Netherlands Antilles: Culture & History
Culture and History of Bonaire
Bonaire's history is deeply rooted in its inhabitants and their culture. The tranquil beauty of the island is reflected in the faces of her people. From the first inhabitants, the Caiquetios (a branch of the Arawak Indians) who sailed from the coast of Venezuela almost 1000 years ago, to the many cultures now living and working in Bonaire today, the island has a distinct character that is all of its own. These influences from all over the world have combined to make Bonaire a unique potpourri. The people of African descent brought the great festival dances of the Simadan and the Bari. The Europeans brought the Waltz, the Mazuaka and the Polka. Latin American people introduced the Joropo and the Danza and the Rumba, the Meringue and the Carioca came from the northern Caribbean islands.
The first Europeans came to Bonaire in 1499, when Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci arrived and claimed it for Spain. Finding little of commercial value and seeing no future for large-scale agriculture, the Spanish decided not to develop the island. Instead, they unceremoniously enslaved the Indians and move tem off to work in the plantations on the island of Hispaniola. Effectively leaving the island very depopulated.
Bonaire's early years were not ones of prosperity. Her inhabitants were most costly convicts from other Spanish Colonies in South America. Even after the Dutch took control of the island, it still was known for its notoriety as a penal colony. The only permanent settlement was the village of Rincon located far inland where it was thought to be safe from marauding pirates. In those years, development was discouraged in favour of the richer, more productive colonies. The Dutch retaliated for the lost of St. Maarten to the Spanish by capturing Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Curacao became the center of the slave trade but Bonaire became a plantation of the Dutch West India Company.
Until 1816, The ownership of Bonaire changed hands a number of times, finally being returned that year to the Dutch as a result of the Treaty of Paris. A small fort, Fort Oranje, was built to protect the island's main resource, salt. Salt was one commodity that Bonaire had in endless supply, although it took back breaking salve labour to produce it. In the early days of the industry, the most important use for salt was in the preservation of food, since refrigeration was still centuries away.
The abolition of slavery in 1863 signaled an end to the era of exploitation of those first Bonaireans. It was almost a hundred years later that the salt industry was revitalized. Today it is a division of Cargill, Incorporated, one of the largest businesses in the world, it also was during this time that the island began to attract visitors.
Tourism was born when the island government constructed the first ship's pier in the harbour. It allowed cruise ships to tie up alongside the wharf and discharge passengers. It also made it easier to bring in goods and supplies for the island's residents. Hotels began to spring up and cater to the early visitors who enjoyed the tranquility of Bonaire. In 1943, the construction of a modern airport south of Kralendijk made it even easier for tourists to reach the island.
The Culture and History of St. Maarten:
The cultural diversity of St. Maarten is a combination of Dutch, French and British from their European traditions and the Afro-Caribbean brought the language and culture of West Africa. They are a number of languages spoken in St. Maarten but Dutch is the official language. English is taught in schools and spoken everywhere. Spanish and Papiamento, the dialect of the Netherland Antilles. Carnival is the premier event in St. Maarten, which includes parades, calypso shows, reggae shows, pan music, drinks and all types of traditional island foods.
The Arawaks were the first people to settle in St. Maarten. These Indians left places like Brazil and Venezuela on the Orinoco River and moved north through the Caribbean. They gave the place the name "Sualouiga" or "Land of Salt" because of the great number of saltpans found there. Another Indian group called the Carib Indians soon overran the Arawaks. The Caribs came from the same area as the Arawaks, but they were fierce and were very good fighters. The Europeans in turn overran the Carib Indians.
Christopher Columbus "discovered" St. Maarten on November 11, 1493, the holy day of St. Martin of Tours. He claimed it the same day for Spain. Europeans were primarily interested in gold, which was largely located in Central, and South America ignored St. Maarten. However, in the 1620s the Dutch settlers began extracting salt from the St. Maarten's ponds and exporting it to the Netherlands. This situation caused new interest to be developed by the Spaniards who drove the Dutch off in 1633 and erected the Old Spanish Fort. The Dutch again tried to regain the country under the leadership of Peter Stuyversant, but failed.
After eighty years of fighting between the Spanish and the Dutch, Spain no longer needed a base in the Caribbean. When they pulled out of St. Maarten that left a void, which was soon filled by the French from St. Kitts and the Dutch from St. Kitts. They were some skirmishes between these new foreign colonialists. Finally, a treaty was signed in 1648, which divided the land. Somehow, the French got the most of the land, which they called St. Martin and the Dutch called their portion St. Maarten. Even after the treaty was signed, the territory changed hands a number of times between 1648 and 1816.
St. Maarten became an important trading center for salt, cotton, tobacco and sugarcane. The harvesting of the sugar cane was done by slave labour. Slavery was abolished in the mid nineteenth century, which in turn brought an end to the sugar production.
In 1939 all taxes, import and export were rescinded and the island became a free pot. An airport was built in 1943, which was followed by hotel rooms. Today, Dutch St. Maarten has become a tourist resort and which hundreds of thousands people visit.
Culture and History of Curacao:
Curacao is a small island located in the southwestern part of the Caribbean and just north of South America. It has Willemstad as its capital and a population of less than two hundred thousand. The population is a mixture of African descent, mixed African and Europeans descent, Dutch and Americans. The languages spoken there are Dutch, Papiamento that is a mélange of Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, English and Arawak Indian languages, is widely spoken. Other languages spoken there are English and Spanish. The major religions there are Catholics, Anglican, Methodists and Jewish. The major industries are oil refining and bunkering, tourism, offshore banking and phosphates.
There is a scarcity of drinking water, which renders the soil to be somewhat arid. The sea around it is great for snorkeling. The beaches are strewn with corals, but the laid back and friendly approach of the people, along with the balmiest of the weather allow for enjoyment and relaxation. There is a great deal of cacti found in the countryside due to the lack of much water.
Curacao is still a Dutch colony as the houses can easily attest to by their structure. West Indian, Latin American, Jewish, African and in recent years, the United States, influences are evident in island flavours, sounds and sights. Caribbean musical styles like reggae and calypso are popular as well as Cumbia from Colombia. The offshoot of Cumbia is called Tambu, and is played on a small drum brought to the island, by African slaves many years ago. During the times of slavery, stories and histories were transmitted orally, and also through beat and vocal based slave music called musik di Zumbi. These Traditions are kept alive at folk events such as the Easter Great Seu March.
Caiquetios Indians migrated from the Orinoco River to reside in Curacao. Alonso de Ojeda a Spaniard invaded the island in 1498. Spanish diseases, murder, defeated the Indians and thousands were shipped off to Hispaniola. When deportation was stopped in 1526, they were only about 400 Indians left on the island. Spain soon left Curacao because it was unable to find gold and silver, and, fresh water was difficult to obtain.
The Dutch took possession of the island and it became a Dutch colony in 1642 coming under the control of the Dutch West India Company. This company initiated salt harvesting and agriculture. They named the capital Willemstad that became a center of the slave trade. The number of native Indians had been reduced to five by 1795 while the Dutch West India Company was in control.
There was an upshot in trading during the eighteenth century, which was in large part due to the migration of a great number of Jews to Curacao. The trade involved the trading of raw materials from South American for finished goods from North America and Europe. Slavery was brought to an end in 1863 and the island's industries went into a downturn, which lasted until 1915, when Shell built an oil refinery. This resulted in an upturn in an economic boom.
Curacao became the seat of government for the Netherlands Antilles in 1954. Offshore finance banking came to the fore during that time period and became a major factor in the island's economy. The boom became a bust during the 1970s, which was exacerbated by a drop-off in international investment in the following decade. The final big blow came in 1985 when Shell closed its refinery there.
The island has seemingly made a turnaround within the last decade as the government has taken over the oil refinery and leased it to a Venezuelan company. This has given the economy a much-needed shot in the arm.
Otrabanda is one of the most impressive and historic areas in the entire Caribbean. It dates back to the eighteenth century and still reflects the old Curacao, which has narrow and mysterious alleys and lanes. There are some weather-beaten monuments that remind visitors of a glorious past of splendid architecture.
Tourists make trips to Willemstad to visit the heart of the capital city. There, the sites such as the floating market where Venezuelan merchants sell fresh fish and vegetables. There is a temple in that area called Mikve Israel Synagogue which is the oldest synagogue that is still being used in the western hemisphere.