Rediscovering Saudi heritage: Pearl kings of Farasan Islands

Rediscovering Saudi heritage: Pearl kings of Farasan Islands
For generations, pearling was a booming industry for residents in the Eastern region of the Arabian Peninsula. Traders from as far as India would pay a visit in search for the most pure of pearls. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 January 2021

Rediscovering Saudi heritage: Pearl kings of Farasan Islands

Rediscovering Saudi heritage: Pearl kings of Farasan Islands
  • A glance at divers who would dive more than 30 meters and hold their breath for about 5 minutes to find treasure pieces

MAKKAH: The men of the Farasan Islands, in the Red Sea, used to roam the seas in search of pearls. They would dive down more than 30 meters, holding their breath for more than five minutes to find the pieces of treasure that could fetch up to SR150,000 ($40,000) each.

For generations, pearling was a booming industry for residents in the Eastern region of the Arabian Peninsula — many historians believe it goes back at least four centuries. Traders from as far as India would travel to the Arabian Gulf in search for the most pure of pearls.
While the pearl industry of the Eastern Province is well known, the Kingdom’s newfound approach to rediscovering its heritage and reviving its traditions is shedding new light on the Farasan pearl divers.
For generations, the families of the islands off the southwest Saudi coast would bid farewell to their menfolk as they set sail for months on end in search of pearls.
The pearl industry shaped their identity, but today their trade is dying out. The once community-wide endeavor, from pearling merchants and divers to dhow captains, boat builders timber merchants, is becoming a thing of the past.
Specialist Suleiman Balaous said that the Qur’an mentions that dwellers of paradise will be adorned with pearls. He explained that Farasan was once a major source of pearls in the region.
“The only one way to polish natural pearls or restore their shine is to collect rainwater in a large dish and wash them in it,” he said. “The pearls will then regain their original luster and shine in a very beautiful way.”
Pearls form when a mollusk reacts to the presence of an irritant or invader inside the shell. It forms a sac around the foreign substance to cover it, which, over time, becomes a pearl.

FASTFACTS

• Pearls form when a mollusk reacts to the presence of an irritant or invader inside the shell.

• It forms a sac around the foreign substance to cover it, which, later, becomes a pearl.

• The only one way to polish natural pearls or restore their shine is to collect rainwater in a large dish and wash them in it.

The pearls all have different names, according to their size. The smallest, which are a little bigger than a grain of sand, are called “Dakkah,” the slightly larger ones are called “Ansar,” followed by “Al-Mazouri” and “Al-Tala.” The largest pearls are called “Danas.” Danas can fetch from SR1,000 up to SR150,000.
Mohammed Hadi, one of Farasan’s pearl merchants, told Arab News that in ancient times pearl hunting began when divers were looking for oysters — “bulbul,” as they are known locally.
In keeping with traditional way of determining the pearl quality, Hadi uses copper sieves to separate out the large, medium and small pearls, and has weights made of a gemstone, Yemeni agate, to determine the pearl’s weight.
Ibrahim Moftah, a writer specializing in pearls, said that the importance of pearl hunting in the Farasan community came from the fact that a diver’s manhood was measured by his proficiency.
Lacking oxygen tanks and the modern diving tools and facing sea predators, it was a far more arduous profession. Diving down to oysters beds, only the strongest and most proficient divers would dive without the use of nose clips, a perilous endeavor.
He said: “The merchants did not sell their gems in neighboring countries. Their markets were in the East, such as India. In addition to the material profits they gained, they brought home the influences of the eastern civilizations. That was reflected in the architectural styles they adopted at home, the effects of which can still be seen today in Al-Rifai House and the Najdi Mosque, as well as in the materials used in the women’s clothing, which were embroidered with silk and reed.”
He added that these merchants brought materials that were new to the region at that time, such as precious woods, Japanese tiles, paintings inlaid with ivory.
Over time, the trade of cultivated, cheaper and flawless pearls manufactured by countries such as Japan caused the pearl industry to die out in both the Eastern Province, where the oil industry became the Kingdom’s booming industry, and in the west, as younger generations turned to more traditional jobs and left the family business behind.
Pearl diving is still considered one of the Kingdom’s most treasured traditions, one that contributed to the Gulf’s transregional connections that brought wealth over the generations.
Though the perfect pearl may never be found the wonder of its creation remains one of the most intriguing of traditions in today’s modern age.


Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court

Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court
If a contract obliges one of the parties to carry out a task, which cannot be completed on time due to the pandemic, the court can temporarily suspend the implementation of the obligation. (SPA)
Updated 54 min 1 sec ago

Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court

Overdue business rents waived by Saudi court
  • The new regulations cover construction contracts, supply contracts, and the like, which have been affected by the pandemic

RIYADH: The General Assembly of the Saudi Supreme Court has ordered the waiving of overdue rents on businesses hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and called for a review of such contracts between tenants and owners.

The steps have been taken in view of the circumstances caused by the pandemic, wherein an obligation or contract cannot be implemented without unusual losses.

The president of the Supreme Court, Khalid bin Abdullah bin Muhammad Al-Luhaidan, approved the decisions backed by 32 members of the assembly, Okaz newspaper reported.

Authorities have set conditions that have to be met before a case can be considered for review under the new regulations.

If a contract was concluded before the commencement of the preventive measures announced in the wake of the pandemic, then the impact was direct and unavoidable. If in such a case, an affected party was not compensated or did not reach a deal to mitigate the impact of the health crisis, then it qualifies for a review and the new regulations will then take effect, said legal sources.

The Supreme Court said a competent court will issue its verdict based on facts and circumstantial evidence, and may order amendments to a contract.

It also said the new provisions will be applicable to tenancy contracts and movable properties affected by the pandemic.

It clarified that if, due to the pandemic, a tenant was unable to use the leased property, in whole or in part, the court would reduce the rent as much as the usually intended benefit was reduced.

A lessor, meanwhile, does not have the right to terminate the contract if a tenant is late in paying rent for the period during which it was impossible to fully or partly use the property due to the pandemic.

HIGHLIGHT

The Supreme Court said a competent court will issue its verdict based on facts and circumstantial evidence, and may order amendments to a contract.

The new regulations also cover construction contracts, supply contracts, and the like, which have been affected by the pandemic.

If the pandemic causes an increase to the cost of materials and labor wages, etc., the court shall increase the value of the contract while ensuring the obligor can afford to bear the expense. The obligee, upon increasing the obligation, has the right to request the termination of the contract. If the increase in the cost of materials is temporary, the court reserves the right to temporarily suspend the contract.

If the pandemic causes a shortage of material in the market, the court can reduce the quantity to the extent it deems sufficient to protect the obligor from harm.

Moreover, if the shortage of materials is temporary, the court can temporarily suspend the contract if the person obligated to it is not severely affected by this suspension. If he is harmed, he may request termination of the contract. If the materials were not available at all, leading to the impossibility of implementing the contractual obligations or some of them, the court will terminate the clauses that are impossible to implement upon the request of one of the parties to the contract.

If a contract obliges one of the parties to carry out a task, which cannot be completed on time due to the pandemic, the court can temporarily suspend the implementation of the obligation. If the other party fears unusual damage due to the suspension, he may request termination of the contract.

In addition, the court also stressed the need to carefully assess the damages on a case-to-case basis, and that one or more experts should do the assessment. While assessing damages, it should be made clear what losses were incurred directly due to the pandemic and had nothing do to with seasonal upswing in certain activities.

The Supreme Court explained that a court is bound, when considering cases arising from contracts and obligations affected by the pandemic, not to apply penalty clause or fines in whole or in part — depending on the case.

In the event that a contract includes a clause of exemption from liability for one of the contracting parties when an emergency or force majeure occurs, the condition has no effect, and the party that breaches the obligation must provide evidence that the pandemic was the reason for the breach.

The affected contracts that are not covered by the provisions of this principle shall be subject to the legal and statutory litigation principles, said the court.

Commenting on the decision, Talal Albotty, the regional director of the Central Region, Salama Insurance Co., said there is a type of insurance called “suspension of operations” because of continuous epidemics, and falls under property insurance.

“This type of insurance can be found in European countries and some Asian countries but it is not applicable in Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News. “The insurance against projects does not exist because when the project stops, insurance stops.”

Regarding the rise in prices of commodities, or the increase in prices because of pandemics and suspension of imports, a condition must be added stating that the value of property or project must increase by 10-25 percent, he added.

“Now most reinsurance companies around the world stopped offering insurance related to pandemics and contagious diseases in most countries, including COVID-19, because their impact was huge and the companies sustained huge losses,” he said.

Saudi lawyer Reem Alajmi said the resolution aims to treat and remedy the losses incurred by parties to the contract in terms of obligations.

“The parties could not fulfil their obligations because of a lack of sufficient resources or suspension of working hours during the pandemic. Fulfilling the obligation fully or partially was difficult because COVID-19 pandemic was a force majeure,” she told Arab News.

According to Alajmi, the effects or damage caused by the pandemic must not be covered by other laws. “Proving the occurrence of damage is the responsibility of the plaintiff and the defendant based on evidence submitted to the court,” she added. “The contracts and obligations are amended accordingly.”