The novel “A woman from Garimpo” by Nenê Macaggi: literature, memory and gender in the north of the Brazilian Amazon

Januária Mello reflects on the literacy legacy of author Nenê Macaggi and the insight she gives to the gold migrant experience in the region of the Tepequem and Cotingo rivers of Brazil

Januária Mello


One of the challenges of the Gold Matters Project is to bring art, in its various forms, closer to artisanal and small-scale gold mining research. This introduces sensory elements as tools to feed the development of our research, as demonstrated by Nazarea (2006) in the article Local Knowledge and Memory in Biodiversity Conservation. One avenue this opens up relates to memory and we use memory. This particularly difficult in the gold mining universe in Brazil because mining, and mining research, becomes involved in pervasive elements of conflict, power disputes, fear, and lawlessness. However, art as an expression of these emotions and situations can be a language of approximation, a bridge to build knowledge and make connections in adverse contexts, as for artisanal and small-scale gold mining. In this sense, literature is a tool to understand the contexts we currently analyze, not only to “extract” elements to understand the historical context, but also to feed memories.

In this perspective of understanding the history and the actors involved in artisanal and small-scale mining in the north of the Brazilian Amazon, I analyze a novel by Maria (Nenê) Macaggi who lived between 1913 and 2003. The novel titled “A mulher do garimpo: o romance no extremo sertão do Amazonas” (“A woman from the garimpo: the romance in the Amazon’s extreme backlands”) was published in 1976 by the Official Press of Manaus. I use the novel to draw a parallel with the author’s biographical trajectory, namely the perspective of a non-Amazonian, migrant woman from the south of Brazil, who went to the Amazon during the second half of the 20th century and whose writing conveys a flavor of the universe of the region of the Tepequem and Cotingo rivers. It is here that Nenê Macaggi discovered the garimpo (mines) and worked as an indigenist for the government-run Indian Protection Service (SPI).

Front cover of the novel
Back cover of the novel

Mello, J. (2022) “A womam from garimpo”: the autobiographical novel by Nenê Macaggi in Roraima” is divided into two parts: trajectory and novel. I use these parts to explain the literary text and biographical elements of the novelist’s work concerning mining to explore its proximity to the context and history of the mining theme in Roraima, Estado federative system in the north of the Brazilian Amazon.

As demonstrated by Salman et al. 2017 in the article “Analysing conflicts around small-scale gold mining in the Amazon: The contribution of a multi-temporal model”, it is necessary to include in small-scale gold mining studies the aspect: (i) times, (ii) rhythms, (iii) cadences. The procedural element in the development of understanding of each mining context and the dimensions of the actors’ histories is an important point to advance and expand the analysis of the conflicts inherent to the disputes for natural resources, and the necessary and urgent transformation. In this perspective, contextualizing the trajectory and literature of Nenê Macaggi can bring us a little of these dimensions, not only in the construction of the chronology of the course of a conflict, but in the changes, transformations and maintenance within these dimensions.


Mello, Januaria. (2022). “A woman from garimpo”: the autobiographical novel by Nenê Macaggi in Roraima”. Cadernos Pagu nº 65, Campinas. Available at:

Nazarea, V. D. (2006). Local Knowledge and Memory in Biodiversity Conservation. Annual Review of Anthropology, 35: 317-35.

Salman, T., De Theije, M. (2017). Analysing conflicts around small-scale gold mining in the Amazon: The contribution of a multi-temporal model. The Extractive Industries and Societe. nº 4, 3, p. 486-594.

Gold Matters: Sustainability Transformations in Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining: A Multi-Actor and Trans-Regional Perspective is a transdisciplinary research project which aims to consider whether and how a transformative approach towards sustainability can arise in Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM). For more information see 


One Response

  1. Madhiana Rodrigues says:

    Excellent memory retrieval material. Congratulations on the publication!

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