Bonaire is an island located off the north coast of South America near the western part of Venezuela, and like many Caribbean islands, Bonaire’s history bears the deep stain of slavery.
Europeans first came to Bonaire in 1499, and upon seeing that the island was worthless for large scale agriculture decided not to settle and develop a colony. Instead, they forced the native population off the island and into slavery, shipping them to work on the large plantations on the island of Hispaniola. In fifteen years, Bonaire had been mostly depopulated. It wasn’t until a Spanish commander brought some cattle and started to raise them on the island, that the Spaniards thought that Bonaire could be used as a cattle plantation worked by natives. Labourers were brought back and in a few years, the island became a center for raising animals such as sheep, goats, pigs, horses and donkeys.
Orange/red colored stone huts which served as living quarters for the slaves are still visible in Bonaire. Photo credit
In 1633, the Dutch took possession of Bonaire and the nearby islands of Curacao and Aruba. The largest island, Curacao, emerged as a center of the notorious slave trade, while Bonaire became a plantation island of the Dutch West Indies Company.
African slaves were forced to work on the fields, cultivating maize or cutting dyewood and harvesting salt from the expansive salt flats. Tiny living quarters for the slaves were constructed out of stone, rising no higher than a man's waist with a small entrance to crawl into. Some of these tiny dwellings, in which a man sadly can not stand upright, provided sleeping quarters for up to six people. These slave huts still stand in the area around Rincon and Cabaje and along the saltpans as a grim reminders of Bonaire’s repressive past. Some years ago, the huts were restored but the original thatched roofs have been replaced with more durable marine plywood to avoid continuous maintenance.
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