One Designer’s Quest to Help Protect a South American Rainforest
“Jewelry designer and entrepreneur Pamela Love journeys into the mineral-rich paradise of Suriname to shine a light on sustainable mining and the country’s efforts to protect its rain forest.
New York is 3,000 miles—and an ecological light-year—away from Suriname, the rain forest–rich country nestled on the northeastern shoulder of South America. But for Manhattan-based jewelry designer Pamela Love, the sleepy, relatively untouristed spot was well worth visiting and revisiting: on vacation in 2012, and then on business last November. “Suriname is unusually rich in natural resources,” Love says of the country that produces about 80,000 pounds of gold each year.
Love, who’s best known for her Native American–inspired pieces (like her iconic Talon cuff bracelet and arrowhead pendant), makes her jewelry in Manhattan with stones that have been ethically mined, and she does everything she can to see firsthand the conditions that make her craft possible. On this trip, she came to observe Suriname’s gold mining practices, meet with government officials, and raise awareness in her industry about extraction techniques that don’t exploit workers or destroy the environment. “As a designer, I think it’s important for me to understand the struggles behind the materials that supply the jewelry trade,” she says.
With the picturesque (and cheerfully polyglot) wooden capital of Paramaribo as her home base, Love took helicopter day-trips into the jungle, rode rapids in a dugout canoe, and visited a remote Amerindian village. Finally, she alighted at the quarries of Nana Resources, a mining operation committed to phasing out the use of mercury, which endangers communities and the rain forest—a major draw for tourism in the country. “The rain forest is the most important resource Suriname has,” Love says. “So they’re trying to mine in the most responsible way possible. It’s just too beautiful not to protect.”
Throughout her trip, Love’s home base was the Royal Torarica Hotel (Kleine Waterstraat 10; 597-473-500; doubles from $95) in Paramaribo, where clusters of Dutch colonial clapboard mansions line little canals, fruit vendors sell mangoes and bottles of kasiri from carts, and a mosque with towering minarets sits next to a seventeenth–century synagogue. What struck her immediately about the city was its religious and culture diversity: ”There are the Maroons, those who came over from Java, the indigenous people, the Dutch—it’s a big mix, and they’re really proud of their varying heritages,” she says. “Everyone I met was, like, part Dutch, part Maroon, part Javanese, and part indigenous—it was amazing.”
After exploring the capital, Love and her husband took a series of day-trips into the heart of the rain forest. They flew to the Raleighvallen Nature Reserve, on Foengoe Island, and then went by helicopter to the top of Voltzberg, a granite dome with 360-degree views of the Central Suriname Reserve, where they touched down for a picnic lunch. “Everywhere we went we had to take tiny planes—I was convinced we were going to crash into a bunch of palm trees of into the jungle.” Along the way, they fed forest monkeys and, more nerve-racking, piranhas with chattering teeth. Finally, they visited southern Suriname’s Kwamalasamutu, a remote Amerindian village just above the borders of Guyana and Brazil that is home to the Trio tribe. Some of the women showed Love and her husband their feathered headdresses and colorful beaded jewelry; then everyone set out for the river rapids in dugout canoes.”