Garimpagem, Formal Mining and the State

  • David Cleary
Part of the St Antony’s/Macmillan Series book series


State regulation of gold mining in Brazil dates from a proclamation issued by the Portuguese crown in 1535, some 50 years before any minerals were actually extracted in the colony. The very word ‘garimpeiro’ was an indirect product of state action. In 1731, almost exactly 250 years before federal intervention in Serra Pelada, the Portuguese crown mounted a military operation to take over the diamond garimpos of Tijuco, Minas Gerais. Patrols sealed off the area, with orders to prevent the entry of anybody not carrying a royal permit. But it seems to have been just as difficult 250 years ago as it is today to keep garimpeiros away from a strike. The records soon began to mention the appearance of garimpeiros, who took their name from grimpas, the foothills and valleys of the highlands of Minas Gerais, where miners hid from the patrols and extracted diamonds clandestinely. It is not difficult to find other echoes of contemporary Amazonia in the eighteenth century. From the 1720s on a series of gold strikes were made around Cuiabá, in Mato Grosso, which for decades to come would be a major administrative headache for the Portuguese authorities. In 1789, for example, gold was discovered at a place called Sapateiro, to the north of Cuiabá, and a disorderly fofoca ensued. The reaction of the Governor in Cuiabá bore an eerie resemblance to events in the Araguaia-Tocantins nearly 200 years later:

On the 7th of July the recent discovery of Sapateiro was divided up into datas [an archaic word for barrancos] which were distributed by lot. 400 people owning a total of 2,250 slaves competed in the lottery, together with just over 100 freed slaves who entered as individuals.1


Formal Mining Mineral Production Mineral Extraction Mining Company Mining Sector 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Leverger, 1949, p. 289.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Decreto Lei cited verbatim in Martins, 1984, pp. 211–4.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Martins, 1984, p. 213.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The only exceptions were the garimpeiro co-operatives producing wolfamite, tantalite and sheelite in the Northeastern states of Paraiba and Rio Grande do Norte, which were registered with the state and organised according to the corporatist labour laws of the Estado Novo during this period. But these garimpos had already become stable mining villages by the 1930s, socially and technologically very distinct from Amazonian garimpos.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Statement reproduced verbatim in Rio newspaper A Noite, photocopy in DOCEGEO archive, Belém.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Chapter 2 for an account of the work of the DNPM in Maranhão during the 1930s and 1940s, together with references.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Souza, 1942, pp. 44–5.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Guimarães, 1936.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    MME-DNPM, 1984, p. 20.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    MME-DNPM, 1984, p. 100.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    MME-DNPM, 1984, p. 101. This power was invoked almost immediately. Portaria (directive) no. 494 prohibited garimpagem of gold along the border with Bolivia in 1968.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    DNPM, 1980; MME-DNPM-PEGB, 1982; DNPM-PEGB, 1983; MME-DNPM, 1983.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    DNPM, 1980, p. 1.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    MME-DNPM, 1983, Introduction.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    MME-DNPM, 1983, p. 6.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    DNPM-PEGB-CPRM, 1980c–1983c.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Batista, 1981, p. 182.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Lyrio, 1981, p. 2. See also Sarmento, 1976 for an even earlier argument that Brasília should stimulate gold garimpagem.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    DNPM-PEGB, 1983, pp. 1–3.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Lestra and Nardi, 1984, p. 351.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    See Eakin, 1985 on this point. Much technological expertise was also British. The first deep shaft mines in Brazil were designed and largely built by Cornish tin miners and mining engineers — the legendary Gongo Soco gold mine in Minas Gerais being the most famous example. See Gardner, 1975, pp. 210–25.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Some such fly-by-night operations are described by Von Eschwege, 1944: v. l, pp. 78–82, in Minas Gerais, Filho, 1926, pp. 14–19, in Mato Grosso and Calógeras, 1938, pp. 25–63 in Bahia.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Paiva, Souza and Abreu, 1937, p. 15.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    MME-DNPM, 1984, pp. 27–8, Articles 16 and 17.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    MME-DNPM, 1984, p. 31, Article 22.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    It was to Sururucús that many of the cassiterite garimpeiros expelled from Rondônia in 1970 retreated.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    IBRAM, 1985, p. 3.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Willig, 1979; IBRAM, 1983.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Dall’Agnol, 1981Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Guimarães et al, 1982.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Thus arguments that the gold rush was exploitative came from both the left — for example Santos, 1981; Salomão, 1983; Guerreiro, 1984 — and the right — for example Willig, 1979; IBRAM, 1983 and Viana, 1984.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    IBRAM, 1983, p. 37.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Cleary 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Cleary
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Business StudiesEdinburgh UniversityUK

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