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  • Ahwa Habeeb

Lend me your E.A.R - Extractivism, Artifacts, and Repatriations

Lend me your E.A.R - Extractivism, Artifacts, and Repatriations

Some of our biggest concerns at Maverick Musing are the unethical and unsustainable practices used within the jewellery industry, one example being extractivism. This is the process of extracting natural resources - namely gold, diamonds, and metal - from the earth for sale on the world market. This process is deemed necessary in order for the jewellery industry to thrive, and meet today’s economic demands. However, the social and environmental effects it leaves are detrimental to local communities.

This musing will discuss the process of extractivism parallel to repatriation. By definition, repatriation of cultural heritage is the return of artifacts to their original homelands. The common argument for the repatriation of artifacts is that they are best appreciated and understood in their original cultural context. For many communities, the retention of their cultural heritage, held by Western organisations, is still an ongoing fight. Ultimately, both extractivism and sought-after repatriation result in a community's loss of cultural identity and connection to their homeland.

Mass-scale extractivism came into effect 500 years ago, during a time when Europe was colonising Africa, Asia, and the America’s. In the wake of decolonisation, this industry remains largely unchanged, driven by economic demand and the need to maximise profits. Due to the scale of extractivism, many renewable resources are becoming non-renewable because the environment isn’t able to renew itself as quickly as the rate resources are being extracted. The effects of which are irreversible.

When a diamond is mined, it is estimated that 250 tonnes of earth is shifted for a single carat, which seems like an extreme price to pay for an iced-out watch. Botswana’s open-pit diamond mines are so large that they can be seen from space. The consequences of this are severe: soil erosion, deforestation, and ecosystem destruction. Mega-mining in Peru, where local communities expressed their concerns about the threat of contamination to their main source of water, is one of many other instances of the detrimental effects of extractivist processes.

Employment opportunities are brought to local communities where extractivism takes place but the conditions are often unsafe and labour-intensive.

Diamond mining is another industry that exploits its workers and violates their human rights. What’s worse is many countries have become accustomed to mass-scale extractivism and are heavily reliant on exporting their natural resources. Botswana’s diamond industry represents a significant portion of the nation’s economy, contributing to 50% of government revenue. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, extractivism has been a contributing factor to the region's economies since colonisation and presently holds the model for production and development.

The irreversible destruction left by extractivism uproots local communities and the spiritual connection they share with their natural homeland. This greatly affects Indigenous groups as it hinders their cultural, spiritual, and religious practices. Artefacts of Indigenous cultural heritage also belonging to these communities have ended up in the hands of Western collectors. Even in the wake of decolonisation, these artefacts are displayed in museums as pivotal moments in colonial history, rejecting the demands for their return. A notable example of this is the plundering of Africa’s Benin Bronzes. At present, a