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Friday 25 April 2014

Pearling

 

Bahrain is aiming for international recognition of its pearling heritage by proposing it for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Bahrain Pearling Industry

Bahrain Pearling Industry

Ministry of Culture and Information

Officials from the Ministry of Culture and Information, Sector of Culture and National Heritage have in January 2010 submitted the nomination documents for the heritage site “Pearling, testimony of an island economy” at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Therewith a one and a half year cycle of evaluation begins upon which the UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will decide about the site’s inscription to the list during its meeting in Bahrain in the summer of 2011.

 

The site commemorates Bahrain’s pearling era and the single product economy that has sustained the country for many centuries. Bahrain is known as the prime location for the collection and trade of pearls which has intensely shaped the Kingdom’s identity. Since historic times various sources acknowledge the outstanding role of Bahrain’s pearls which are said to be especially beautiful and of the highest quality. The pearling testimony would be Bahrain’s second World Heritage site, after “Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun” had been granted this prestigious distinction in 2005.

 

The heritage site “Pearling, testimony of an island economy”, consists of three oyster beds in the territorial waters of Bahrain. The oyster beds are located 40 to 70 kilometers off the northern shores of the island of Bahrain. A seashore at the southern tip of Muharraq links these marine parts of the site to its urban components. The seashore with its natural beach is the only remaining authentic location in Muharraq where dhow fleets during the pearling era left and arrived at the beginning and end of the four-month long pearl collection season each summer. The seashore also features the remains of the historic defense fort Qal’at Bu Mahir. From there a pathway connects 11 urban sites, consisting of 16 historic buildings located throughout the historic settlement of Muharraq. These residential, commercial and public buildings represent different professions (such as the pearl diving crew with divers, haulers, captains; pearl merchants etc.), and key functions or themes within the pearling economy and its society (commercial, religious and social places such as a mosque; warehouses for boat construction and diving equipment; medical treatment for divers; sweet water supply and many more). Thus, a vivid and comprehensive picture of the pearling era and its varied heritage is conveyed at the site.

 

 

The Ministry’s initiative which involves a long list of partners from the public and private realm of Bahrain’s society includes a program for protecting and promoting the heritage site. The site’s different components are protected as national heritage and their significance made comprehensible for the public. To this aim, the historic buildings are restored and partly fitted with exhibitions on their theme and individual family (hi)stories. Crucial for this endeavor are the stories and the knowledge about the pearling era that lie with the people of Bahrain and Muharraq. Traditions such as the pearling songs that are popular up to today are equally important. The 3.22 km long pathway and urban space that connects the historic buildings will be rehabilitated and improved to meet the needs of visitors and the residents of Muharraq. But also diving for pearls are activities which the program supports on the site.

Testimony of an Island Economy

The Ministry’s initiative which involves a long list of partners from the public and private realm of Bahrain’s society includes a program for protecting and promoting the heritage site. The site’s different components are protected as national heritage and their significance made comprehensible for the public. To this aim, the historic buildings are restored and partly fitted with exhibitions on their theme and individual family (hi)stories. Crucial for this endeavor are the stories and the knowledge about the pearling era that lie with the people of Bahrain and Muharraq. Traditions such as the pearling songs that are popular up to today are equally important. The 3.22 km long pathway and urban space that connects the historic buildings will be rehabilitated and improved to meet the needs of visitors and the residents of Muharraq. But also diving for pearls are activities which the program supports on the site. The oyster beds, for example are planned to be made accessible to the public through boat excursions that involve pearl diving. To this end one of the capacity building schemes that the Ministry aims to offer to the Bahraini labor market is to train pearl divers for both commercial and tourism purposes and to make Bahrainis benefit from this abandoned ancient tradition. But also other traditional professional skills will be revived, such as the craftsmanship required for the restoration of the historic buildings and pearl jewellery making.

 

After intense diagnostic and research work that has been carried out since 2007 and during which the project concepts have been finalized, the implementation phase will now start with the first restoration works and the provision of visitor facilities. The ambitious plan of the program for the next 2 years include not only the restoration of the historic structures but also the construction of a visitor centre in the suq of Muharraq as well as other interpretive facilities in Muharraq. However, many of the program’s activities are long term projects. The urban rehabilitation works, which are a joint endeavor of various authorities and the local community, will increasingly take effect to make historic Muharraq an attractive living environment with a traditional flair. This will likewise appeal to visitors and help boost the economy of Muharraq.

 

 

Currently archeological excavations can be observed at the Amarat Fakhro in the suq of Muharraq. The archaeological team led by experts from the British Oxford Brookes University have already found fascinating objects that reveal the use of the site during the late pearling era. But they have also discovered evidence of much older periods of Muharraq’s city history which are currently being further investigated. In preparation of the nomination documents for the site, the Sector for Culture and National Heritage has conducted much research concerning the site and the pearling economy. Soon, first rehabilitation works of historic structure and surrounding urban space will for example be visible in Suq al Qaysariya which will be yet another heritage attraction. Further extensive research work in close contact with the local community is coming up including more interviews conducted to gather knowledge regarding the pearling era and its society. This will equally serve as a backbone for future exhibitions on the site and for an informative website that is currently under construction. A library and archive in the planned visitor centre will make this valuable pool of knowledge accessible to public to stimulate further research into this significant aspect of Bahraini history.

 

An upcoming competition which the Sector for Culture and National Heritage will soon launch is aiming particularly to excite the younger generation of Bahrain in support of their pearling heritage. young Bahrainis will be invited to gather stories of pearling from the older generations and witnesses of that era in order to safeguard this valuable key to Bahrain’s past.

 

As part of Investing in Culture the Pearling project is currently on display among many other cultural activities and assets at the Investing in Culture exhibition at the Bahrain National Museum. Initiated in 2006 under the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander, the Investing in Culture project is aimed at enhancing an active partnership between the private and public sectors to financially and morally support new cultural projects aimed at human development with preservation of national identity. The launch of the project was initiated by H.E. Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa, Minister of Culture and Information, during the opening of the accompanying exhibition at the Bahrain National Museum on February 8th. In support of culture and mutual cooperation, the exhibition highlights implemented as well as envisaged projects that are supported by the private and public sectors dedicated to culture and arts and that contribute to the definition of Bahrain’s cultural identity.