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Garimpo, a small-scale, informal gold, diamond, and tin placer mining camp. Garimpos have been part of the penetration of the Brazilian interior since the first arrival of Europeans. Garimpagem (the mining activity itself) has involved primarily the poorer sectors of society, including escaped slaves who, during the colonial period, lived in runaway-slave communities (quilombos). Garimpeiro (miner) exploration led to major gold and diamond strikes at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Despite sporadic attempts by formal mining companies to mine gold in Brazil since that time, Brazilian gold mining remained dominated by garimpos until the 1960s.

In the 1970s, substantial gold deposits were discovered in the Amazon Basin, stimulating an extensive gold rush. Most of the garimpos that proliferated throughout the Amazon were run by independent operators; others were financed by wealthy entrepreneurs based in the mining areas or in Brazil's major cities. Though garimpagem remained largely within the informal economy, it maintained strong links to the formal economy through the market and purchase of manufactured items. In the late 1980s, garimpos contributed up to $1 billion annually to the Brazilian economy.

Garimpo technology has been rudimentary, involving the use of shovels, picks, carrying bags, sieves, and pans, and more recently small pump engines to control water. Mercury also has been employed to amalgamate with gold, causing severe ecological degradation of waterways and health problems for garimpeiros. Reflecting the widespread competition for resources in Brazil, garimpos have been in conflict at times with government and police authorities, large mining companies, native peoples, and the environment.

See alsoGold Rushes, Brazil; Mining: Colonial Brazil; Mining: Colonial Spanish America; Mining: Modern.


José Veríssimo Da Costa Pereira, "Faiscadores" and "Garimpeiros," in Tipos e aspectos do Brasil, 10th ed. (1975), pp. 163-168, 324-326.

G. Rocha, ed., Em busca de ouro: Garimpos e garimpeiros no Brasil (1984).

Marianne Schmink, "Social Change in the Garimpo," in Change in the Amazon Basin: The Frontier After a Decade of Colonization, edited by John Hemming, vol. 2 (1985), pp. 185-199; David Cleary, Anatomy of the Amazon Gold Rush (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Higgins, Kathleen J. "Licentious Liberty" in a Brazilian Gold-mining Region: Slavery, Gender, and Social Control in Eighteenth-century Sabará, Minas Gerais. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Mathis, Armin, and Regine Rehaag. Conseqüências da garimpagem no âmbito social e ambiental da Amazônia. Belém, Brazil: Buntstift e.V; FASE: Katalyse.

Santos, Márcio. Estradas reais: Introdução ao estudo dos caminhos do ouro e do diamante no Brasil. Belo Horizonte, Brazil: Editora Estrada Real, 2001.

                                          Robert Wilcox

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