1632 - Jean-Baptiste Tavernier
Concerning Pearls and the Places where they are fished for
In the first place, there is a pearl-fishery round the island of Bahren, in the Persian Gulf. It belongs to the King of Persia, and there is a good fortress there, where a garrison of 300 men is kept. The water which is drunk in this island and that used on the used on the coast of Persia is salt, and has an unpleasant taste, it is only the people of the country who can drink it. As for strangers, it costs them not a little to obtain good water, for they have to get it out at sea from half a league distance from the island up to nearly two leagues. Those who go in boats for it number five or six, one or two of whom dive to the bottom of the sea, having suspended from their waistbands a bottle or two, which they fill with water and then cork them well. For at the bottom of the sea there, for about two or three feet in depth, the water is fresh, and the best that can be drunk. When those who have dived to the bottom of the sea to get this water, pull a small cord which is attached to one of those who remain in the boat, it is the signal to their comrades to haul them up.
While the Portuguese held Hormuz and Muscat, each terate (galley or small ship of war, Ed.) or boat which went to fish was obliged to take out a license from them, which cost 15 abassis, and many brigantines were maintained there, to sink those who were unwilling to take out licences. But since the Arabs have retaken Muscat, and the Portuguese are no longer supreme in the Gulf, every man who fishes pays to the King of Persia only 5 abassis, whether his fishing is successful or not. The merchant also pays the King something small for every 1000 oysters.
The second pearl-fishery is opposite Bahren, on the coast of Arabia Felix, close to the town of El Katif, which, with all the neighbouring country, belongs to an Arab Prince.
The pearls fished in these places are for the most part sold in India, because the Indians are not so particular as we are. All pass easily, the baroques as well as the round; each has its high price, all being saleable. Some of them are taken also to Bassora. Those which go to Persia and Russia are sold at Bandar-Congo (Kongoon; Ed.), two days' distance from Hormuz. In all the places which I have named, and in other parts of India, the water tending slightly to yellow is preferred to the white, because it is said that pearls the water of which is slightly golden retain their vivacity and never change, but that when they are white they do not last for thirty years without losing their vivacity, and, both on account of the heat of the country and the perspiration of the body, they assume a vile yellow colour.
Before leaving the Gulf of Hormuz I shall speak a little more fully than I have done in my account of Persia of that splendid pearl which is possessed by the Arab Prince who took Muscat from the Portuguese. He then assumed the name of Imenhect, Prince of Muscat, having been previously being called Asaf Bin Ali, Prince of Noenuae. This is but a petty province, but the best in Arabia Felix. All that is necessary for the life of man grows there, and more especially splendid fruits, and in particular excellent grapes, from which very good wine can be made. This is the Prince who possesses the most beautiful pearl in the world, not by reason of its size, for it only weighs about 12 1/16 carats, nor on account of its perfect roundness; but because it is so clear and so transparent that you can almost see the light through it. As the Gulf opposite Hormuz is scarcely 12 leagues wide from Arabia Felix to the coast of Persia, and the Arabs were at peace with the Persians, the Prince of Muscat came to visit the Khan of Hormuz, who entertained him with magnificence, and invited the English, Dutch and some other Franks, in which number I was included, to the festival. At the close of the feast the Prince took this pearl out of small purse which he carried suspended from his neck and showed it to the Khan and the rest of the company. The Khan wished to buy it, to present it to the King of Persia, and offered up to 2000 tomans, but the Prince was unwilling to part with it. Since then I crossed the sea with a Banian merchant whom the Great Mogul was sending to this Prince to offer him 40,000 écus for his pearl; but he refused to accept that sum.
Ball, V. (Ed.)
Travels in India by Jean Baptiste Tavernier
Translated from the Original French Edition of 1676
Vol II, London 1889