Diamonds in the Western Imaginary and the Diminishment of African Cultural Opportunities
Just about everyone who lives in the U.S. has been exposed to a DeBeers ad. A diamond is forever, is how it goes in this particular marketing campaign, the most successful ever conducted (Hart: 2001). Beautiful American couples express their undying love through a truly astounding crystal.
But this crystal, like Africa, has a history. So does its value, which is not intrinsic but culturally prescribed and subscribed to. This is a history continuing to be told, but perhaps told badly, without the legacy of influences and intents that have generated the current moment. Recounting this history shows how Africa and one of its most marketable resources have become entangled in the values of a cultural polyglot of political economies, and the image of the African suffers in its wake. A diminished ability to claim political representation for many African peoples, and a reduced place of participation in the world economies for African nations and Africa as a global entity is the result. As the image of a "chaotic" Africa persists in the historical moment to de-legitimize it as viable agent in global political economies, divorced of its historical circumstances and left to the whim of market forces and subordinating cultural practices, more and more African peoples come to utilizing force and violence in an effort to attain their participation, perpetuating this tragic image. Diamonds, as a product of Western aesthetic values, through the circumstances of history and geology, becomes an ideal medium for this perpetuation.
This is an examination of the history of diamonds and their valuation, drawn in tandem with a tracing of African cultural change in the colonial and post-colonial moments. I hope to reveal how deeply interlinked the driving market aesthetics for the West foster and indirectly promote the perpetuation of African political economies functioning under a bricollage of cultural influences. This interlinking results in widespread disenfranchisement to large portions of African populations and sustains increasing individuation in the market economies at the expense of more positive approaches to local representation and identity.
The Diamond business wouldn't run without vanity and greed.
Paraphrased, from DeBeers representative.
Diamonds are sublimely useless.
Africa is the oldest landmass on earth. Over two-thirds of the continent is composed of cratons, considered the formative geologic structures of the planet. All diamonds have been found within cratons, pushed to the surface in "pipes" of kimberlite, a hard, clay-like material. Diamonds are found elsewhere, but nowhere with such geologic profusion as the African continent. Even greater advantage is found in regards to access. Only Australia shares a similar hospitable environment for mining, as compared to other major producers such as Russia and the Canadian arctic, where conditions are prohibitive. Thus, geologic circumstance set the stage for historical processes. (Reader: 1997)
Diamonds are amazing. Hardest substance known, considered a "perfect" crystal by crystallographers, blessed with remarkable capacities for optics and the conduction of heat and light. Bearing great utility in industrial functions, it is the attribution of enormous symbolic value that is the subject here. Value with the diamond is historical. Recognized in Europe and Asia long ago as a mineral of great significance, it was associated exclusively with royalty and very high social status, principally in Europe, Persia and India. Until the 1800s, diamonds were found principally in India, where the mines of Golconda were famed. But this limited and very controlled source kept diamonds very much in the realm of royalty and wealth, by virtue of sheer scarcity. This is a deep and old association; diamonds depict high...