Did you know that pearl diving was one of Qatar's main industries until the 1940s?
Before oil took its place, the inhabitants of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf were dependent on natural pearl diving for their livelihoods.
Pearl diving was also known as a seasonal activity that took place over four months in summer. In these months, between June and September, there were two diving seasons: the big dive (2-month journey), and the small dive (40-day journey).
But with the introduction of Japanese artificial pearls and the discovery of oil and hydrocarbon fuels, the activity of diving pearls became unprofitable, and people started turning to other professions for their livelihood.
In this article, we have rounded up everything you need to know about Pearl Diving in Qatar.
History of Pearl Diving
Pearls from the Gulf Region were treasured in the ancient world by Romans, Arabs, and Egyptians. They have been traded throughout the world since 2000 B.C., and pearl drivers worked hard to keep up with high demand from trading partners.
But as Japan started intense cultivation of cultured pearl beds and created Oyster farms in the mid-1920s, the pearl prices decreased. This downfall was coupled with the Great Depression in the 1930s devastating the pearl market.
So, with it becoming an expensive endeavor, it was no longer a viable option changing their entire way of life.
Traditional Pearl Diving Practices
Qatar pearl fishers made two annual pearling boats (often called a ‘dhow’) voyages from June to September. The divers used two ropes for this practice, a weighted one tied around their foot, and another one around their waist to ascend and descend during the dives.
Other equipments that they carried include nose clip, finger covers, and an oyster bag.
But the entire process is quite dangerous. The divers did not have access to the oxygen tanks, and they pinched their noses with wood and held their breaths for up to 2 minutes.
The diver would also swim over 100 feet, and then use their knife to pry oysters off the rocks and the place them in the oyster bag. They were also required to free-dive to extreme depths for retrieving the oysters before the diver was pulled back by the rope.
Pearl divers used to continue this activity throughout the day. At night, the dives used to stop, and they would open the oysters to find pearls.
But physically, this job was dangerous and demanding. Due to the pace at which they were sent under the water, many of them suffered from bends along with brain damage, headaches, hallucinations, and deaths, in some cases. There was always a risk of swordfish, shark, and barracuda attacks.
Video - How do pearl divers survive?
Pearl Diving Industry Complications
The pearl divers were always prone to risk, but things got even more complicated when colonial tycoons got involved.
The tycoons sponsored pearling voyages and then asked for half of the diver’s profits.So, between this exploitation and living with health risks, the divers started to live strenuous life with small rewards.
Pearl Diving In Qatar Today
Although the technological advances from Qatar's oil supply have transformed the lifestyle of Qataris, pearl diving culture is still celebrated today.
The annual Qatar Marine Festival honors the pearl diving culture with a 3-day, thirteen ships pearling competition and a short educational voyage near the shore.
The festival not only focuses on pearling, but celebrates the culture associated with it. It also has a seal show, miniature golf activity, dancing waters, food, and an elaborated musical play.
Moreover, it is still possible to purchase local pearls in Qatar, even today. With a bit of research and patience, you can find some for you. But they might cost you a fortune and may not be the perfectly round pearls that every one of us is accustomed to.
If you visit Qatar, you will not see pearling boats or pearls. Instead, you will see the clear waters, which were once used for pearl diving.
And, to know more, you can always go there at the time of the Qatar Marine Festival.