Before and at the beginning of the 20th century, pearl extracting was bestowed upon group hunters who were good divers. These men either came from the lower strata of society or they were slaves, as this occupation carried a lot of risk. The free divers often had to dive to a depth of 100 feet down into the sea with a single breath. They were often attacked by sharks and jellyfish, or succumbed to drowning or decompression sickness.
However, this occupation has become obsolete because of the risk factors involved and with the advent of pearl culturing. Moreover, the difficulties to finding natural pearls were due to the lack of consistency in proper shape and production. This was often the cause of disappointment for the divers as well as the businessmen.
Pearl hunting locations
Pearls were once hunted for all across the world, but Japan is now the leading exporter. Pearls were hunted in abundance from the Indian Ocean. For thousands of years pearls were extracted from oysters by daring divers from the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and the Gulf of Mannar (between India and Sri Lanka). Many large pearls were found near the Philippines, particularly in the Sulu Archipelago. Native Americans too hunted pearls from lakes and rivers such as the Ohio, the Tennessee, and the Mississippi. Pearls were also hunted for in the Caribbean seas and the coastal waters of Central and South America.
Pearls are still hunted for today in some places, but very few. It is so because firstly, pearl hunting involves too much risk to the divers compared to the small yield. Secondly, with the discovery of advanced techniques such as pearl culturing and farming, this occupation has rapidly decreased. However, places like Japan still have a group of divers called Ama divers that engage in such hunting. Today, the scenario is much better off with Kokichi Mikimoto's technique, as production of pearls has highly increased, with better quality and quantity.
Pearl hunting was in vogue before the 20th century in the Arabic states of the Persian Gulf including Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. Before they entered the business of drilling oil from beneath their own soil, they were in the business of exporting pearls. But with the advent of pearl culturing and farming in Japan, they shifted their business focus. While they were engaged in pearl hunting, these pearl divers used to sing a 'fidjeri', which is a repertoire of vocal music often accompanied by chorus singers with the lead one and also with instruments like mirwas and jahlah.