The Last Pearl Diver in Qatar

Merchant in UAE demonstrates nose clip & basket for pearl gathering PHOTO by Kari

Merchant in UAE demonstrates nose clip & basket for pearl gathering PHOTO by Kari

There are few men still alive who can say they were once professional pearl divers. Saad Ismail Jassim, who runs a shop in Souq Waqif, Doha’s busiest market, is one of them.

“Any pearl, in the old days, I find, I sell and then I eat. I would not keep it for him to see or you. I sell to eat. I’m not keeping it in my pocket and dying of hunger,” says Jassim, describing the mindset of most divers. While gulf pearls were lucrative in trade, diving was hard work and profits failed to trickle down to those who did the harvesting.

Pearl merchants, on the other hand, would sometimes hold on to a pearl for many years waiting to acquire an identical match. Pearls were classified and valued according to their size, shape, color and luster, and matching pearls or whole sets of matching pearls were more valuable than one pearl alone.

oday, Jassim uses scuba gear for recreational diving but still has his traditional tools on display. Only three items were required to dive: a nose plug, a weight to tie around one ankle and a net to collect the oysters. Jassim demonstrates how he used them all, happy to recount his life story to visitors at the shop. He’s had many, including the Sheikh himself.

Chief among the displays at the National Museum is the Pearl Carpet of Baroda. It has over 1.5 million inlaid gulf pearls, and bears other precious jewels, including diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires—each of which had to be individually pierced and sewn onto the carpet. The design of curved flowers and leaves resembles nothing so much as a heavenly garden.


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