Pearl Fishing, Margarita Island, Venezuela, 1560s-1570s

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This record was last updated on 25 May 2012

Image Reference

Histoire naturelle des Indes: the Drake manuscript in the Pierpont Morgan Library [a full color facsimile edition with English translations]; preface by Charles E. Pierce; forward by Patrick O'Brian; introduction by Verlyn Klinkenborg; translations by Ruth S. Kraemer (New York, 1996), folio 57, translation, p. 261. (Image shown here courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. MA3900; copyright held by the Morgan Library.)

Titled, "Canoe for Pearl-Fishing," shows Black men on a ship diving into the sea, some holding baskets. The description details how pearls are gathered between Margarita and what is today coastal Venezuela: "in three or four fathoms of water . . . the negroes . . . dive into the sea, holding a hoop-net to descend to the bottom where they scrape the soil where the oysters are, in order to find the pearls. And the deeper they descend in the water, the larger are the pearls they find. Not being able to hold their breath longer than a quarter of an hour, they come up again and pull their hoop-net. The fishing from morning to evening having been completed, they return to . . . where they live" (Kraemer translation, p. 261). For details on this work, otherwise known as the Drake Manuscript, see image reference MA3900f102; see also images MA3900f98, MA3900f100. See also, Molly Warsh, Enslaved Pearl Divers in the Sixteenth Century Caribbean (Slavery and Abolition, vol.31 [2010], pp. 345-362).