Photos: tradition of pearl diving is kept alive in Qatar


Doha, Qatar – Just a century ago, the pearl trade made up three quarters of the region’s exports.

Diving was a popular profession for Qataris before oil and gas were discovered. It was hard and dangerous work that required great skill and courage from the fishermen who hunted the pearls.

Men would make long journeys, often months away from home, crammed together on the deck of a ship. Underwater, they held their breath for up to two minutes at a depth of up to 18 meters (59 feet), often with a pin on their nose.

The demanding conditions took a heavy physical toll on those men. Many never came home.

Mohammed Abdulla al-Sada, 36, is a Qatari who continues the tradition. He likes to dive at least three times a week, scouring the seabed for oysters, hoping to find a dana pearl.

Dana pearls are large, heavy and perfectly round – prized attributes for use in jewelry.

“If anyone finds a dana, his name will be on it forever. They will say that Mohammed al-Sada found this dana on this day of this year,” he told Al Jazeera.

Pearl diving runs in his family. His grandfather and uncle were also pearl divers.

“Almost every Qatari had a relative who was a pearl diver,” al-Sada added. “At that time it was very difficult, unlike today.”

Even today, pearl diving carries several risks.

Al-Sada said he once blacked out while trying to retrieve two Pinctada maxima oysters from the seabed, each weighing about 2 kg (4 lbs). Luckily his dive partner was there to help him.

Another time, he said, his boat sank, stranding him and a friend in the sea for an hour before a passing boat spotted them.

Saad Ismail al-Jassem has a shop in Qatar’s Souq Waqif, which is full of pearl necklaces and trinkets from the bygone industry.

Jassem, now 87, became a pearl diver when he was 18. He greets visitors to his shop with stories about the trade and demonstrations of his physical prowess.

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