We have hardly any space for souvenirs, so our purchases tend to be small and insignificant. I buy myself earrings in every country- usually aiming for something “crafty” made from local materials at an insignificant price ($4 or less!): coconut, coins, shells and sacred stones. It didn’t take a long time for me to start making jokes about purchasing earrings made from South Africa’s famous stone, the diamond. Although Danny continues to point out that he already bought me one of those, I heard a rumor that diamonds are found on the coastline of Namibia pretty regularly. As the first line of the guidebook states: “The shifting sands of the Namib Desert conceal the world’s largest stash of gemstone diamonds.” Now before I start an international diamond rush, let me assure you, the Naimibian government doesn’t let anyone get near their coast, deserts or diamond mining areas. Marked on the map as “restricted” areas we’ve heard stories of tourists receiving a visit from Namibian Police in the evening after stopping near a restricted area for a picture that afternoon, a violation which had been spotted from the air. Needless to say wandering into a restricted area, including the beach to scoop up diamonds isn’t really feasible.
No diamonds were to be seen along the road in Namibia so we headed to the next best place: Kimberley, home of “the big hole”. Trust me, its one big hole. Almost a century of diamond mining has left a big hole in downtown Kimberley, one that you have to see to believe. The story is not unlike that of the California Gold Rush: desperate for fortune people came from around the world to toil in the sun digging, sorting and mining for these precious stones.
In the chaos of the “diamond rush”, small time miners dug their claims to the very edge of their boundaries in the hope of finding the big one. Within a few years open mining had reduced the hillside to a honeycomb like structure, with small walkways separating family claims. As you can imagine, you can only dig so deep with a shovel and pick ax, and by the turn of the century a consolidated diamond mining company had been formed, laying the structure for today’s diamond giant: deBeers.
Having taken over the industry, the consolidated mining company moved to more modern mining methods, extracting diamonds from much deeper in the earth, leaving us with the “big hole” today. Although diamond mining continues to this day in and around Kimberly, the big hole is no longer an active mining site and has been turned into a wild west/frontier like tourist attraction. The museum tells the story of mining in Kimberly, but more interestingly of various diamond myths from around the world. Their vault contains diamonds of various states, cuts and polishes, although the most famous diamonds in the world are only displayed in replica.
A large percentage of the worlds diamonds come from southern africa, but none found their way into our souvenir collection. Granted, given the controversy surrounding some African diamonds frequently called “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds” its probably not such a bad thing.