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Pearl traders: Once a pillar of Kuwait’s economy

Tawashes’ tools box. — KUNA photo

KUWAIT: In old Kuwait, the traditional ‘Tawash’ (pearl traders) used to play a key role in the economic activity which relied heavily on pearl diving.

The Kuwaiti pearl traders gained success and fame across south Asia, particularly in the Indian subcontinent, due to their sincerity and professionalism.  They were known for their expertise in assessing the pearl grading and pricing in the main commercial centers whether in Bahrain – the hub of pearl trade in the Arabian Gulf, and Mumbai, India.

This craft entails a lot of travel and movement between the key pearl diving centers and the main markets, said Saif Marzouq Al-Shamlan, a Kuwaiti historian.

Kuwaiti pearl traders used to tour aboard their private ships the main pearl diving areas in the territorial waters of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and sometimes Oman to buy pearls before setting sail to the commercial markets in Bahrain and India.
Darin, a town in Al-Ahsaa served as a main hub for the pearl trade where traders used to gather to strike deals and discuss the affairs of the market, he said.

In Bahrain and Mumbai, they, as wholesalers, stuck deals on selling their precious products to retailers from the Gulf region, India and Europe, Al-Shamlan pointed out.

Dealing with Tawashes’ tools, he said they used to have scales for measuring the exact weight of a pearl, and magnifiers for determining the quality and grade.

These tools were carried in a ‘Dasta’ – a toolkit which is usually red and one meter long, he said.
A Tawash could become very wealthy if he was able to get a “dana’ a big pearl such as the well-known Bin Yaqout’s dana which was sold for 110,000 rupees in Bahrain and Sayed Al-Refai’s dana which was bought by the Kuwaiti trader Hilal Al-Mutairi for 45,000 rupees.

When compared with divers, Tawashes used to lead a more comfortable life, eat better, have larger boats and get higher, sometimes astronomical, wealth, Al-Shamlan went on.

Tawashes used to take sheep on their boats and slaughter them upon arrival at the pearl diving sites to offer their meat to divers as gifts which helped cement the cordial business relationship with them. Tawashes usually had contracts with a number of divers; they visited the diving sites one month after the divers go there in order give the divers enough time to pick the pearls. They also took some of their children along in order to train them on this business.

In Al-Qafal (the return trip) the Tawashes and their divers come back to Kuwait with the pearls in one flotilla; they take some time to rest before started a farther journey to sell the pearls on the regional markets. This shows that many families depended for livelihood on this business which played an essential role in the economy of old Kuwait. – Kuna
By Sara Al-Mukhayzim

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