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Gem Mining Trip to Elahera: Family Values

With our sincere compassion to those suffering now from the floods in Sri Lanka. May this article remind us of this beautiful country in its quiet days, and let us appreciate the moments of peace, health and roof over our heads

Elahera; this is a name so sacred and mysterious that the true gem lover can only utter it with awe. Elahera; the mine that produced more fine blue sapphires than anywhere else in Sri Lanka in the far-off 80s. These stones, with their striking royal blue color and velvety Kashmir-like nature have always represented the highest standard of Ceylon sapphire. So, as we set off for Elahera, we were all holding our breath, as though we were stepping out onto a secret path. dscf2613 Alas, Labor Day is no respecter of geological boundaries.  Of course you don’t expect to see any laborers out on the 1st of May and, sure enough, on that special morning there were no miners working in the area.  No action footage for our well-armed photo and video team, just the delightfully peaceful landscape of the Elahera forest and rivers. So we moved on to a nearby village, still looking for an active mining spot. This is what we call a traditional....

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And there it was: the clear and oh so familiar sound of gem panning, deep in the jungle. An old man and a young boy were washing rocks with a big sieve, working together; a vivid reminder of the good old family tradition. As we lost ourselves in photographing the vibrant sun- and sand-colored scene, the rest of the family appeared. A grandmother with her candid, toothless smile invited us inside their tiny wooden house, with its outer walls painted in baby pink in brilliant, artistic contrast to the lush, green jungle all around. A young woman in a mud-stained skirt took us through to the backyard where she was washing out gem gravel - right there, only ten steps from the house, in a self-made mining pit. As she explained, they had simply started to dig near the house, on the land that belongs to their family, because government regulations are too strict to allow them to do mining on a larger scale. So, no Mayday for them!  They just keep digging and washing the gravel day in and day out, regardless of holidays – for whatever they find on that small piece of land is for the benefit of their family. No matter how low the chances are of spotting even the tiniest fragment of a gem once in a while, they keep on working - all together - playfully, smoothly, with smiles on their faces and a sparkle in their eyes.

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This is what we call a traditional small-scale family business, eco-friendly, sustainable and so beneficial for the younger generation. Special big thanks to Ruwanpura Gems and Mushtaq Nadeem who helped us organise this wonderful trip.

This is a typical scene showing larger-scale, mechanized gemstone mining in Ratnapura This is a typical scene showing larger-scale, mechanized gemstone mining in Ratnapura
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