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Updated on April 26, 2015

Tied to the dhows, the wooden ships travelled between Kuwait, the Gulf and India. This was the generalized social relations that governed society and economy in pre-oil Kuwait, somewhere around the 1930s and before that in the 18th and 19th centuries.

At that time society in Kuwait was a sea-faring one of the maritime variety. It was based first on the building of these dhows, some of them small, but there were also great big ones owned by a strong merchant class.

They directed an economy, a large chunk of which was lynch pinned on fishing and pearling, the latter being a lucrative trade both in the internal market, the transit routes in the Arabian Peninsula, on the coast of Oman, and right way to the sea shores of India.

Some of the pearling made through diving was exported and sold in the bourgeoning Indian markets which traditionally had strong routes with Gulf coasts, and through the travels of their people.

These dhows and their extensive involvement in such trading activity meant that Kuwait had developed a strong economy based on dhows. In addition to the many skilled divers who would travel to sea months on end for the pearling season, between May and September, there were a magnitude of others.

These were sailors and workers and cooks who had to be on the dhows to guarantee the operations of the pearl divers. Such activities were organized and controlled by the captain of the ship, and was in turn responsible to the merchant.

It was a relationship based on what can be called bondage or more harshly as "indentured servitude". Because of the nature of the economy, those who worked on the dhows were continually indebt to the merchant who controlled the purse-strings.

Because of the lack of jobs they would borrow from the merchant prior to the diving season for the upkeep of their families, and would borrow again once the season is over.

The end result of this was that their debts kept mounting, and they would have to continually go back to sea to pay off the debt, which of course kept getting bigger and bigger.

Even after these sailors retire, or die, because diving was an awesome, tiresome exercise that took its toll, the sons of those who worked on the dhows would have to take over to try to pay the accumulating debt which for all practical purposes could not be paid off.

In time, it became an economic-social system that guaranteed an able, and forced labor force reservoir that facilitated the continuation of an industry that demanded much muscle-power and was greatly profitable for the merchant class.


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    • icciev profile image

      icciev 6 years ago from Kuwait

      what an interesting hub, indeed it was an important period in history of Kuwait, thanks for sharing and exploring this part of Kuwait history. voted up.