Remembering the sea: Personal and communal recollections of maritime life in Jizan and the Farasan Islands, Saudi Arabia
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
Springer Verlag (Germany)
© The Author(s) 2016. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
People create narratives of their maritime past through the remembering and forgetting of seafaring experiences, and through the retention and disposal of maritime artefacts that function mnemonically to evoke or suppress those experiences. The sustenance and reproduction of the resulting narratives depends further on effective media of intergenerational transmission; otherwise, they are lost. Rapid socio-economic transformation across Saudi Arabia in the age of oil has disrupted longstanding seafaring economies in the Red Sea archipelago of the Farasan Islands, and the nearby mainland port of Jizan. Vestiges of wooden boatbuilding activity are few; long-distance dhow trade with South Asia, the Arabian-Persian Gulf and East Africa has ceased; and a once substantial pearling and nacre (mother of pearl) collection industry has dwindled to a tiny group of hobbyists: no youth dive today. This widespread withdrawal from seafaring activity among many people in these formerly maritime-oriented communities has diminished the salience of such activity in cultural memory, and has set in motion narrative creation processes, through which memories are filtered and selected, and objects preserved, discarded, or lost. This paper is a product of the encounter of the authors with keepers of maritime memories and objects in the Farasan Islands and Jizan. An older generation of men recall memories of their experiences as boat builders, captains, seafarers, pearl divers and fishermen. Their recounted memories are inscribed, and Arabic seafaring terms recorded. The extent of the retention of maritime material cultural items as memorials is also assessed, and the rôle of individual, communal and state actors in that retention is considered. Through this reflection, it becomes clear that the extra-biological memory and archive of the region’s maritime past is sparse; that intergenerational transmission is failing; that the participation of state agencies in maritime heritage creation is highly limited; and that, as a result, memories current among the older generation have limited prospect of survival. These memories, recorded and interpreted here, identify the Farasan Islands as a former centre of the pearling industry in the Red Sea, and identify them and Jizan as open to far-reaching maritime-mediated cultural influences in an era before the imposition of the attributes of the modern nation-state.
This study was funded by the Golden Web Foundation (UK registered charity number 1100608), with additional support from the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust (UK registered charity number 208669).
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