The Book of Possibilities is about the wonders of the world we live in. Come explore it with me!
Pearls begin life as specks of dirt lodged inside the shell of any of a large number of species of mollusk, the most famous of these being the pearl oyster.
Over a period of years, the shellfish deposits layers of calcium carbonate around the intrusion, creating an iridescent, shining gem.
The pearl's luster has been prized for millennia for the status conveyed by their beauty and rarity. Cleopatra was said to have impressed Marc Antony with her wealth by casually dissolving one in a glass of wine before drinking it down.
But these shimmering, naturally occurring products of the oyster have taken their toll of human life through the ages.
Before the beginning of the 20th century, pearl diving was one of the most dangerous professions going.
Divers, armed with nothing more than a deep breath, descended up to 100 feet on a single lungful of air. To battle the hostile environment to wrest from it the oysters concealing the prized natural gems exposed them to the possibility of brain damage, drowning, attacks by sea creatures and deep water blackout.
The greatest number of these divers were East Asian - from the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, China, and other nations bordering the Pacific and Australian Oceans. Many Aboriginal divers from Australia in the late 1800s were women, because they were believed to have a greater lung capacity and could dive deeper and stay down longer.
A particular form of music has grown up with the pearl divers, called fijiri, and practiced around the Persian Gulf. In this example (above), you can hear and see the way traditional fijiri features a lead singer backed by other singers, clapping, and rhythm instruments.
Although pearl diving is now much safer, and pearls themselves are most often cultured through deliberate seeding by man and not discovered by chance, the traditions of this dangerous way of life are a source of pride.