Karamoja is known for its seasonal rivers. They flood during the rainy season but completely dry up when the rains cease. Due to the mountainous rocky terrain of the Region, the floods can be quite violent, many times washing away bridges and homes. The water flows down from the steep mountains, gaining speed as it approaches the low lands and carrying rocks and huge boulders with it. When the rains cease and the rivers dry, huge rocks are left lying along the river path, along with all the sand and soil that is washed from upstream which contain one important item: gold!
As the water tumbles down through the mountains to the low lands, it passes by several gold mining and processing centres. Water is a critical ingredient for any gold miner and therefore many gold mining and processing sites are strategically located near rivers for easy access to water. The waste that is disposed into the river by these sites is carried downstream along with the sand and rocks and deposited along the river bed as the river dries up. It is here that the locals come in.
At Chepkararat village, Lokales Parish, Karita sub-county in Amudat District, locals have long survived on the gold in the sands of the Chepkararat river bed. Grace Rotic, a 39-year old mother of six, has eked a living from these sands for years. The entire family works here. Her husband and early teenager son dig up the riverbeds and pass on the sand to her for panning-a process where water is passed over the sands, draining it of soils and small stones, in order to expose the gold particles. Gold is a heav
y metal and tends to stay at the bottom of the solution when water is added to the sand.
I found Grace at work in the blistering afternoon heat. Karamoja sun can be unforgiving, but this family has to stand the heat in order to feed. Her less than one year daughter is sleeping under a tree, while two of her older siblings tend to her.
I ask her if she has found any gold. With a smile, she brings the metallic pan closer to my face and shows me two miniscule particles, one shiny silver in colour and the other yellowish brown. That is her catch for the day. Two tiny pebbles of gold. She explains that the silver one has mercury in it and she will have to burn it when she gets home to remove the mercury. This leaves me wondering how much of the gold then will be left.
By Chris Musiime | Photo Credit: Isabella .A.