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Story of the Pearl Divers

 

When old timers gather together for a natter, memories rush back like like waves to the mysteries of the sea and what you can find there. The sea had its perils and in its depths, they hunted for pearls. Old timers cling on to these memories, which are as valuable as the pearls they risked their lives for. Pearl diving is a love that has stood the test of time.

They put to sea in a ship called sambouq, which carried divers. A  70-year-old UAE national, Ibrahim Nasser Al Mail, says tears come to his eyes when­ever he reminisces about the good old days. He says: "Certain types of sambouq used to carry 100 people, at least half of them divers and the rest specialised in pulling divers out of water or were rowers. These men including the divers, reported to their chief called moqadimi who in turn reported to the captain of the ship. The captain enjoyed complete authority on board.

"The captain first chose the divers. He would chant 'live long' and then name the diver, who would jump into the water. Some captains used to dive themselves and would enter the water first. He was the symbol of courage and set an example. Some divers even rowed if the rowers needed help." The diver usually had a strong rope tied to his leg, along with a heavy metal weight called hassa. The weight enabled him to dive deep. Once he touched the seabed, he would remove the hassa and hunt for oysters. He had a basket around his neck to collect the oysters.

"Once a diver finished his mission - he'd probably be nearly out of breath by then - he would tug the rope. This was a sign to other divers to pull him-up." Ibrahim Mohammed Al Taweel, another old timer who used to be a diver, said a diver had to come up with at least one oyster with a pearl in each attempt. Failure was an alien word. He says: "The diver never owned the pearl - it was the property of the entire crew. After the excursion, the captain would sell the pearls to traders and distribute the money among the crew."

The sambouqs used to sail to certain areas which were rich in pearl bearing oysters including Umm Al Zam, Umm Al Shaif, Umm Al Muitarid, Omairah, Umm Al Doloo, Umm Al Nokhoush, Imsadaq, Bulhanin, Abu Sour, Rijiah and Imdawarh. "The ships would sail to many areas and during my hundreds of trips, there never was a time when we didn't find pearls."

Juma'a Moftah Bofareed, another aged national, said the moment divers came out of the water, the entire crew gathered around and started opening the oysters to see whether they had pearls.

"Divers used a certain type of knife called mafalejto remove the pearls. The knives were kept in a basket made of palm leaves on the deck." There was a place called shirbak, which was higher than the deck, reserved for divers to sleep. Each ship had a tank of drinking water for the crew called ghintas. A diving trip usually lasted four to five months and divers went on two trips a year."

Bofareed said one sailor knew how to control the rudder and was ordered by the captain to be at the steering wheel which was called sikan. The captain planned on which areas to go and charted the course. For the old timers, the sea will always remain a mystery, which beckons to be explored.

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