KUWAIT: The maritime heritage committee at Kuwait Sea Sports Club (KSSC) continues its preparations for the upcoming 31st annual pearl diving expedition scheduled to be held from July 25 to August 1, 2019. Around 160 Kuwaiti youth are participating in the month-long event, which includes training every Friday at the KSSC. The event is organized under the patronage of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.
Captain Feras Al-Khasti said most of the participants are children wanting to spend their summer break in a productive manner. “Their parents want them to spend their precious time productively with other Kuwaiti kids. Just like me – one of my sons is here enjoying the company of his friends. This is not easy training but is really worth it. We teach everything we knew when I was once a student. I did the same when I was nine. It is about time my kids learn the way I learned when I was a kid,” he said.
This week, the sailors applied oil and cement (habab and shouna) to the dhows which will be used for the weeklong expedition. Habab and shouna is done by hand to make the dhows safer and stronger. The shouna ritual is as important as other phases in the preparations to make the dhows ready for the voyage.
“Most of the dhows must get the same treatment, and we leave the work to the young people so they know how it was done in olden times and understand the lives of our forefathers before oil was discovered,” Khasti said. Most of the dhows used were donated by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and the late Amir Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. “We have 15 boats to be used for the expedition. For the whole week, we will stay and camp at Khairan resort to dive early in the morning. They will apply the entire lesson learned at KSSC, where we will test them in real-life pearl diving,” Khasti said.
They also teach participants traditional seafaring songs, commonly known as sanji, popular traditional songs sung by sailors while at sea, on the shore after a long day of pearl diving and while their friends are yet to return from diving. These are sung along beats of clapping, chanting and beating drums, amidst a festive and celebratory mood. The number one supporter of this expedition is no other than His Highness the Amir. The pearl harvest is normally turned over to His Highness the Amir for safekeeping and for the use of future generations.
Even though he attended last year’s pearl diving expedition, Hamad Al-Suwaidan, 14, is back again this summer. He said his presence is in compliance with the wish of his friend Omar Al-Sultan, 16, to be with him in this expedition. “I convinced him to join this year and said if he agrees, I will join again. This is why we are here together this year,” Hamad said. “I like to share the joy in doing the hard work – I value the work of our forefathers. I think we kids should try this pearl diving experience, as it will help us define our true value as people. It is not just about friendship and camaraderie; it is more than just a lesson in seafaring; it is the whole experience,” he added.
The young sailors will be seen off by their family members at the KSSC in a ceremony to be held on July 25 and attended by several invited guests from the Amiri Diwan and the maritime heritage committee. The pearl diving expedition started in 1986 with only five vessels provided by the ministry of information, and throughout the years, His Highness the Amir also donated dhows for the pearl diving activities. The expedition was halted during the 1990-1991 Iraqi invasion but resumed a year later.
By Ben Garcia