Pearl diving in Bahrain has been part of the country’s culture for hundreds of years. Pearl diving is a symbol of Bahraini culture due to the long history the nation has with it. Traditionally, it is seen as one of the most lucrative and sought after exports of the small island nation reaching back into antiquity. Today, the pearl trade is a shadow of its former self, dried up due to the far more lucrative industry of oil. The pearl market’s demand for high volume which is stated by cultured Japanese pearls has also affected the pearl diving industry of Bahrain.
Most Bahraini citizens would identify with the image of a pearl as pearl diving is the pre-colonial money maker of the island nation. In fact, many pearl-related landmarks in and around Bahrain are popular attractions to tourists that visit the country every year. There is a pearl diver’s museum that showcases the history of Bahrain and pearl diving, as well as the bin Matar house known as the place of memories that showcases many tools of the trade of pearl divers. The major landmark found in the capital city known as the Pearl Monument is also an iconic part of Manama, which is a hub for the vast majority of traffic moving through the city. The massive monument can also be seen on the back of the half Dinar coin which is the largest denomination of coinage in the country’s treasury. This is all due to the historical connection between Bahrain and pearl diving.
Historical records show that pearl diving off of Bahrain has been around since the 3rd century BC with Nearchus who served under Alexander the Great. Much of the nation’s wealth was accumulated from the pearl trade. This is due to the belief that Bahrain pearls are some of the most beautiful pearls in the world. Although finding large pearls is uncommon, the smaller pearls of the smoothest quality are said to be much shinier than pearls found anywhere else in the world. Bahraini pearl divers attribute this to the warm, sweet waters found off the coast. Bahrain is the only country in the world that forbids the practice of pearl farming, which in their belief degrades the quality of the pearl. A certain mystique is lost when a pearl is no longer plucked from the depths of the ocean by brave pearl divers.
Pearl diving was a perilous occupation as there are many different inherent safety risks one had to face when diving for pearls. Traditionally, pearl diving was done with no breathing apparatus or eye protection as the depths of the water would go deeper than 33 feet. The blood, sweat, and tears of Bahraini pearl divers are what essentially make each pearl beautiful. This may be why the Bahraini Government forbids the practice of cultured pearls and has stopped the trade of inbound cultured pearls.
Pearl diving in Bahrain has taken on a new form lately, with many scuba diving operators organizing pearl diving tours. Diving into the Gulf waters in search of exotic pearls will certainly rank as one of the truly memorable moments in anyone’s life. The best part is you can bring home all the lovely pearls which visitors can find for themselves as this is permitted by Bahrainian law.