The New York Times, October 11, 1914:|
PRESENT CENTRE OF WORLD'S PEARL TRADE
The Bahrein Islands are now the centre of the world's pearl trade. They are on the western shore of the Persian Gulf and have become the most important part of the fisheries of that body of water, which is the chief source of the world's pearl supply.
The Sheik of Bahrein is stated to have a customs revenue amounting to $400,000 annually, which makes him the richest ruler of the Persian Gulf. The pearl fisheries under his control bring in $2,500,000 in a good year. Although the inconveniences of travel to Bahrein are great, there is an increasing tendency on the part of Continental buyers to go there because they can make better bargains and secure better specimens than by trading in the Bombay pearl market.
The difficulties of reaching the islands are due to the tides and the shoal water surrounding the islands. At some stages of the tide it is impossible for ships to get nearer than four miles from Bahrein, the only port, and even small boats cannot approach. In consequence, passengers, mail, and cargo have to be landed by means of donkeys.
The richest pearly oyster banks are situated around the northern and eastern coasts of the Bahrein Islands. Units of measurement in the sale are the rice bag and the coffee bag, which hold on the average 140 and 175 pounds, respectively, of uncleaned shells.
No reliable statistics are available, so it is reported by Consul Henry D. Baker as Bombay, as to the average number of pearls found in a given quantity of shells. Reports from Bahrein state that the value of pearls exported is about twenty times greater than that of shells. The mother-of-pearl and mussels are sought for the sake of the shell alone, but the pearl oyster is gathered for the pearl and the shell is considered only as a by-product.
The most primitive methods are adopted in the diving operations, and no modern appliances are used or allowed by the tribes. The banks on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf are the common property of the Arab tribes inhabiting that region, and are open to all comers so long as the same methods as those adopted by the Arabs are employed. The banks near the Persian Coast and islands are claimed by Persia.
The diving craft are generally equipped by the owners, and the results of the operations are shared by the owner and crew in proportion laid down by custom. The owner receives 20 per cent. of the net earnings and 80 per cent. is divided among the crew, each diver receiving three shares and each rope puller and extra man two shares. Occasionally men may be engaged for a round sum of $30 to $60 for the season, but these are generally divers of indifferent skill, who cannot obtain advances from their first employers.
It is difficult for newcomers to obtain the services of good divers, owing to the system in vogue, which practically makes this class of men slaves to the masters of the pearling boats. The men's earnings are insufficient to keep them all the year round, and consequently they take advances from their masters year after year to such an extent that they can never repay their debt. When a diver elects to engage himself to another boat the owner of the latter has to pay up the debt due to the former master, should he engage him.
The pearl shell and pearl fishing season commences in the second week in May and terminates usually in the third week in September. Arabs, negros, and Persians are generally employed in the operations. The loss of life from sharks is said to be very small. The divers, however, suffer from chest diseases, and their average life is shorter than that of people in other industries.
The best mother-of-year shells are found around the islands near the Persian Coast, and some are also obtained off the Oman Coast. They are sought at varying depths from a little below the surface to eighteen fathoms of water, on hard mud and sandy bottom. Very few are exported. Pearls are seldom found in these shells, but when they do occur they are generally large and of fine quality. Mussel shells, are also obtained off the coast of the Persian Gulf and around small islands, at the same depths as mother-of-pearl shells and on similar bottoms.
Zigzag Journeys in Camel Country,|
1911 by Samuel Marinus Zwemer, p.74-79:
NEARLY all the British India steamers in their zigzag journeys up the Persian Gulf, calling first at the Arabian coast arid then at the Persian coast, stop at the pearl islands of Bahrein. Halfway up the Gulf and thirty miles from the mainland of Arabia, this group of islands has been famous for centuries as the most valuable pearl fishery in the world. For at least two thousand years the Arabs have been diving in these waters and bringing up the costly shells. Before the days of Christ, and even before the time of Solomon, pearls from Bahrein were shipped to the Western world, and it is probable that the dress and the conversation of the men and the boys of to-day is about the same as it was a thousand years ago. The boats are probably of the same pattern, with very little improvement.
PEARLS AND PEARL DIVERS.
Bahrein is an Arabic word which means the two seas, and this name was given to the islands because the Arabs fancied that here two seas met, the fresh water and the salt water mingling together. The islands have very little rainfall—during the summer none at all—and yet they are famous for their fresh-water springs, which find their source on the mainland of Arabia or Persia, and the water not only bubbles out in pools and wells on shore, but below the tide level there are fresh-water springs several miles out at sea. You would be interested to see the Arabs go out in their boats, place a bamboo over the opening in the rock and then collect fresh water above sea level in their great leather skins.
Bahrein is historically most interesting, because here the old Chaldeans and Phoenicians made their home. Some of the mounds on the island are older than the ruins of Babylon, and it is said that the Phoanicians worshipped the fish-god who, it is supposed, carried Noah's ark over the flood.
The pearl fisheries at Bahrein employ about 3,500 boats, large and small. The boats measure from one to fifty tons. The smaller boats carry from three to fifteen men and work near the shore; the large boats, employing from fifteen to thirty men, fish all over the Gulf. It is a pretty sight to see the fleet sailing out of the harbour, the large sails, set to the wind, gleaming white in the sun, the blue waters underneath and the bluer sky overhead. Have you ever seen a diving outfit? It looks rather ungainly to me. The Arab divers do not use anything so elaborate as do the divers in America. White overalls to cover their dark skin (because they say sharks do not care for white people), afatam, or clothes-pin on the nose, and leather thimbles for scratching up the shells, and a basket to hold the catch, with a rope attached to a girdle to draw them up with—this is the complete outfit. When prayers have been said and a Bismittah, down he goes, quickly fills the basket, and with a tug on the rope, he is hauled up, his basket is emptied while he takes a short breathing spell, then down again; and so on from sunrise to sunset.
The divers pass through many dangers in bringing the pearls from the bottom of the ocean to the surface. Sharks are the most terrifying, and during the pearl season a number of divers lose their lives, or are maimed; a leg or an arm has to be amputated because the cruel, sharp, powerful mouth of the shark caught the fisherman while he was seeking goodly pearls for us. A large number of them are afflicted with rheumatism as a consequence of their calling. In the boat, besides the men who are doing the work, is a man who is a substitute for them in prayer. The divers are too busy to observe the stated hours of prayer, so this man will repeat the prayers in place of each man. He is the Levite, and performs the religious ceremonies for every other man and boy. He must be occupied all the time on the boats where there is a crew of thirty men, and he must say the prayers five times a day for each man.
The Arabs say that pearls come from a raindrop which fell while the oyster had its mouth open; each drop of rain thus caught is a prize for the diver. "Heaven born and cradled in the deep blue sea," it is the purest of gems and, in their eyes, the most precious. When the pearl oysters are brought up, they are left on deck over night, and next morning are opened by means of a curved knife six inches long. Until a few years ago, all the shells were thrown back into the sea as useless, but now they are brought to shore by the ton and deposited in some merchant's yard. He employs natives to scrape off the outside roughness, and then they are packed in wooden crates and exported in large quantities.
On shore the pearls are classified according to weight, size, shape, colour and brilliancy. You would think the pearl merchants a strange kind of people. They carry the most valuable pearls around with them everywhere, tied up in turkey-red twill. They have no safes nor banks, so the only safe way they can think of is to carry them around and run the risk of being knocked down and robbed; but since the Indian government has made Bahrein a protectorate, such robberies are rare.
The pearl merchants are called tawawis, which means those who handle the brass sieve, or tas. When the pearls are brought on shore, they are classified according to size first of all, and to do this, each merchant has a nest of beautiful sieves fitting one into the other. The smallest has holes as big as the end of a pencil, and they go down gradually in size until the largest sieve, which is about six inches across, has holes as fine as mustard seeds. Any day during the pearl season you may see the Arab merchants sitting cross-legged in their houses, sifting pearls, and when they are classified and piled up in little heaps, white and shining in the bright sunlight on the red cloth that covers the floor, it is a sight worth seeing.
The total value of the pearl harvest each year is at least a million dollars, but most of the profit goes into the hands of the dealers. The divers work for wages, and many of them are heavily in debt. In spite of the dangers they incur, the divers love their work, because pearl diving always has in it the element of gambling. One may work a whole day and find only pearls of small value, and then perhaps bring up a fortune in an hour. The most beautiful pearl I ever saw was found in the waters at Bahrein some ten years ago, and was sold for ten thousand dollars. It must have been to such a fortunate pearl diver that Browning referred in his verses :
There are two moments in a diver's life:|
One when, a beggar, he prepares to plunge,
Then when, a prince, he rises with his prize.
The time for pearl diving is from May until the end of September. During the winter months the cold weather interferes with the work, and the men live inshore.
See also: Saudi Arabia News - Qatar News|
All of Bahrain
is one time zone
at GMT+3 with no DST.
The Kingdom of Bahrain, Middle East, occupies an archipelago in the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia.
In 1783, the al-Khalifa family captured Bahrain from the Persians. In order to secure these holdings, it entered into a series of treaties with the UK during the 19th century that made Bahrain a British protectorate. The archipelago attained its independence in 1971.
Bahrain's small size and central location among Persian Gulf countries require it to play a delicate balancing act in foreign affairs among its larger neighbors.
Facing declining oil reserves, Bahrain has turned to petroleum processing and refining and has transformed itself into an international banking center.
King HAMAD bin Isa al-Khalifa, after coming to power in 1999, pushed economic and political reforms to improve relations with the Shia community. Shia political societies participated in 2006 parliamentary and municipal elections. Al Wifaq, the largest Shia political society, won the largest number of seats in the elected chamber of the legislature. However, Shi'a discontent has resurfaced in recent years with street demonstrations and occasional low-level violence.
The CIA World Factbook: Bahrain
Area of Bahrain:
665 sq km
3.5 times the size of Washington, DC
Population of Bahrain:
July 2008 estimate, includes 235,108 non-nationals
Languages of Bahrain:
Arabic, English, Farsi, Urdu
Free Books on Bahrain (.pdfs)
Zigzag Journeys in the Camel Country Zwemer 1911
History of Arabia Crichton 1834
Dawnings of Light in the East Stern 1851
The Land of the Sun Low 1870
Through Asiatic Turkey Geary 1878
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