Tanzania Gem hunting trip part 3

This is the 3rd part of my experience in Tanzania where I visited from December 2016 to January 2017.  To read part 1 click here and for part 2 click here.  I can only put down the delay in publishing part 3, to the rigours of studying for a jewellery design BA.

We pick up the story in the morning having stayed overnight in a Masaai village with the family of my friend Ramma, who has accompanied us throughout.  If you are more interested in mining and gemstones than you are hearing about a Masaai village then consider scrolling past the next 2 paragraphs and set of images.  If you’ve read part 2, you’ll remember my camera broke down a mine, hence the blurred images.


We begin . . . .


I was woken at sunrise by Styve, an intervention I wasn’t immediately grateful for but soon came round too, once my eyes had adjusted to the rising sun.  Having been in total darkness, safe for the light from my fairphone2 and very dim firelight, since the sun set the previous evening, this was painful and took some time.  There are few more raw and spectacular experiences than seeing the sun rise upon a savanna in Africa, in what to me felt like a remote and wild location, hours away from the nearest town and with no running water or electricity.  While I was busy romanticising the situation and mingling with the livestock,  the female members of Ramma’s family where busy tending to the cows and goats that live in their village.  Masaai culture is entirely patriarchal with women doing all kinds of work, from what we would consider domestic duties to construction and other jobs. Men will also often have more than one wife.  It’s a hard life and I felt more than a little stupid standing around as women both much younger and much older than myself worked.  This being said, I was certainly able to feel the love in the family, who were obviously happy to see their son return and with a guest.  There was lot of laughing and its easy to see where Ramma gets his sense of humour and happy demeanour from.

A couple of hours after waking we had a ceremony where I presented the gifts I had bought for Rammas family, a selection of fabrics and some sugar to his mother, and I was presented with fabrics and jewellery.  I was told several times by other Tanzanians that these are expensive and precious items for the Masaai and should I feel honoured to have received them, which I do.  After this presentation which included songs and lots of handshaking we drove the short distance to the village where Ramma’s dad lives to present him with a blanket type thing.  Ramma who is an upbeat and confident character was nervous in front of his father and other male family members.  In Masaai culture Rammas dad is a rich man as he has many children and cows.  I was told that until recently he had a car, but traded it for more cows.

I felt very welcome in Rammas village and it was a very ‘real’ experience. I’m uneasy as a ‘cultural tourist’ but it became apparent that Ramma was very keen for me to meet his family and I was very happy to stay the night and meet 4 generations of his family (even if it was a detour of several miles and actually not in any way close to the mines we were visiting).


We departed Ramma’s village and headed to another mining location called Nadonjoki, which I have been unable to locate on any map, the journey took us around 2 hours from the village. We had to stop at another Maasai village along the way, to ask permission to enter the area.  Permission granted and directions given, we visited 2 mine sites but were unable to go down either shaft because the owners weren’t around to grant permission.  Another mine we were planning to visit was boarded up and closed, apparently because of disputes with the ministry.  We also stopped for petrol and picked up a hitchhiker who was heading to Arusha to see a pastor.  We also saw some Zebra.



The first mine we visited was a ruby and sapphire mine that was active but only with a skeleton staff, who we were able to chat to but not see any production taking place or any stones from the location. The camp was very basic as was the machinery used, they had a compressor for oxygen, but otherwise used just hand tools.  Unlike the other mines we had visited which were on the side of a hill, this mine was in the middle of a very flat area with the only hill being made up of material excavated from the mine.



The next mine we visited was close by and was more developed, the opening was covered by a structure made from wood and tarp and there was a ‘house’ for the 15 or so miners.  The house was basic and was a one room structure, a place for the guys to sleep and store their belongings, including mobile phones powered by solar chargers, although the house itself was not powered.  Also near this mine was a shop, where I made a friend, and the other now closed mine.  Solar power is changing things in places like Tanzania, where there is no shortage of sunlight and it will play a big part in powering the continent and therefore mining operations in the future.




Sadly we were unable to venture down this mine , however , we were able to chat to the crew who were working there and see some of the stones they had found.  As you can see from the photos the 15 or so crew varied in age and experience.  The youngest we were told were 18 and the oldest was in his 50’s and had been in mining for from between 1 and 20 years.  For some this was their first mining job, being from the local area and taking up the offers of employment but others were experienced and travelled around the country with the mine owner working his various claims.  At this mine, the miners medical expenses are covered as is basic equipment like torches, batteries and basic food and water. The shop sells luxuries like soft drinks, snacks, beer and cigarettes.  Miners here share in the profits from the stones found and while nothing particularly valuable has been discovered yet in this location the experienced guys are confident they will be.  All the signs are there and the right investments have been made.


In the photos below you can see the mine, the miners, the equipment and some of the material they have uncovered.  As is mentioned in part 2, whilst I did make detailed notes at the time, they went missing along with my passport so I can’t give a lot of details about the equipment, other than to identify them as a compressor and a generator, or the names of the miners.  If you recognise the equipment or rocks in the photos and can help identify them, please feel to comment or to contact me.



My friend from the shop
My friend from the shop


jewellery design and illustration classes

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