Page:Natural History, Mollusca.djvu/257

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245
PEARL SHELLS.

in their turn. "They will often," continues our author, "make from forty to fifty plunges in one day, and at each plunge bring up about a hundred oysters. Some rub their bodies over with oil, and stuff their ears and noses to prevent the water from entering, while others use no precautions whatever. Although the usual time of remaining under water does not much exceed two minutes, yet there are instances known of divers who could remain four or five minutes, which was the case with a Caffre boy the last year I visited the fishery. The longest ever known was that of a diver who came from Anjango in 1797, and who absolutely remained under water full six minutes."

The last named period seems almost incredible, but there is no reason to doubt Captain Percival's evidence. The chief horror and danger awaiting the diver are concentrated in the ground-shark. This animal is a common and fearful inhabitant of all the seas in these latitudes; and its terrors are so continually before the eyes of the divers, that they seek a vague safety in supernatural means. Before they begin diving, the priests or conjurors, who are known in the Malabar language by the name of Filial Karras, or binders of sharks, are always consulted, and whatever the conjuror says to them is received with the most implicit confidence.

The divers are paid differently, according to their private agreement with the boat-owners, either in money, or with a proportion of the oysters caught, which they take the chance of opening on their own account; the latter is the method most commonly adopted. The agreements with the people who hire out the boats are conducted much in the same manner. They contract either