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Ch. 6: The Pearl Fisheries of the Persian Gulf

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144
THE BOOK OF THE PEARL
manufactured. Many οι the choicest shells are incised with scriptural or allegorical designs for sale to tourists as well as for export. The best of the engraved shells sell for $10 to $50, and the cheaper ones for less than $1 each. This industry is of great importance in Beth­lehem, giving employment to a considerable percentage of the eight thousand inhabitants of the village.
Doubtless in no pearl fishery in the world are greater hardships endured than in the Red Sea and along the coast of the Arabian Gulf. In practically every other region, the industry is carried on under government supervision, and there is little opportunity for ill-treat­ment of the humbler fishermen. But the fanatics who control the fishery on the Arabian coast—untrammeled by authorities and re­sponsible to none—show little consideration for the poor divers, and particularly for the unfortunate black slaves brought from the coast of Africa.
These pearl fishermen lead a very eventful life, the divers especially. They see some wonderful sights down below the surface—plant life and creeping things and enemies innumerable. Dropping from the sun-scorched surface down into the deep cool waters, everything shows "a sea change, into something rich and strange," just as the eyes of the drowned man in Ariel's song are turned into pearls and his bones into coral.
And there are enemies innumerable. The terrible sharks, prowling about near the bottom, prove a source of perpetual uneasiness, and in the aggregate many fishermen are eaten by these blood-thirsty tigers of the sea. There are horrible conflicts with devil-fish equaling that in Hugo's "Toilers of the Sea." The saw-fish is also a source of danger, particularly in the Arabian Gulf, and instances are reported in which divers have been cut in two by these animals, which some­times attain a length of twelve or fifteen feet, and possess a saw five feet long and three inches broad, armed on each edge with teeth two inches in length. Another menacing peril is the giant clam ( Tridacna gigas), a monster bivalve, whose shell measures two or three feet in diameter, and is firmly anchored to the bottom. This mollusk occurs on many of the Asiatic pearling grounds. Lying with the scalloped edges a foot or more apart, a foot or a hand of the diver may be accidentally inserted. When such a fate befalls a fisherman, the only escape is for him to amputate the member immediately. Once in a while on the pearling shores a native may be found who has been maimed in this manner, but usually the unfortunate man does not escape with his life.
Ch. 6: The Pearl Fisheries of the Persian Gulf Page of 650 Ch. 6: The Pearl Fisheries of the Persian Gulf
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