Diamonds are Small Stuff on the Lomami

but when the diamond camp, MOPAYAZOBA, attacked us, it was almost bloody – almost….

a diamond from Mopayazoba
The Lomami diamonds are small. Notice the size of the threads!
luxuries of life
A diamond village “supermarket”

These are not big-money diamonds. To live in a Lomami diamond village year after year, like many do, you need a substantial garden for daily food. Then, if you are lucky, the diamonds you dig up and sieve out will provide enough for the extras of life: sugar, batteries and an occasional new cloth. That is how many live in the small diamond camps that are sprinkled through the forest of the D12 block.
block D12
The white hatchings are the blocks that we still had not explored at the end of 2007. D12 is the far north west of those blocks.

Below is the story Bernard told me about when his team of 11 men explored “D12” in May of this year. (Picture of Bernard at end of this Post)
Their initial reception was hardly warm.
a day's diamond diggings are flooded
Throughout D12 the stream-beds are pocked with diamond – diggers’ pits and trenches.

“We are always quiet in the forest. That is one of the rules, otherwise we don’t see monkeys. Even the porters who follow behind are quiet. This time they were whispering together soon after we started. I was up front with the compass-man and the trail-breaker. None of us knew that we were only a kilometre from a diamond camp, Mopayazoba, and a couple of miners in the forest had heard our whispering.”

All of a sudden Bernard heard yelling, and clanging and the most incredible scuffle.

“I hurried back to find two of our porters, Vava and Hussein, pinning someone flat to the ground with his arms twisted.

‘This little **@** tried to kill us”, they told me, “There were ten maybe twenty of the **@**’″

The porters had been charged with sticks and machetes. They met the charge with machetes and their own greater brawn. Brawn won before blood was shed and the attackers fled.

Bernard and the whole team couldn’t carry-on without knowing why the sudden assault.

Their captive, now apologizing and saying it was all a mistake, led them to Mopayazoba.
coming into a diamond village
The diamond village of MopayaZoba

As Bernard explains it the diamond village had thought they were poachers. Just a month earlier poachers had come through, killed five elephants, taken their diamonds and even taken women. So when they heard people, the village men came out with machetes and sticks.
Tensions still high
Tensions were high at the beginning of the “peace talks” in Mopayazoba. The shit-faced grin behind our team is the fellow they pinned to the ground

Perhaps if the village PDG, Président Délégué Général, or headman had been present the response would have been more measured, but in any case in the course of a couple hours the atmosphere went from very tense to very friendly.
Albert became our guide
Albert became our escort, assuring our safe passage through diamond country.

Diamonds are a pretty poor way to make a living in Lomami, so Bernard had no trouble hiring a local miner, Albert, to guide them through the diamond villages that lay ahead. Their new friends told them there would be a lot. They were right!
a warm reception in a diamond camp
A miner greets Albert as we arrive in his diamond-village, AfrikaMoto.

Every village was dirt poor. Diamonds are WHOSE best friend – really!!

But the rest of the circuit was quiet : here are a few more pictures:
a rain break
Big storm in the afternoon = a forced halt = an opportunistic (much needed) nap

a small mammal trap in the D12 forest
Small mammal snares were found throughout D12. Bushmeat is an important part of the diet in the diamond-villages.

a candle-lit dinner after a long day on the trail
The teams share the usual candle-lit meal of beans and fufu after a long day on the trail (candle stuck in a split sapling in the middle).

crossing the Loli River
Crossing the Loli river on the return towards the Lomami.

in the dug-out on the way back to Obenge
In the prow of the dug-out, heading back up the Lomami towards Obenge after completing the D12 circuit.

Bernard taking a bit of a break
Bernard (with blue plastic mug) taking a little breather


  1. TheTeach, Seattle
    Posted 2008-07-12 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating field reports here. Thanks for sharing these adventures. What an amazing place to be. The maps and photos really add context and flavor to the retelling. Glad noone was seriously injured during the altercation.

  2. Paula
    Posted 2008-07-13 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Amazing post Ashley, John and Theresa! I love the zebra undies in the bush!

  3. kim
    Posted 2008-07-13 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Put a photo of Bernard so we know what he looks like!

  4. Posted 2008-07-13 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Kim, Done:a photo of Bernard on the D12 circuit at the end of post and a link to an earlier photo

  5. Greg Davies
    Posted 2008-07-14 at 2:45 am | Permalink

    Do we know where the diamonds end up?

  6. Terese Hart
    Posted 2008-07-14 at 3:44 am | Permalink

    Alas I don’t know where the artisanal miners’ diamonds go. Belgium via Kinshasa I have thought — but on no firm evidence. Debeers and BRC are also here work in bigger mining areas of Kasai and Orientale.

  7. Greg Davies
    Posted 2008-07-14 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    I did not realize De Beers was actually operating in DRC.

    De Beers (ostensibly) show good commitment to conservation issues, at least here in South Africa.

    Indeed, just this past week I was at the International Entomological Congress which took place in Durban, SA, and one of the speakers at the opening ceremony was Nicky Oppenheimer, Chairman of De Beers, who had sponsored an exhibition of insect-related art at the Congress!

    Probably I am being very naïve, but potentially De Beers are an avenue for information (and even, potentially, funding) in obtaining better info on where these artisanal diamonds are going, and how best to control/manage what appears to be a totally chaotic and lawless free-for-all situation.

    [Probably being very naive X2, but I am assuming De Beers “behave themselves” in the DRC, and are not involved in any unethical behaviour]

    My 2 cents.

  8. Posted 2008-07-14 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Haha, Paula, “zebra undies in the bush.” I’m rather fond of the pink shoes. Really fascinating post, y’all. I had no idea diamond mining was happening in this fashion. It looks a rather miserable way to make a living.


  9. Terese Hart
    Posted 2008-07-15 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Greg, I really hope that De Beers and other Congo industries will eventually want to contribute to this. In the “old” days beer and tobacco did do some things for conservations but so far in the post-war era (not yet tried De Beers) we have only had polite interest and no readiness to get involved. We have tried one cell-phone and one mining company…asking from here in Kin.

  10. Terese Hart
    Posted 2008-07-15 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Sheryl, Prospects for improvement in life style are pretty poor except for each miner’s hope for the BIG FIND. It seems that hope still shines brightly in the most impossible of conditions here.

  11. Posted 2008-08-01 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    hi guys.. thats a nyc tour that yourll had.. im from africa n maybe we cud chat sumtym n i can share a few storeys of my own.. email: ciao!

    Posted 2008-09-13 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    It was very interesting for me to have this look into the mining camps. I have always been curious about them.

    What a scary and lucky encounter. As always I am left so impressed by the field teams. Yet also impressed by how tough Congolese are and by how miserably hard life is for the forgotten citizens of Congo.

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