Major historical events in the United Arab Emirates, especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are related to the trade and investment development. There has been substantial evidence found that settlements in this land began in the era of glaciation, and trade emerged five millennia ago. Originally, date palms were grown there, and copper was mined in the local mines. Gradually, a port developed and expanded, and the European traders began to appear around the 17th century. It should be noted that they forced out their competitors, Muslim traders. Dubai was transformed into a fishing port, and local fishermen, along with fishing, became engaged in pearling industry. Well-developed trade relations as well as pearling made the main contribution to the development of the region. Hunting pearls was one of the main activities in the UAE between the 18th and 20th centuries. This industry became the basis of the economy of the United Arab Emirates before the discovery of oil. Modern Ras al-Khaimah was formerly known as the city of Julphar and the capital of pearls. More to say, pearling served to increase the popularity of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as the main pearl sites. The pearl sales in the times before oil brought 95% of income in the state budget. Furthermore, the pearl industry was under control of large traders. The pearling boom led to the significant changes in the economic, social, and demographic fields. This paper aims at analyzing the reasons and consequences of the changes of pearling in the United Arab Emirates in the period of 1750-1970 years.
The Change in Settlement Pattern and Demography
The change of settlement reflected the socioeconomic reconfiguration of the Persian Gulf region. Abu Dhabi could be the best example of the transformations as its settlement patterns were very reactive to the socioeconomic changes. The territory of modern Abu Dhabi has always been an underpopulated marginal zone with low rainfall and poor supplies of water. Thus, the foundation of Abu Dhabi in 1760 and its further success was directly related to pearling. The concentration of human power and economic interests in the centers of pearling has always been a seasonal phenomenon. Since the 12th century, the population of port cities increased significantly during the pearling season. Further, since the 18th century, there was the difference in scale, and the growing population began to stay in the cities even outside the diving season. At the peak of pearling season, tens of thousands of people were involved in pearl harvesting; it was more than a quarter of the total Arabian population of the Persian Gulf. The large numbers of nomads arrived into the pearling communities, mainly into Abu Dhabi and Dubai. During the period of great prosperity, these divers included even the Bedouins from Yemen. There was also an annual migration of divers into the Persian Gulf from Oman. Therefore, the pearling boom, which began in the 18th and lasted until the 20th century, led to the socioeconomic changes and thus, to the changes in settlement pattern, which would allow saying that this boom had influenced demography largely.
The Growth of Cities and Population
The changes brought by the pearling industry had the greatest influence on the regions of the Gulf that had the least natural resources but a good access to the sea since these places were available for hunting pearls. From the middle of the 18th century, pearling centers were not only concentrated in the regions with the greatest amount of workforce but also in the areas with the lowest resources. For example, Qatar was an important part of the pearling industry in the early 12th century. Doha, despite its small population and the fact that there was almost no agriculture, was also involved in pearl hunting. Abu Dhabi was the best example of pearling, but pearling boom also affected the growth of such cities as Doha, Dubai, and Sharjah. Dalma was also known as an island in the heart of the pearl banks with small permanent population that significantly increased during the pearling season. Gradually, all those cities become the pearling centers. People moved to the big centers with the purpose of taking part in the pearl industry. The growing population was concerned mostly on the coasts, which brought them large profits due in the industry.
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Immigration and Increase in Population due to Pearling
Significant immigration of Iranian, Indian, and Arab traders to the Arabian coast was caused by the pearling boom. Immigrants from the Persian side came and increased the population of the Arabian coastal settlements. They also moved their businesses to the Arabian coast, mainly to Dubai. Thus, the people on both sides of the Gulf reacted to the economic events as they left their homes and moved if they could have better material benefit and opportunities for prosperity somewhere else. Abu Dhabi was the best example on how the pearling boom and the establishment of new pearling centers stimulated immigration. During the prosperity of the emirate, the members of certain tribes devoted themselves more and more to pearling, staying in the region not only in diving season but also throughout the year. Besides pearl hunting, they also participated in the winter harvest, fishing, and some marine activities. The level of sedentarism in the islands and the pattern of migration were difficult to estimate, but the year-round habitation of several families in the islands increased significantly. The structure of local society also transformed due to pearl hunting, especially in Abu Dhabi. As they specialized in pearling and fishing, groups of immigrants changed many of their interests, such as camel-herding and date farming, which were assigned to others. It meant a new degree of specialization and exchange of skills.
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Pearl Industry as a Part of the Global Capitalist Economy
The emergence of cash economy in the Persian Gulf brought changes not only on a regional but also on a global scale. Between the 18th and 20th centuries, the cash economy, which was based on the pearling industry, replaced the many-sided subsistence economy. During the pearling boom in the United Arab Emirates, the cash economy was controlled. Thus, cities were administered, while the new taxation systems and consolidation of hereditary ruling families were regulated. At the beginning of the 19th century, the tax on every pearling boat was introduced to pay for the armed boats and to keep the pearling fleet safe. These changes led to the development of urbanism in marginal areas and the growth of population. It became possible because of the food-production capacity, as money was available to import food. The importation of food and other goods increased with the growth of the pearling industry during the last decades of the 19th century. Until the end of the 19th century, the demand of pearl hunting gained the global proportions. The British Empire was a remarkable purchaser of pearls, and the European markets as well as the USA caused the pearling boom. They thought that the revival in prosperity of Europe and the USA corresponded in increase in the value of pearls. New York and Paris became the biggest markets for the Persian Gulf pearls. Instead, cheap foodstuffs, grains, rice, coffee, sugar, as well as cotton goods and porcelains, were imported from Europe and Far East. At the same time, the pearling industry assured the full integration of the Persian Gulf region into the global capitalist economy. The exposure to the requirements of the world market caused the reorientation of the regional economy, society, and settlement patterns towards the specialized production of pearls between the 18th and 20th centuries.
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To sum up, pearling has had a significant impact on different spheres of life in the United Arab Emirates. Pearl hunting was the main activity and the principal source of economy before oil finding. Rapid economic growth, which had become the basis for pearl industry, led to the fact that the UAE began to attract attention of the neighbors and nomads who moved their homes and businesses to the UAE and even changed their specialization. It caused the mass migration to the emirates, which later resulted in a great change in the social field. Due to urbanization, not only economic but also social and demographic sphere changed: during the pearling boom, the population of the islands region increased significantly. Until the middle of the 20th century, thanks to the export of marvelous pearls, the United Arab Emirates had risen to prominence as a trade center.