The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is comprised of seven emirates (states or jurisdictions): Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qawain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. All but Fujairah share a rich coastline along the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Each emirate has played a role in history that was significant for the whole country to thrive. Dubai was the centre of trade and relied on pearling for its main source of income for thousands of years, making pearl diving the oldest profession in the UAE.
At the height of the pearl diving industry, the ruling sheikh would send more than 1,200 boats carrying up to 50 men each to sea in June for a 120-day harvest. The men would come in from the oasis and head to sea, leaving the camel herds and date gardens behind for the women to care for. Over several generations, certain tribes became tied to the coastal areas because of the economic advantages of pearl diving, which resulted in the formation of new settlements.
A pearl diver used a rope called an "al zaibal" to travel back and forth from the boat to the seabed. Another crew member on the boat would hold one end of the al zaibal with a stone tied to the other end. The diver would tie the al zaibal around his waist to help him lower quickly to the bottom in which he would have approximately three minutes to gather as many oysters as he could into a basket called a "daileen." The crew on the boat would then pull the diver to the surface from the seabed with an additional rope called an "al aida." The diver would complete a series of 10 dives, called an "uqhuma," with a five-minute break between each dive.
The oil industry gained a foothold in the UAE in the 1940s and grew to become the economic backbone of the region by the early 1960s. Prior to this, pearling and sea trading along with small oasis farming made up the economic structure of the Emirati culture. The two industries had completely separate subcultures and governing bodies. In the 1930s the pearling industry died out and paved the way for the oil industry to unify the region with a single economic structure.
Decline of Pearl Diving
In 1907 a man named Tatsuhei Mise filed a patent in Japan that changed the pearl industry. By implanting a piece of the mantle from one oyster into another, the process of culturing pearls was born. By the 1930s the UAE could no longer compete with the cultured pearl market of Japan. Natural pearls occur in only one out of every 1000 oysters. Cultured pearls are produced in every implanted oyster. This method quickly changed the UAE economic stronghold of pearl diving into a memory of the Emirati heritage.
Diving Village in Dubai is a tourist attraction dedicated to keeping the pearl diving heritage alive. The museum houses artefacts used for generations at the mouth of the Dubai Creek in the Shindagha area. Boats, nets, armour and tools display the cultural heritage of the area. A variety of restaurants here serve traditional Arab cuisine.The Diving Village Journey package includes demonstrations of the ancient technique of pearl diving.
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