The History of Pearl Diving

Before the discovery of oil in 1938, Qatar’s economy thrived on pearls. The strongest men in the village were selected as the six-month voyage approached. Prior to departure, families said their goodbyes as some of the men would likely not return home due to the dangerous conditions of the sea.

There are four key people on pearl diving trips:

  • Serdal: Leader of the pearl diving voyage
  • Nokhetha: Captain of the Dhows
  • Tawash: Pearl traders
  • Ghawas: Divers

The search for pearls was not easy. The captain had to navigate the waters to find the areas where the seafloor was rocky. To do this, a rock with a smooth bottom was dropped into the sea. When it was pulled back up, if there were any scratch marks, this would indicate that the area is rocky and that there would be higher chances of shells. 

The diving itself had its risks as well, as the human body can only withstand so much time underwater – baring in mind that this was a time without oxygen tanks but wooden nose plugs instead! One way to ensure the safety of the divers was by tying a rope to their foot to quickly reach the seabed. The rope was also used as an indication to pull the diver back up by tugging at the rope. 

The pearls collected during the voyage were traded for other goods from different countries, such as spices from India. These goods would then be traded with locals back in Doha at Souq Waqif or would be for their own use.

In the 1920s, Japan invented artificial pearls by planting them, which meant that they were able to produce large amounts of pearls without the dangerous voyage of pearl diving. This led to the economic downfall of Qatar as the people faced hardships in trading. Not long after this period, natural gas was discovered in the west coast of Qatar, Dukhan and so the country enjoyed its economic boost.

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