“Pearl Diving in the Gulf – 1938″ – Part 2 of Video Series “Distant Arabia”

31 January 2012 | 3 comments | In Search Of Oil | by Tim Barger

We invite you to enjoy part 2 of the 12 part Distant Arabia video series courtesy of Selwa Press.

The majority of the film clips posted on the Selwa Video You Tube channel are comprised of films taken in Saudi Arabia between 1937 and 1940 by Tom Barger, Les Snyder and Jerry Harriss. They are among the few moving pictures that record that critical and brief moment in the country’s history when an ancient pastoral way of life was coming to an abrupt end, to be replaced by an industrial society. Many of the Bedouin depicted had never seen an automobile let alone a movie camera before these men arrived. The herds of camels, once the lifeblood of Bedouin life, would become irrelevant. The dhows of the Gulf replaced by motor launches, the date oases, the very anchor of the Al Hasa economy, would become all but insignificant. All that remains of those days are these flickering images from a time before oil.

Selwa Press is a publishing company devoted to exploring the early days of Saudi Arabia. It’s website at www.SelwaPress.com has many related features to this time as well as a complete catalog of its publications. www.SelwaDigital.com is devoted to the company’s ebook selections and includes other titles not related to the Kingdom.

Distant Arabia part 2 – Pearl Diving in the Gulf – 1938
Next to dates, pearls were the biggest business in Al Hasa. Though the boom days of the 20s were long gone due to the Depression and the introduction of cultured pearls there was still a sizeable fleet.

The season began in late May through September. Many of the divers were Bedouin who left the desert for the Gulf. The pearling procedure was to anchor at the edge of the oyster beds, drift back to the beginning of the bed; dive and then advance forward a bit and dive again. As can be seen at 0:38 propulsion was affected by the whole crew grabbing the anchor rope, running to the stern and back to the bow for the next pull.

At 1:10 the ship’s oars, a square piece attached diagonally to a pole, are of interest because the very same design is found in the funeral ships entombed with the Egyptian pharaohs some 3000 years prior.

The divers equipped only with a nose clip to equalize pressure, put their foot in an anchor stone that then carried them to the bottom. Working in depths of 20 to 60 feet they gathered as many oysters as they could in a minute and a half and headed for the surface. Typically a diver would make twenty or more trips an hour. The collected oysters were shucked; the pearls collected and the captain and crew shared the proceeds after the ship’s owner had taken his expenses and share.

Unfortunately, many divers were trapped in a cycle of debt that would sometimes be passed onto their heirs.


View Desert Explorers – Part 1 of Video Series Distant Arabia.

3 Comments for ““Pearl Diving in the Gulf – 1938″ – Part 2 of Video Series “Distant Arabia””

  1. Margaret Ackerman says:

    I was fortunate to own a beautiful pearl in 1960 bought as a gift from my husband from a trader from Bahrain. Sadly some years later it was stolen.

    The video is very interesting. One has to appreciate the hard life and danger that the pearl fishermen go through to bring up from the ocean these beautiful gems.

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