Dubai's Pearly Past....


Well-known member
Dec 6, 2007
Hi! I recently had a chance to visit the Dubai Museum (not the famous pearl museum at NBD!) and was intrigued to see the exhibits about Dubai's pearl diving past.

It was fascinating to see how not so long ago (the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries) Dubai was a little more than a village that lived on fishing and pearl diving. There was a thriving pearl trade going on in the area during this time. So I thought I'd share the education that I had gained and some pictures of the pearl related exhibits from the Dubai museum with my pearly friends here.

These two gentlemen are finalising a pearl deal.Pearl dealers, traders and financiers were known as Al Tawashoon....

The price of a pearl was governed by its color,size and shape as it is today. Pearls were weighed against stones of varying sizes (mithqal and half mithqal). Tools used for grading were called Al Toos and Al Ghrabeel.

One of the pictures below shows a pearl merchant's chest made of teakwood (I wanted to interperse the pictures with comments, but haven't been able to figure out how:eek: yet)

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During the diving season, which was from May to September each year, pearl divers made three main journeys on their dhows (traditional Arabian boats). The busiest time was the summer, when thousands of men would leave their dhows, with simple tools and provisions, financed by wealthy pearl traders.....

In the early 20th century there were about 300 pearl diving dhows with over 7000 crew members (including divers) on board. Pearl Beds were called Al Hiraat. Divers made very deep dives in the burning sun of Arabia at the height of summer, wearing only a nose clip and leather finger protectors. They carried with them a basket made of rope. A stone weighing about 5 kg was tied to them to pull them down as also was a rope to pull them up to the surface again. Each diver made about 50 dives a day, each lasting about 3 minutes. A pearl diver would earn between 200 and 300 rupees a year, compared with a pearl trader's average income of 1500 rupees...

Wow, Amrita,
Thanks for this - fascinating. The two gents seem totally unfazed by you taking their photos - the pearls must have been beautiful !
Don't suppose you bought any......? :)
Hi Amrita - sounds like a great trip you are having.. Thanks for the story.
Sueki, I think those two gents would be unfazed no matter what you did!!
Oh, yes, what an eeejit I am......
Put it down to senior moments.....:D
Cool stuff Amrita! An Al Tawashoon...I like that.
I enjoyed the educational post, Amrita - thanks for taking the time to photograph and give us the story.
Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed your pictures and the info. From reading some of Caitlin's previous posts, I somehow imagined the dhou as much smaller.
From reading some of Caitlin's previous posts, I somehow imagined the dhou as much smaller.
Initial tongue-in-cheek response would be "if Dubai can call that a creek…"!

But here is the actual range of dhow sizes, from

Types of dhow:-

Ghanjah - a large vessel with a curved stem and a sloping, ornately carved transom.
Baghlah - the traditional deep-sea dhow
Battil - featured long stems topped by large, club-shaped stem heads
Badan - a smaller vessel requiring a shallow draught

Caitlin's grandfather's dhow must have been a Badan.

Amrita, thanks for the interesting report!
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Thank you, Amrita, for the report and photos. Pictures are worth a thousand words. Love the rug!
Thank you all for your kind comments and you are all very welcome. Yes, it was a really fun trip, and I really did enjoy absorbing any information that I could - as this (& Egypt) was a new region for me, and quite fascinating!:)
About Dhows...yes, there is a range of sizes, and the particular one that I have posted a picture of is one of the bigger ones, but it happened to be sailing at the time that we were having lunch by the creek, and it looked quite majestic, so I clicked it. But there were many more which were smaller than this particular one. But the interesting thing is that these are still widely used for overseas shipments from Dubai to countries like India, Sri Lanka etc. within Asia and to other countries in East Africa as well, for shipping various commodities! :)
Glad to know about the sizes of dhows. That kinda helps me hold on to the romantic idea of divers, a small crew, a family boat, and sunrises/sunsets over the ocean. :)