15 January 2014 | @KempinskiPalm Hotel Dubai
dubai pearl diving timeoutdubai

Dubai’s Pearl Diving Heritage

When you see a string of gorgeous pearls strung delicately in necklace form, do you ever wonder just where those pearls came from? Here is the inside scoop from our hotel concierge...

Most people gaze in awe at the iridescent colors, the size and shape - but never give more thought to just where and how these pearls were cultivated.

Here in the Middle East, Pearls have long been part of culture and heritage, initially the industry was the only real source of income for the UAE's resident many years ago, with lands being too dry and barren to farm. Families would often seasonally move over to the coast and fish, diving from time to time to depths of 40 and 50 meters (which in itself took great talent and skill without the diving equipment we now have) in hunt for oysters containing these special jewels. For many years, it was known that the finest pearls in the world were found primarily in the Arabian Gulf.

Ali's Film - a famous YouTube movie created for the Dubai Expo 2020 also starts with little Ali's story about his grandfather's still preserved pearl diving skills. 

The pearling industry began to grow with the demand for pearls increasing, and Ras Al Khaimah became a major pearling center. Families not only moved over seasonally to the coast, but relocated altogether as diving could become a permanent form of employment, at times offering greater financial stability (there have been accounts of a top quality pearl sold for the equivalent of 300,000 pounds today!)

Pearling was not only seen as a means of trade though, it was truly seen as a way of life and a social system. There were strong rules set in place, forbidding outsiders to engage in pearling without the proper permissions from the rulers. In addition pearls could only be collected by traditional practices such as diving, and when diving equipment did in fact come about, they were banned. These methods of diving to harvest pearl oysters were developed thousands of years ago and were passed down through the family and community for many more years till the industry began its downfall with the worldwide economic depression and the discovery of cultured pearls (a pearl created by a farmer under controlled conditions).

Pearl Diving in Dubai

Even though the industry has bounced back, the traditions haven't necessarily done so, with new techniques and equipment making for a faster, easier and more convenient way to collect oysters. It can often become increasingly difficult to understand or appreciate the old techniques without truly getting a feel for what it must have been like - luckily, Dubai being heavily focused on preserving its rich heritage has set up the Dubai Heritage & Diving Village.

A living museum, the Heritage & Diving Village offers visitors a living example of a traditional Emirati village, allowing them to look back in time and explore Dubai's past. In an assortment of thatch and mud-brick buildings buy handmade arabic sweets, or learn about pottery, Arabic calligraphy or even about Dubai's pearling industry, with live demonstrations of how to chuck an oyster in search of valuable pearl.

A midst the ever-growing landscape of Dubai and the glitz and glamour, it's always great to go back to the roots and the heart of the city and if you have the opportunity to do so, then Dubai Heritage & Diving Village is a must.

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15 January 2014

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