Have you ever heard of the Ama, real live mermaids who harvest pearls? It’s true, they have been written about in ancient texts and believed to have existed for around 2,000 years, free diving off the coast of Japan.
These beautiful creatures, Ama (海女 in Japanese) literally means ‘woman of the sea’, have been free diving for centuries to collect seaweed, shellfish and Pearls!
Traditionally they would free-dive, some 30 feet, holding their breath for several minutes in cold water wearing nothing more than a knife and a loincloth. The breathing techniques they used involved a high pitched squeal when they came up for air. Sounds like a mermaid call to me. (Ahhhhhiiiiiiiiiiii!)
In the last century, Mikimoto, the famous pearl cultivator, had a “Pearl Island” that employed Ama to collect pearls off the coast of Japan. What a lucky guy! After some foreign tourists were shocked by the nudity, Mikimoto designed a white bodysuit for them to wear.
I think it’s interesting he choose white. Doesn’t that show everything anyway?
Pearl diving was a way for woman to live independently and spend most of their lives at sea. They could hold their breath longer and their skills improved with age, many Ama still practice diving into their 90’s.
It was said that women were better divers than men because of their extra layer of fat, they could withstand the cold temperatures underwater longer. I think the men were just lazy.
(Modern Ama in Wetsuits)
The Ama celebrated underwater abundance because they respected strict guidelines to preserve sustainable fishing. Unfortunately this ancient mermaid practice is sadly declining. In the 1950’s your mother’s pearls were probably found by one of the 20,000 Amas who were diving then. Due to overfishing, new technology, and cultural changes there are less than 2,000 of these pearl diving mermaids left.
If you haven’t noticed, I like to dress my friends up to swim like a mermaids. If you visit me in Costa Rica, you could be my next victim. We may be carrying on the Ama tradition here in Nosara with Bobby Kim who is giving free-diving certifications.
I love pearls so much, I’d like to think I was an Ama in a past life. It seems so simple and harmonious, free diving for treasures every day.
Pearls are the perfect gift, they represent new beginnings. Collect Jenstones Pearl Jewelry, shop our lovely pearl collection.
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The photographer who snapped the antique photos of the Ama really had an eye for beauty and gave a unique glimpse of this exotic world. For more information and a stunning look at old photos, check out this link...