The Diamond in Your Mind

By Jheri St. James

     Flying high above the Brazilian rainforests, the vulture sees the Rio Iguacu snaking leisurely and noiselessly . . . then with an impulsive change of personality, widen majestically around the vast forest stage, and fall in multiple tiers deep into the canyon, creating Iguacu Falls, the largest on the planet. From August to November, this natural wonder located at the border of Brazil and Argentina is filled with exuberant Argentinians, Paraguayans and Brazilians on weekend escapes, and other international tourists in search of the hot tropical climate, thick rain forests and natural hot springs. But from May to July, when the floods come, Iguacu turns from being majestic to formidable and hazardous.” (Jayakrisnan;

     Brazil harbors both beauty and danger: beautiful Brazilwood, gold mining, sugarcane, gemstones—and simultaneously the danger of one-third of the world’s remaining rainforests being systematically removed or destroyed by exploitive explorers, miners, loggers and highway builders. Big city poverty, hunger, social injustice and income disparity are dangerous problems. Illiteracy is high with 14.9 million people not knowing how to read or write. All human life contains elements of beauty and danger, and certainly all countries contain these same polarities. Brazil is not alone.

     The flag of this great country symbolically says it all: green background (Amazon rainforest); yellow diamond (gold, gemstones); image of a blue celestial globe (global commerce) with 27 white five-pointed stars (one for each state and the Federal district) arranged in the same pattern as the night sky over Brazil; equatorial band in high relief (center of the planet) with the motto Ordem e Progresso (Order and Progress). These symbolic elements form the major activities of The Federative Republic of Brazil (Republica Federativa do Brasil), the largest and most populous country in Latin America and the fifth largest in the world. Exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, the democracy of Brazil has the biggest GDP in South America, 10th in the world, and is today South America’s leading economic power and regional leader. Brazilia is the capital city. As a former Portuguese colony, that language remains Brazil’s official tongue.

     Portuguese colonists under Pedro Ivarez Cabral claimed Brazil in 1500 and colonization began in 1532. Slaves were extensively used by plantation owners. The country remained a colony until winning its independence in 1822. Slavery was abolished in 1888 and Brazil became a republic in 1889.

     Spanning a vast area between central South America and the Atlantic Ocean, Brazil, like a showgirl wearing a boa, is wrapped in the borders of Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana—every South American nation except for Ecuador and Chile. Named after the Brazilwood tree (highly valued by early colonists for its heavy wood which produces bright crimson and deep purple colors used in dyes; also violins and cabinets) Brazil is home to both extensive agricultural lands and rain forests. Brazil is home to 26 states and one federal district.

     In the north one finds the extensive low-lying Amazon Rainforest, and in the south a more open terrain of hills and low mountains where most of the population lives and home to its agricultural base. Along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean are also found several mountain ranges, which can reach roughly 2,900m high. Major rivers include the Amazon, the largest in the world by volume and considered by many specialists to be the longest, the Parana and Iguacu, Rio Negro, Sao Francisco, Zingu, Madeira and Tapajos.

     Situated along the equator, Brazil’s climate is predominantly tropical, with little seasonal variation, though the subtropical south is more temperate and can occasionally experience frost and snow. Precipitation is abundant in the humid Amazon Basin, though more arid landscapes are found as well. A number of islands in the Atlantic Ocean are part of Brazil: St. Peter and Paul Rocks, Rocas Atoll, Fernando de Noronha, Trindade and Martim Vaz.

     Brazil grows about one-third of the world’s remaining rainforests, far more than any other country. They are incredibly diverse and hold many of the world’s species and indigenous peoples. However, the destruction of these vast forests has accelerated since 1970. Today 12-15% of Brazil’s forests are gone, and each year another 19,800 square kilometers (8,000 sq. miles) are lost and another 11,000 sq. km (4,200 sq. mi.) are degraded by logging beneath the forest canopy.

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     In the mid-eighties, the Hancock family owed the IRS approximately $1 million. Although the family business was asset-rich, they were cash poor. The choice was either sell the family business or sell Mr. Hancock’s collection of colored diamonds from Brazil. Out of the hundreds the heirs brought to Christie’s of New York, three were chosen: a .95 red, a .59 purple-pink, and a .54 reddish purple. On April 28, 1987 at Christie’s of New York, an agent allegedly representing The Sultan of Brunei bought the .95 red round diamond for $880,000, plus 10% buyers commission, a new world record, and the other two stones were also sold, the .54 fancy reddish purple diamond for $65,880 and the .59 purple/ink for $135,000. The auction house sent the heirs over $1 million which was used to pay off the IRS debt. The family retains over 99% of the original colored diamond collection, purchased from their local jeweler at retail prices. The three that sold were purchased in the 1950’s. Mr. Hancock paid $13,500 for the .95 red, and had less than $20,000 invested in the three stones together.

     That is just one gem adventure story. Many such stories are played out day after day as the magic of gemstones mined in Brazil, including Alexandrite, Crysoberyl Cat’s Eye, Peridots, and green and other colored diamonds influences the world. In 1725, Brazil produced some light pink diamonds. Red diamonds are almost priceless. The Star of Brazil is a 128.80 carat rose-colored gem, which was cut around 1832 in Amsterdam. An Indian gem collector paid 80,000 British pounds for it in the 1860’s. It remains in India today.

     Alexandrite is one of the world’s rarest gem, reportedly discovered on Czar Alexander the Second’s birthday in Russia in 1830. One of the few gems that actually changes color, the stone appears green like an emerald in natural daylight and ruby red in artifical light. The deposits of the Ural mountains were depleted long ago. The main sources today are Sri Lanka and Brazil, with Brazil leading in the quality of stones featuring a 100 percent color change.

     Crysoberyl Cat’s Eye is in the same family of alexandrite and was known as oculus solis “eye of the sun” because this gem’s sharply reflected ray of light produces the spectacular effect of an iris of a cat. The best color for a cat’s eye is called milk and honey and the best stones come from Brazil.

     Gems are not only valued for their carat value. They are also revered for healing properties. Steeped in myths and legends, countless beliefs and fascinating tales are related about the mysterious powers of gems and precious stones. Wearing a blue sapphire, for instance, is widely believed to bring the wearer a fortune, love and even release from prison. Since ancient times, gems, precious and semiprecious stones have been associated with the power to bring luck and change the course of an individual’s life. Brazil’s peridots are believed to bring about strength of character; the Cat’s Eye is associated with power in the face of adversity and the catlike ability to cultivate the instinct of self-preservation during adversity; tourmaline is worn as the bringer of wealth and is a good luck charm. Rather than being worn on the person, for maximum benefit tourmaline should be kept in cashboxes, factories, stores and all places where goods, money or merchandise is kept.

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     Common Ground 191’s Brazilian soil came from Recife, a port city featuring tropical, white-sand beaches lined with palm trees. It is the capital of the northeastern state of Pernambuco. Recife is a fast-growing urban area that has been called the “Venice of Brazil” because it is dissected by numerous waterways and connected by many bridges. The city got its name from the coral reefs that line the coast. Rose Francis, who now lives in Oregon, used to teach in this beautiful, dream-come-true city, so she is certainly familiar with the traditional jangadas, crude log rafts with beautiful sails which are unique to that area and require expert navigational skills to maneuver.

     Brazil: big country, big challenges, big beauty, big danger. Such a massive country with so many natural resources surely has the wherewithal to resolve all its challenges, to bring about order and progress (Ordem e Progresso). Surely the natural beauty inherent in this land will surely remain intact. Brazil’s soil surely contains healing microscopic gem dust, giving it an unique value in the Common Ground 191 project. Thank you, Rose Frances for your participation and may Brazil and all human beings … “always keep a diamond in your mind.” (Tom Waites)

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