The Hands Behind the Jewelry: Ibu Gineng

More than a year ago, I had the chance to meet a lady who has become an integral part of Gardens of the Sun. 


Ibu Gineng is funny, profound, and assertive. A fascintating lady with the mischievous grin and sparkling eyes of a child, and the heart of someone who has lived a rich life. 


She shares her stories and wisdom generously, and she’s one of the indigenous women gold miners that we work with in Central Kalimantan.


Ibu Gineng is Ibu Leni’s mother, who I previously introduced you to. I spoke to Ibu Gineng about her experiences of mining and a little bit about her life.


What was it like to mine for gold back when you first started?

We mined in the rivers, long before people started using machines. The river stretched on in what felt like an endless straight line, and the currents were calm. We mined in the middle of the river, sitting in the water. It felt serene.

We went to mining sites on foot and walked through through jungles. It could be quite a tough trek. Back then, we used only our hands and wooden pans to try and find gold. No machines. Nothing sophisticated like we have today. We never used to use mercury, it’s only in the recent past that people started using it. I’m glad that we’ve gone back to the traditional ways, and that we’ve stopped using mercury now.


When did you start mining?


Our parents taught us how to mine when we were young. It was a different time, so our parents would take me to the mining site often. I wasn’t working as a kid, I was just there watching them. We played in the river and had a lot of fun, it was my playground. It was where I grew up.

(Left) Ibu Gineng teaching me how to pan for gold. (Right) Preparing betel nut to chew on - this is why her smile is usually red!

My mother took me to the rivers and showed me how to pan for gold, and in turn, I taught my daughters the same thing. It’s a tradition passed through generations. Our ancestors were miners, and even now all of our family members mine gold.  


It’s a little different now. The kids go to school, so they’d usually join us after school or during holidays. They want to come with us to look for gold, they say they want to help their mothers get more income to pay for their education. And of course, they want a chance to play in the river!

(Left) Spending some quality time with her granddaughter. (Right) The miners and their kids have quick dip to cool off after the end of a long day.

What do you do when you’re not mining?


I actually pan less than the younger miners. I want to give them the space to make more money to provide for their life. But when I’m home, I’m busy too. I’m a busy homemaker doing what everyone does; I clean, take care of my grandchildren, and I take care of the pigs we keep.

I also make crafts from rattan, though it’s not my favorite activity because it can get complicated. I sell my crafts, but I also make rattan things for our home. We don’t always have money to afford certain household objects, so I make it myself. 


I used to plant vegetables, beans, and fruits too. I would sell or trade them with fish and meat. I did it all to fund my children’s education. But the one job that would reliably bring income for me has always been gold-mining. It was something we never had to rely on the seasons for.


Why did you join this women gold miners group?


Leni told me that YTS approached her about this gold miner group initiative. She told me about their goals and the support that YTS wanted to give us. I was interested in what was on offer, so I decided to join the group. 


I enjoy working by myself because there are no distractions. When working in a group, we joke around a lot with each other. It can be fun, but I do end up preferring to work on my own. I like to focus on work. I don’t like to waste any time

It was mesmerizing watching her weave this brightly colored basket.

Ibu Gineng looked around and immediately asked me “is that all?” bluntly at the end of the interview. I can't help but to think that her aura would be similar to a well-known editor at a famous fashion publication. 


She was fierce and a little intimidating, almost untouchable under her sweet smile. It was a privilege for me to be able to steal a few moments of her busy day. And soon, I hope, I’ll see her again. 


Ibu Gineng's work to mine gold ethically helped to make us confident enough to make our ethical gold promise, and to come out with our Origins collection, featuring gold mined by our awesome indigenous women miners, and using stones which has been vetted carefully. Check out the collection of ready made and custom jewelry available!


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