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In today’s globalizing world, relations between distant nations have grown dramatically. Events occurring on one side of the world can be known and even affect a country on the opposite side. These relations also industries to expand into different countries, and acquire natural resources on a global scale. In the gemstone industry, Madagascar is widely regarded for the abundant sapphires that can be found in Ankarana National Park (Walsh 2005: 660). While sapphires are valued around the world as a precious gemstone, the values for sapphires are different to those living in Madagascar. Sapphires mined in the Ankarana National Park acquired both economic and aesthetic values in the globalizing world by the Malagasy miners that extract them from the park, the foreign buyers that sell them to the rest of the world, and the consumers that purchase them.
The values of the sapphires that come from Madagascar are first obtained in the Ankarana National Park. While ecotourists travel from far to experience the caves, tingsy, 330 known species of plant life, and over 100 animal species that find their home in the park, thousands of Malagasy migrant miners use the park to illegally dig for sapphires (Walsh 2012: xviii-xix). Beginning in 1996, when foreign gemstone buyers arrived in Ambondromifehy, the local sapphire trade drew many Malagasy migrants to the region (2004: 228). The sapphire boom provided opportunity for many Malagasy prospectors to profit since these foreign buyers were offering money for the sapphires (2012: 14). This rush of migrant workers is similar to the men and women who lived in and moved to the Mexican countryside during the 1950s and 1960s (Soto Lavega 2005: 749). There, Mexican migrants were desperately searching for barbasco, a Mexican yam, which at the time was the best raw material for pharmaceutical technology and chemical advances in the world of medicinal drugs (2005: 744). Syntex, a Mexican company devoted to the industrialization and production of progesterone, began paying Mexican villagers to enter the jungle to extract the barbasco from the ground (2005: 749-750). In both cases, the people of each nation were paid to extract the desired object from the ground, attributing an economic value to those items, which is something that it hadn’t had before. Prior to the exchange value that both sapphires and barbasco had acquired, the Malagasy and Mexican villagers did not have any use for what they were extracting. In Madagascar, the only ones in the region that valued sapphires before the arrival of foreign buyers were children that used them as ammunition in slingshots (Walsh 2012: 23), while in Mexico, barbasco was known as a fish poison and as a pesky weed that was found in cornfields up until outsiders came to “teach” the local people of the commercial value it had in the global economy (Soto Laveaga 2005: 753). While the economic value of sapphires drew so many to join Ankarana’s sapphire rush in the late 1990s, many people were “risking” (Walsh 2012: 25). According to Andrew Walsh, risking was a matter of knowingly investing time and effort into something that might not pay off in the end. This was true for many Malagasy, who moved to Ambondromifehy from other areas of Madagascar with close to nothing and no information or contacts to being mining illegally inside Ankarana National Park (2012: 25). Once they began working, miners would act boldly and enter unstable pits, jump chasms in caves, defy police intent with keeping them out of the Park and transgress local or inherited taboos with little regard for the potential consequences, which included arrest, severe injury, and death (2012: 26). These types of market externalities are common when extracting any natural resource. In Mexico, the thorns and snakes within the jungle made looking for barbasco very difficult and injuries were common (Soto Laveaga 2005: 751). While there were so many risks involved in searching for natural resources like sapphires and barbasco, the people of these nations continued to search for them for financial gain.
The economic value that the Malagasy had attributed to sapphires came only after foreign traders entered Madagascar in 1996 (Walsh 2004: 228). While both traders and miners profit from sapphires, foreign traders have a much higher income than those performing manual labour (Walsh 2012: 37). While they were selling the same sapphires, the difference in profit came from knowledge differentials between the different cultures (2012: 46). Malagasy did not believe that sapphires were used just for jewellery, even though that’s what they were told (2012: 47). This “known ignorance” was one factor that prevented the miners from making more money from the sapphires (2012: 47). Even though the Malagasy miners were not profiting as much as the foreign buyers, many Malagasy locals still rushed inside the National Ankarana Park illegally to mine, since they knew there was a possibility of profit. This is unlike the ecotourist industry in Ankarana, where there are nowhere near as many local Malagasy workers as there are in the sapphire trade due to international companies wanting to profit more (Gezon 2014: 826). Beginning in 1989, when AGNAP took over the management of the protected areas and became responsible for paying salaries and operating costs, ecotourism was intended to benefit the local people of Ankarana, however it failed to do so (2014: 824-826). The ecotourism projects tended to employ low-paid indigenous labour, provide limited training and offer inadequate compensation for the purchase of local food and handicrafts and the highest paid tour guides were not local and were hired by tour operators (2014: 826). While it seems that there is no connection between ecotourism and sapphires in Ankarana, there is a link between the two industries, which is the Ankarana National Park (Walsh 2012: 49). The irony within the Malagasy miners and the ecotourism industry is that ecotourism, which was supposed to create jobs for the local people of Madagascar, relies on the exclusion of locals from the park who mine there while giving easy access to tourists wealthy enough to travel there and pay the entry fees (Gezon 2014: 825).
While many involved in the sapphires from Ankarana for their economic value, the consumers of the sapphires from around the world place a different value on them. These global consumers value sapphires for their aesthetic value (Walsh 2012: 46). Around the world, sapphires are used in the manufacture of luxuries such as rings, earrings, and necklaces (2012: 46). Despite the processing that they go through to look the way they do when they are purchased by consumers, these stones are seen as unique, authentic, and one of a kind, similar to the experiences that ecotourists hope to achieve (2012: 90). With sapphires, consumers tend to prefer a “natural” sapphire, even though all sapphires that consumers are exposed to have been enhanced in some way (2012: 83). When a sapphire that has been dug up from the ground is processed by experienced hands, it is still seen as one of a kind in the sense stressed by the American Gem Trade Association, which states that the sapphire is a “unique creation that brings with it a rich history that blends the mystery of Nature with the skill of man (2012: 84). So, despite the sapphire being seemingly generic after all the processing it goes through, the labour that goes into finding that sapphire makes it authentic, giving it a symbolic value to the purchaser (2012: 81). This is similar to the experiences that ecotourists desire to achieve in Ankarana because it is advertised as a one of a kind destination that has been “untouched”, “unspoiled”, and “undiscovered”, however, these adjectives can also be used to describe tourist experiences in other regions all over the world such as Latvia, Taiwan, Tobago, Argentina, Vancouver Island, and the Amazon rainforest (2012: 88-89). What separates Madagascar from these areas, Duffy says, is that Madagascar has a unique environment with species like lemurs that cannot be seen anywhere else (2012: 90). Like sapphires, ecotourism in Ankarana is valued as one of a kind because even though there are other ecotourism destinations, there is not one exactly the same as Madagascar.
The sapphires mined in the Ankarana National Park acquire different values in the globalizing world. To those mining and selling the precious stone, it provides an economic value, while those purchasing the sapphires outside of Madagascar seek after them for their aesthetic value and the “one of a kind” symbolic value that they believe is there. The different values that the one item has is an example of how any object in the world can have a different meaning to those that are often exposed to it as opposed to those who see the object as a commodity and others who see it as a one of a kind item.
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