The Pearl Diver – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

Flash Fiction for for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. The challenge asks us to write a piece of fiction from the photo prompt provided in around 100- 150 words – give or take 25 words. It encourages participants to comment, constructively, on other entries, so supporting each other’s writing. If you’d like to join in with this challenge, follow the link in the title of PJ’s, blog: Beautiful Words to see what to do. The challenge runs from Wednesday to Wednesday every week.

Here is this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Sonya:

wpid-photo-20150604190751019

. . . and this is my story:

At fifteen, Baktu was the best pearl diver in the village. Everyone said so. He loved the ocean, and once submerged, he became one with its cushioning depths. He could hold his breath far longer than the other boys, and knew exactly where to search for the pearl oysters his people craved …

‘Look, Grandpa,’ Joti said proudly, rousing Baktu from his memories as he surfaced and dropped his harvest into the bucket hung over the side of the little boat. ‘It’s almost full!’

Baktu smiled, and the boy dived again into the shallow water, landside of the reef. Edible oyster beds were plentiful here, and there was little threat of sharks – unlike beyond the reef where village boys still dived for pearl oysters in the deeper waters. Just as Baktu had once done …

‘Shark, Baktu!’

Baktu grabbed the side of the boat, but too late…

He was eighteen when the shark had taken his right leg, ending his diving days. But Baktu would never forget the sensation of the ocean’s cushioning embrace.

Word Count: 175

If you’d like to view other entries, click the little blue frog below:

***

For anyone interested, here are a few points about oysters, pearls and pearl diving from several sources including Wikipedia:

Oysters are bivalve molluscs found in temperate and warm coastal waters in all oceans. But not all species of oysters produce the shiny, costly pearls. True oysters are found naturally in shallower waters, very close to the coast, and have been cultivated for food for over 2,000 years. Pearl oysters are found in deeper water. Pearls form inside oysters from the accumulation of nacre (mother of pearl) the material lining the oyster shell. Pearls formed inside edible oysters are lustreless and of no value.

Pinctada_margaritifera_MHNT.CON.2002.893

Inside shell of Pinctada margaritifera. Two views of the same shell. Photographer: Didier Descouens. Commons

Many thousands of years ago, humans probably discovered the first pearls along the seashore, while they were searching for food. It is also probable that they wouldn’t have taken long to realise that the gems had come from the sea.

Before the beginning of the 20th century, the only way of obtaining pearls was by divers gathering large numbers of pearl oysters or mussels from the ocean floor, lake or river bed. These were brought to the surface, opened up and the tissue searched. More than a ton of them were searched in order to find 3-4 pearls. Pearl divers were trained to stay under water for at least 90 seconds, often descending to depths of over 125 feet in a single breath.  Many tied baskets or nets to their bodies to collect their harvest.

Pearl diving has been practised for over 4,000 years, from the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan. Native Americans also harvested freshwater pearls from lakes and rivers like the Ohio, Tennessee and Mississippi, while others obtained them from the Caribbean and waters along Central and South America. In the time of colonial slavery in northern South America (along the coasts of Columbia and Venezuela) an occupation among slaves was that of pearl diving. In shark-infested waters this was extremely perilous, but any slave who discovered an extra large pearl could buy his freedom.

In Japan, pearl divers were traditionally women called Ama, which means ‘sea women’. Women are considered better pearl divers by many because they conserve heat better in the severe cold of the ocean.

In the early 1900s as pearls became harder to find, new pearl diving techniques were developed. Diving suits and breathing apparatus allowed for deeper and longer dives. It is estimated that 2000 people worked as pearl divers at this time.

448px-Waterclothes

Old Kuwaiti dress used during pearl diving. Author: Kuwaitsoccer. Commons

Mother of pearl was used to make buttons for shirts.

Today, pearl diving has largely been replaced by cultivated pearl farms, although a few island nations undoubtedly still continue the practice.

*****

About milliethom

I am a reader and writer of historical fiction with a keen interest in the Earth's history and all it involves, both physically and socially. I like nothing better than to be outdoors, especially in faraway places, and baking is something I do when my eyes need respite from my computer screen.
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34 Responses to The Pearl Diver – Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

  1. That’s so sad that Baktu lost his leg and was unable to dive for oysters anymore. The last sentence is very believable for me because every story of people whom have been bitten by sharks and I have heard their stories, say they didn’t feel any pain. I assume that is because the shark’s teeth are so sharp. I think in that case the water would be a sensation of a cushioning embrace. In any case, this was an excellent story and I felt as though I was right there in the scene. I also enjoyed learning about pearls.

  2. Shivangi says:

    Beautiful story and great info on pearls. I loved the Indian names…thank you for another great post Millie😀

  3. HumaAq says:

    That’s what I love about your posts, with fiction you get the information too.. It was a wonderful story.

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you for that great comment! 🙂 I always worry that the information will bore people to tears. But I suppose people will only read it if they’re interested – which Is why I put that at the top. I know people are pushed for time, without reading extras. Thank you so much for liking my story! 🙂

  4. OnChi says:

    What a horrifically dangerous profession! Poor Baktu, having to lose a leg. Thank you for the nice story and education!

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, OnChi! 🙂 It was a really perilous profession, that’s why I had to show Baktu losing a leg. If he hadn’t been about to be hauled onto the boat, the shark would most likely have killed him.
      Thank you for liking my ‘extra’ information, too. I like to add something when I write stories about things people may not know much about. I really enjoy looking things up, too. 😀

  5. luckyjc007 says:

    Wonderful story. Even though he could no longer dive, it’s nice that he can share his experiences and teach his grandson to enjoy the same thing he use to. I always enjoy reading the additional information you give on your posts..it helps to bring the story even more alive. 😃

    • milliethom says:

      Thanks Jessie. 🙂 I tried not to make the ending too sad, but I wanted to highlight the dangers of pearl diving. Baktu was lucky to have just lost a leg. So many of these divers died.
      Thank you for liking the ‘extra’ part, too. I like to do these because I love looking things up! I’m a glutton for punishment, I know, because it usually takes longer than writing the story in the first place. 🙂

  6. Ellespeth says:

    😦 It’s comforting that Baktu survived and can still enjoy going out on the water with his grandson. You did a great job, Millie, weaving the past into the present. All went so smoothly.
    Enjoy your trip!
    Ellespeth

    • milliethom says:

      Thank you, Ellespeth. I’ve been interested in these pearl divers since I watched TV programme about them a while ago. Some of them could hold their breath for almost five minutes. How on earth that’s possible, I don’t know! And all those sharks… It makes me shudder to think about it!. 🙂

  7. naturelover says:

    It made me feel sad for Baktu.
    I especially like the last sentence and the words “ocean’s cushioning embrace” are perfect !!

    • milliethom says:

      It is a sad ending for Baktu – and I hated doing that the him! 😦 But the good thing is that he wasn’t killed, as so many pearl divers were. I wanted to write something about sharks, just to show the dangers of diving in shark-infested waters. Thank you so much for liking my story and the last sentence. Baktu still missed his dives and the feel of the ocean around him. 🙂

  8. Bekki Hill says:

    Another great story. You got as nice an comfy before the shark turned up!

  9. exiledprospero says:

    If you’re going to have an antagonist, it might as well have razor sharp teeth. Good story, Millie.

    • milliethom says:

      I had to bring sharks into this one, Prospero, because they were one of the greatest dangers to pearl divers. Besides, I have an absolute phobia about them. Every time I go snorkelling, I spend most of my time looking for fins! Thank you for liking the story!

  10. Uday says:

    Ooh that’s a sad story, but I think Baktu never regretted going out to the sea! Great story and thanks for the information below too!

  11. scrapydo2.wordpress.com says:

    Sad story but still real. The divers are so good. Sad that they put their own lives on the line to survive on land too. Sorry that he lost his leg but it is still a plus that he can still go to the sea.

  12. Tastyniblets says:

    that was beautifully written Millie – loved the imagery of being cushioned within the ocean, and a great tale 🙂

  13. I’m surprised he lived. Sad story. Nice plot Millie. My half brothers were pearl divers in Broome (Australia). In PNG the Trobriand Islanders still free dive for pearls. I absolutely love pearls (the real ones).

    • milliethom says:

      I don’t suppose he wouldn’t have lived after losing a leg. the blood loss would have been huge for a start. Still, I didn’t want him to die, but word count wouldn’t let me add anything else. I saw a TV programme recently about island pearl divers, so I knew it was still done today in some places. Thank you for the comment, TM.

  14. tjparis says:

    I love your initial description which you inject such lyricism. I also love how you have given us an insight into pearling. Thanks for a great post! 🙂

  15. Susan Langer says:

    I really enjoyed your story and the info about diving. 🙂

  16. No OSHA. No unions. They make a difference.

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