Brabo came to the mines from the state of Maranhão when he was in his early 20s. Now thirty years later, he is a seasoned miner, even though his nickname is usually reserved for newcomers to the mines. Brabo means “angry” or “unbearable” in Portuguese, but in the mines it means “rookie” or “greenhorn”. He fondly remembers an eight-day stretch back in 1994 when he found 110 grams of pure gold. Like many of the miners, he has spent much of his earnings at the cabarets. Brabo still has ties to his family back home, but he is not ready to give up the mines yet, saying that he would like to find just a little more gold.
Leo was the boss of his four-person crew. He worked the high-pressure hose in silence, with no sign of strain, gliding barefoot through the mud that trapped us and sucked the boots off our feet. He was tall, with powerful shoulders, and there was something different about his eyes that told us it was not a good idea to stare too long. Despite his foreboding appearance, Leo was well-liked by the other miners and he grinned from ear to ear as they counted their gold and planned out their trip to the currutela.
Caraíba worked on a ranch in central Brazil until his mid-twenties. Like many working class Brazilians with little or no formal education, he knew he was going to work his whole life and have little to show for it. So he decided to try for something more, and struck out for the mines. Caraíba has done well for himself in the garimpo— millions of dollars of gold has passed through his hands, but he spent it andando, walking out and about, adventuring, and enjoying life. He loves the freedom of the mines.
Lina while in her 20’s, had trouble providing for her kids with the meager income she earned as a maid, so she left her kids with her mom and sought out work in the mines. She proved herself to be tough enough to enter the pits and worked side by side with the men. She proudly told us that her earnings put her kids through school and provided enough to purchase some land and a house in the city. She was recently drawn back to the mines by the money and tranquility. When we met her, she was working as a cook.
Dona Magdalena lives in a home that is set apart from the other ramshackle constructions surrounding an open-pit gold mine. She is the owner of this claim and her home is a hive of activity. Her garimpeiros, including several indigenous workers from nearby territories, come often to Magdalena’s home for food, conversation, and advice. She also welcomes forest animals into her care, such as the macaw she is holding in the portrait.