Diving for Pearls with the Dhows

 

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Local sightings : Beautiful Fateh al Kheir sitting directly facing the Arabian Gulf 

Before the Oil Rigs, there were the Dhows .Kuwaitis are traditionally Fishermen & Pearl Divers and the Arabian Gulf is the largest natural pearl diving area in the world.When we think about Kuwait, its not limited to Desert, arid climate and oil. It is also a country rich in maritime jewel, the Pearls.

One of the beautiful local sights  I got to see in Kuwait is their Arabic Dhows . If you live here, you will see that “Dhows “are important landmark of this oil-rich country.Fishing &  Pearl hunting is one of the prime industry in the Persian Gulf back then. Before oil rigs, there were Dhows as the main vessel for a source of living of native Kuwaitis.This has been an integral part of Kuwait Heritage. To highlight this vessel’s significance in their culture, they have various museums which displays them. I got the chance to visit them all & have learned a lot. Sharing my experience, I wrote about Kuwait having the world record of the biggest & grandest Dhow that has ever been built in the world. This is the Al-Hashemi Dhow which docked in the coast of Arabian gulf beside Radisson Blu Hotel.This is one of the famous tourist attraction here not to be missed. It is really a great experience to see it & be on board with it.

These world -renowned sailing wooden boats  were used for coastal trading, fishing, and pearl diving in the past. Visitors in Kuwait can have a chance to be on-board the ship named Fateh El-kheir which means (brings good fortune). The ship is the largest, and last surviving wooden dhow. Al-Boom was also one of the famous and most use ships in Kuwait in the old days.
There were many kinds of Al-Boom used by Kuwaitis for many purposes at that time. One of these kinds called Boom-Ghawas and it was used for pearls hunting. Other kinds called (Boom-Ma’y), for sweet water delivery. (Teshalah) for shipping stones for building. The bigger one called (Boom Saffar)- sailor Boom for long distance sailing, and                     (Boom- Gatta’a) for short distance sailing.

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The Dhow harbour

Kuwait  Arabic dhows or sailing vessels were among the finest in the world used for pearling. I observed these pearling boats at the Marine Museum in Kuwait City and in Scientific Center. These dhows were of different types and kinds. The larger ones had more than 30 crews, while the smaller ones had about 12 crews. The various types of dhows used in Kuwait are Baghlah, Battil, Ghanjah and Badari. The dhow used for peal diving was called Ghawas, and the Sanbouk was another type of dhow used for pearl diving.Some of the famous dhows in Kuwait are Fath al Kareem, Al Muhalab, Muhammedi, Al-Abdullah, and Sanbouk al-Jalahma.

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Traditional Arabic Dhows traditionally used also by Peral divers to hunt for pearls

The relationship between Kuwait and pearl diving is intertwined and connected with generations of Kuwaitis carrying on the legacy left by the forefathers of the countries. Pearl diving, in the old days, was the main source of income for many Kuwaitis despite the hardships faced by many divers in the vast wide ocean.

A typical day for the divers back then began with early morning (Fajr) prayers followed by a cup of tea or coffee and a small portion of dates. By sunrise, the sailors and divers begin their daily activity of pearl diving which continues between 12 hours to 16 depending on the season. To aid them during their work, pearl divers used to wear specific clothing to enable them to dive and swim properly and also provide minimal protection against jellyfish stings.

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Arabic Dhows displayed in Al-Hashemi Museum

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Local sightings : Different types of Dhows displayed at the Al-Hashemi Maritime Museum

Unlike the high sophisticated technology developed for diving today, pearl divers back then had to endure tremendous amount of pressure while diving and also long expeditions which lasts for months all in order to feed their families back at home.

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Connecting to the Past; searching for pearls with the Dhows
Young people silhouetted behind the sail of a dhow prepare the traditional vessel for a pearl diving trip during an annual festival in Kuwait as featured in Eyewitness series /Raed Qutena/Aug.2015.

At sunset, the ship’s captain, (Nukhatha) in Kuwaiti dialect, orders the divers to halt their activity to perform Maghreb prayers which is followed by a hefty meal of rice and fish followed by Isha prayers and a much needed sleep. After a long much needed slumber, by the next day (Al-Saib), usually an individual in charge of pulling divers from the deep sea floor, and other sailors begin to open the oysters that have been salvaged in the previous day to find those precious pearls.

 

Though pearl diving has long been abandoned as the main source of livelihood in Kuwait, the younger generation keep the tradition alive by engaging in a challenging Pearl Diving Festival during Summer season.

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Young Kuwaitis gearing up & sailing on a traditional Dhow for annual pearl diving season last August 11,2015 from Port of Khairan,100km south of Kuwait City .(Photo credit to The National)

Annualy ,Kuwait holds a Pearl -Diving Festival which were organized by the Kuwait Sea Sports Club (KSSC) . The diving trip lasts for several days and there are quite a number of  traditional dhows with  young men participating from Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman. This tradition was started 25 years ago under the patronage of His Highness the Amir of Kuwait to preserve and celebrate Kuwait heritage.If you wanna take a look at this cultural event ,there is a wonderful gallery showing a Pearl Diving Festival in Kuwait done by Noufal Ibrahim.

Do you like pearls? If so, have you ever wonder how is pearl diving done?

How special would it be to wear a pearl caught by one of these brave pearl divers?

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