead, they stay inside and study, or pass long hours painting their nails and watching television.
Their leisure comes at a price. Expectations are high for the latest generation of Holanda’s women. For the first time in the town’s history, parents are hoping to see their children receive university acceptance letters and pursue careers in the city. They are being nudged out of the nest, and encouraged to find a life outside of Holanda.
Principal photography in Brazil wrapped on March 24th, 2012.