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Keeping pearling tradition alive in Gulf

Some Gulf states encourage diving for pearls

  • Gulf News Report
  • Published: 14:28 September 7, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: EPA
  • epa03371177 A member of the Kuwaiti diving team, search for pearls during the 24th Pearl Diving Trip, in Kuwait, 27 August 2012. At least 160 divers aboard nine ships dive for pearl oysters, the trip concluding on 30 August. Pearls (dana), used to be a major contribution to Kuwait’s and the wider Arabian Gulf’s wealth, before oil was discovered in the region. EPA/RAED QUTENA
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Dubai The Arabian Gulf overwhelmingly relied on pearl fishing during the early years of the 20th century. It was 7,000 years ago when the first pearl was found in Kuwait.

Ironically, the industry died with the closure of Kuwait’s pearl-oyster market in 2000, thanks to the development of Japan’s cultured pearl industry.

Added to that, after the discovery of oil, diving for pearls as an industry was left behind.

Historically, the best natural pearls come from the Arabian Gulf, particularly Bahrain. The pearls from this region have an exceptional sheen thanks to the mixture of salty and sweet waters in the Gulf.

However, over the past few years, several Gulf countries have been trying to revive the tradition. Bahrain has now prohibited the import of farmed pearls and lodged an appeal at Unesco for pearl diving to be protected.

Qatar celebrates this activity during a special cultural week every year, while Kuwait organises the Pearl Diving Festival, which aims to recreate the traditional pearl divers routes.

Pearl-diving trips are held annually under the patronage of the Kuwaiti Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah in order to keep traditions alive.

In the UAE, pearl diving is no longer a profession, but people still go diving as a hobby. There is still trade in natural pearls, but mostly at international auctions, as they are very rare.

Fact Box
  • 7,000 years ago the first pearl in history was found in Kuwait
  • 1,200 is number of pearling dhows in Trucial States
  • 80,000 men made a living from pearls during the pearling boom
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