The article focuses on the United Arab Emirates’ pearl industry during the period of British colonialization of the Arabian Gulf region, and, specifically, during the rise and decline of the pearl industry. The article aims to explore and analyze the development of the pearl industry in the UAE region, how it was constructed and reproduced from 1869 to 1938. One of the objectives of the study is to show that the pearl industry in the UAE region was a social construction in which the minority profited from financing the pearl extraction and export of pearls. The research also revels political, economic, and cultural factors of the reproduction of the pearl industry. The author shows that it was the colonial power behind the construction and reproduction of the pearl industry that was hierarchically structured. Within the hierarchical structure, the British rule implanted the financiers of the pearl industry, who served at the top level of the hierarchy. Other classes within this hierarchy consisted of local tujar merchants, tawawish middlemen, nawakhodha ship captains, ghawasin divers, siyub divers’ assistants, etc. The research proves the exploitative nature of the pearl industry financial distribution among different strata. The differences within the hierarchy in terms of role, power, myth, and financial distribution further helped this reproduction. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, several factors led to the decline of the pearl diving industry, such as the spread of Japanese cultural pearling. This decline led to the decline of all the classes in the UAE pearling industry and to the rise of new classes related to the oil industry. The article considers a wide range of approaches ranging from statistical, from British archival materials, to discursive analysis of the relationships between colonial and local, rules and citizens, local and non-local, and different strata within the hierarchy of the pearl industry.

About the authors

K Aqil

United Arab Emirates University

- P.O. Box 15551, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates


  1. Abdallah Abd al-Rahman, Al-Imarat fi Dhakirat 'Abna'iha. Al-Hayat al-Iqtisadiyyah [The Emirates in the Memories of its Sons]. Vol. 2. Economic Life. Dubai: Al-Qara'at lil Jamia lil Nashr wa al. Tawzia`; 1990 (In Arab.).
  2. Aldarura A. Malama min Tarikh Allula fi al. khalij [The Characteristics of Pearl in the Arabian Gulf]. Markaz Zayed Lliturath wa al. Tarikh; 2002 (In Arab.).
  3. Al-Faris M. Alawtha`. Al Iqtasadiyah fi Imarat al. Sa`l, 1862-1965 [Economic Conditions in Coastal Emirates, 1862-1965]. Abu Dhabi: Emirates Center for Strategic Studies; 2000 (In Arab.).
  4. Al-Ghunaim Y.A. The Book of the Pearl. Kuwait University; 1998.
  5. Al-Hijji Y. Kuwait and the Sea: A Brief Social and Economic History. London: Arabian Publishing; 2011.
  6. Al-Idrisi S. Nazhat al-Mushtaq. Vol. 1. Port Said: Maktabat al-Thaqafat al-Diniyyah; N.D.
  7. Al-Kuwari A.K. Oil Revenues in the Gulf Emirates: Patterns of Allocation and Impact of Economic Development. Boulder: Westview Press; 1978.
  8. Al-Mutawa M.A. Al-Tanmiyyah wa al-Taghyir al-Ijtima`i fi al-Imarat [Growth and Social Change in the Emirates]. Beirut: Dar al-Farabi; 1991 (In Arab.).
  9. Al-Oteiba M.S. Petroleum and the Economy of the United Arab Emirates. London: Croom Helm; 1977.
  10. Al-Qasimi S.M. The Myth of Arab Piracy in the Gulf. London: Groom Helm; 1986.
  11. Aqil K. The rise of Dubai: A social history of the commercial cities in the Gulf. Encounter. 2010; 2.
  12. Aqil K. The United Arab Emirates A.D. 600 to the Present: A Socio-Discursive Transformation in the Arabian Gulf. Dubai: Gulf Book Center; 2000.
  13. ArmajaniY. Middle East: Past and Present. New Jersey: Prentice Hall; 1970.
  14. Belgrave C. Persian Gulf - past and present. Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society. 1968; 55.
  15. Belgrave C.D. Pearl diving in Bahrain. Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society. 1934; 21.
  16. Bouchon G., Lombard D. The Indian Ocean in the fifteenth century. Ashin Das Gupta, Pearsons M.N. (Eds.). India and the Indian Ocean, 1500-1800. Calcutta: Oxford University Press; 1987.
  17. Bowen R. LeBaron Jr. The Pearl fisheries of the Persian Gulf. The Middle East Journal. 1951; 5 (2).
  18. Butti O.A. Imperialism, Tribal Structure, and the Development of Ruling Elites. A Socio-Economic History of the Trucial States Between 1892 and 1939. PhD Dissertation. Georgetown University; 1992.
  19. Curtin P. Cross-Cultural Trade in World History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1986.
  20. Daniels J. Abu Dhabi: A Portrait. London: Longman; 1974.
  21. Harrison W.P. Economic and social conditions in East Arabia. The Moslem World. 1924; 14.
  22. Hawley D. The Trucial States. New York: Twayne Publishers Inc.; 1970
  23. Heard-Bey F. From trucial states to the United Arab Emirates. The Middle East Journal. 1951; 5 (2).
  24. Hibert M. Musouat al. Ghwas wa Al llula fi Al Amarat wa al. Khalij al. Arabi qable al. Nafat [Encyclopedia of Pearl and Diving in the Emirates Society before Oil]. Vol. 2. Markaz al. Drasat wa al. Wasaq; 2005 (In Arab.).
  25. Houtsma M.T., Arnold T.W., Basset R., Hartmann R. The Encyclopedia of Islam: A Dictionary of the Geography, Ethnography, and Biography of the Muhammadan (Muslim) Peoples. Leiden: E.I. Brill; 1913.
  26. Hussian A. Tajarat Dubai bina Mustahil al. qaran al. Ashreen wa Muntasafeh [Dubai Trade Between the Beginning of the Twentieth Century and its Middle: A lecture organized by the Dubai Municipality]; 2013 (In Arab.).
  27. Jones S. The management of British India steamers in the Gulf, 1862-1945: Gray Mackenzie and the Mesopotamia Persian Corporation. The Gulf in the Early 20th Century. R.I. Lawless (Ed.) Durham, England: Center for Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies: University of Durham; 1986.
  28. Lorimer J.G. Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia. Vol. 1: Historical Part. Westmead, England: Gregg International Publishers Ltd.; 1970.
  29. Lorimer J.G. Gazetteer of the Persian Gulf, Oman and Central Arabia. Vol. 2: Geographical and Statistical. Croom Helm; 1977.
  30. Lotiskiyavitch F.K. Al-Imarat al. ‘Arabia al-Mutahidah [The United Arab Emirates]. Trans. by H. Ishaq. Damascus: Dar Maisel; 1979 (In Arab.).
  31. Ma Huan. The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores. Transl. and ed. by Feng Ch'eng-Chun. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1970.
  32. Mann C.C. Abu Dhabi: Birth of an Oil Sheikhdom. Beirut; Khayats, 1969.
  33. Molly Izzard. The Gulf: Arabia's Western Approaches. London: John Murray; 1979.
  34. Morsy A.M. Changes in the economy and political attitudes, and the development of culture on the coast of Oman between 1900 and 1940. Arabian Studies. 1975; 2 (In Arab.).
  35. Mustafa H. Musouat al. Ghwas wa Al llula fi Al Amarat wa al. Khalij al. Arabi qable al. Nafat [Encyclopedia of Pearl and Diving in the Emirates Society before Oil]. Vol. 1. Markaz al. Drasat wa al. Wasaq; 2004 (In Arab.).
  36. Mutuwali M. Hawdh al-Khalij al-`Arabi: al-Awdha`al-Siyasiyyah wa al-Iqtasadiyyah [The Arabian Gulf: Political and Economic Conditions]. Vol. 2. Cairo: Anglo-Egyptian; 1981 (In Arab.).
  37. Niblock T. (Ed.) Social and Economic Development in the Arab Gulf. London: Croom Helm; 1980.
  38. Rehlat Ibn-Batuta. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-`Almiyyah; 1992 (In Arab.).
  39. Rumaihi M.G. The mode of production in the Arab Gulf before the discovery of oil. Niblock T. (Ed.). Social and Economic Development in the Arab Gulf. London: Croom Helm; 1980.
  40. Said-Zahlan R. Hegemony, dependence and development in the Gulf. Social and Economic Development in the Arab Gulf. Niblock T. (Ed.). London: Croom Helm; 1980.
  41. Villiers A. Sons of Sindbad. UK: Arabian Publishes; 2006.

Copyright (c) 2018 Aqil K.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

This website uses cookies

You consent to our cookies if you continue to use our website.

About Cookies