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Contemporary Curaçao

Contemporary Curaçao is a collection of 27 articles that cover topics ranging from history, economics, law, gender issues, and sustainability to art and culture. It presents a compact but thorough introduction to the island of Curaçao. All articles have been written by local academic experts. The book is an excellent tool for those who are in need of an overview of the island’s historic and current issues.

Contemporary Curaçao A Caribbean Community

ISBN 978 90 8850 403 7 / NUR 906

9 789088 504037

Edited by Ieteke Witteveen Wim Kamps Guido Rojer, Jr.

Contemporary Curaรงao A Caribbean Community

Edited by Ieteke Witteveen, Wim Kamps and Guido Rojer, Jr.

Contemporary Curaçao A Caribbean Community Edited by Ieteke Witteveen, Wim Kamps and Guido Rojer, Jr. ISBN 978 90 8850 403 7 NUR 906 © 2013 Caribpublishing / SWP publishers, Amsterdam All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of SWP Publishers, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to prosecution and civil claims for damages.

Foreword Dr. Francis de Lanoy Rector Magnificus of the University of the Netherlands Antilles

It is sometimes said that Curaçao is one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets. Geographically, it is a bit off-center, as it doesn’t form part of the semi-circle that starts in Trinidad and moves on to Cuba and the Bahamas, which is the area in which all the other Caribbean Islands are situated. Moreover, it is not embedded in the larger Hispanic, Anglophone, or Francophone spheres, but forms part of the much smaller, and therefore less conspicuous, Dutch Caribbean. Yet the island is definitely Caribbean. It has gone through the same tumultuous, often painful, history of the past four centuries. There has been intensive migration to and from the other Caribbean areas, especially in the twentieth century, so that many inhabitants of Curaçao have their roots in other islands or in the coastal areas of South and Central America. And as is true of all Caribbean Islands, Curaçao is characterized by enormous cultural diversity, which is still in the making. As the island is relatively unknown, it is not always easy to find information about it. In order to fill that void, the Fundashon Kultura i Desaroyo (the Foundation for Culture and Development) has taken the initiative to publish this book. The editors have collected a number of articles, all written by local experts, which together cover a wide range of topics, so that it is a compact but thorough introduction to the island. Almost all authors have lectured at the UNA (which will soon be renamed The University of Curaçao mr. dr. Moises Frumencio da Costa Gomez), and we are proud that we have been able to support this publication. I am sure that this book will be very useful to those who wish to find out what is going on in contemporary Curaçao.

Ondine-3, Ria Houwen, 2011, Encaustic and oil on canvas

Acknowledgments Ieteke Witteveen, Wim Kamps, Guido Rojer, Jr. Editing team of the Fundashon Kultura i Desaroyo

The editing team would like to express their gratitude to all the authors who have contributed articles to this book. They are experts in their fields, and we are truly grateful that they have been willing to share their expertise in order to present this picture of Curaçao. We would also like to thank the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, the University of the Netherlands Antilles, Curinde and Van Eps Kunneman Van Doorne for providing the financial support that made this book possible. We would also like to thank the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Ron Gomez Casseres for their advice regarding the article on the economy of Curaçao. We would also like to express our gratitude to Prince Victor for providing the photos, Vanessa Toré, Oscar van Dam and Frank and Christena Mann for supporting the editing process, and Jennifer Smit for contacting the artists, who all have been so generous as to contribute pictures of their artworks.

A remark about the use of the word ‘slave’ The editing team is aware that a discussion is going on in academic circles about the use of the words ‘slave’ and ‘the enslaved’. The word ‘slave’ may be considered derogatory and therefore it has been proposed to use the word ‘the enslaved’ instead. However, as there are linguistic arguments against the consistent use of the word ‘the enslaved’ in texts, the editing team has decided to retain the word ‘slave’ in the texts in this book.

Vice Versa, Ellen Spijkstra, 2000, Glazed Stoneware and glass

Table of Contents Curaçao at a Glance


Curaçao in Caribbean Perspective – Ieteke Witteveen, Wim Kamps, and Guido Rojer, jr.


Demographics – Menno ter Bals


A Brief History of Curaçao – Nolda Römer-Kenepa 23 The Great Slave Rebellion of Curaçao in 1795 – Nolda Römer-Kenepa


May 30, 1969 – Louis Philippe Römer 53 Curaçao at a Constitutional Crossroads – Suzy Römer 57 Archaeology: Curaçao’s History Started 5000 Years Ago – Ieteke Witteveen 63 Willemstad Curaçao, a UNESCO World Heritage City – M.A. Newton and G. J. M. Gehlen 69 Selected Aspects of Curaçao’s Economy – Guido Rojer, Jr. 75 Curaçao Law – Frank Kunneman 83 Education in Curaçao – Sygmund Montesant 89 Media in Curaçao – News Travels Fast – Oscar van Dam 95 Papiamentu, the Vernacular of Curaçao – Luisette Sambo and Wernher Suares 99 Population and Ethnicity – Natasha Maritza van der Dijs 105 Anthropology in an Era of Transformation in the Dutch Caribbean Societies – Rose Mary Allen 111 Religious Syncretism in Curaçao – Rose Mary Allen 119 Contemporary Women – Stella Pieters Kwiers 125 Women in the Labor Market of Curaçao – Zaida Lake 129 Museums in Curaçao – Ieteke Witteveen 133 Music and Identity in Curaçao – Ieteke Witteveen 139 Literature in Curaçao – Wim Rutgers 147 Visual Arts in Curaçao – Jennifer Smit 153 The Architectural Development in Curaçao – Ronald Gill 157 Curaçao and Sustainability: Some Observations – Lloyd Narain 163 Curaçao’s Drinking Water – Sharo Bikker 167 Terrestrial Ecology (Plants and Animals)– John A. De Freitas 169


Patio of a Scharloo villa in Curaรงao Baroque style (Photo: Gerda Gehlen)

Curaçao at a Glance History The first inhabitants of Curaçao immigrated probably from what is now called Venezuela. Their first settlements date back to 2900 BC. In 1499 the Spaniards arrived on the island and took it, though they considered it an isla inútil, as they found no gold. In 1634 the Dutch took over the island and deported the Spaniards and most of the Indians. As the island is very arid, it couldn’t easily be used for large-scale agricultural purposes, so it became a trading post. In the early 1640s, the first African slaves were brought to the island. Curaçao rapidly developed into a large distribution center in the slave trade. After 1713, however, when the Dutch lost the asiento (the exclusive right to trade slaves to the Spaniards) to the English, the number of slaves traded via Curaçao rapidly dwindled. In 1863 slavery was abolished. The country then went through a period of great poverty, and many men emigrated to neighboring countries and islands, especially Cuba and Panama. In 1920 a large oil refinery was established on the island, and this led an enormous economic boom. The population rose from a little over 32,000 in 1921 to almost 119,000 in 1956. Immigrants came mainly from neighboring Caribbean Islands, especially the British West Indies, Surinam, and Portugal. In 1954 the Netherlands Antilles, consisting of the Leeward Islands Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire and the Windward Islands St. Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustatius, achieved an autonomous status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The islands exercised full autonomy in internal affairs while the Netherlands were responsible for external relations and defense. In 1985 Aruba parted with the Netherlands Antilles and received the status of an autonomous island within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 2010 the Netherlands Antilles ceased to be: Curaçao and St. Maarten also became autonomous states within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, whereas the smaller islands Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius became Dutch municipalities.


Contemporary Curaçao

Population 150,563 (Census 2011) Location In the southern Caribbean, 55 miles north of the coast of Venezuela (12°7’N 68°56’W) Capital Willemstad (a UNESCO World Heritage City) Size Length of the island: 62 km Width: ranges from 4 km to 11 km Area: 444 square kilometers Highest Point The Christoffel Berg (Mount St. Christopher) (372 m) Hurricanes Curaçao is outside the hurricane belt. The last time Curaçao was fully hit by a hurricane was in 1877. Languages The vast majority of the population (78%, Census 2011) speaks Papiamentu, a language that combines Portuguese, African, Spanish, Dutch, and English elements. The languages used in education are Papiamentu and Dutch. Papiamentu, Dutch, and English are official languages. Legal System The system is based mainly on the Dutch legal system. Curaçao shares its Supreme Court with the Netherlands. Government The Head of the State is the Monarch of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On Curaçao, the Monarch is represented by a Governor. Curaçao has a 21-member, multi-party Parliament. The leader of the government of Curaçao is the Prime Minister. Curaçao is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but it is autonomous in many areas of internal government.


Curaçao at a Glance

Island in the Sun, Tony Monsanto 2000/2011, mixed media (Photo: Carlo Wallé)

Industries Tourism, international financial services, oil refinery, light manufacturing GDP Per Capita USD 20,898 (CBS, 2011 estimate) Some important dates in the history of Curaçao 2900 BC First inhabitants, coming from Venezuela, settle on Curaçao. The pre-Columbian period can be divided into two sub-periods: the pre-ceramic age (2900 BCE – 500 CE) and the ceramic age (500 CE – 1499 CE). 1499 Spaniards settle on Curaçao and force the Arawak/Caquetios inhabitants to migrate to Hispaniola. 1634 The Dutch conquer the island for the Dutch West India Company (WIC). The ties with the Netherlands have continued until the present day, with the exception of two short periods, from 1800–1802 and 1807–1816, when the British ruled over Curaçao. First enslaved Africans are brought to the island. ca. 1640 First group of Sephardic Jews arrive on the island. The 1651 Sephardic Jews (and, from the beginning of the twentieth century, also the Ashkenazi) have played a vital role in the economy of Curaçao. 1646–1664 The Governors of Curaçao live in New Netherland (present-day New York) and administer Curaçao from there. 1750–1751 Slave revolts on the Hato plantation. 13

Contemporary Curaçao


Great slave revolt on the Knip plantation under the leadership of Tula. 1800–1802 First British occupation. 1807–1816 Second British occupation. 1863 Slavery abolished in the Dutch Caribbean, including Curaçao. 1920 Royal Dutch Shell opens a refinery on the island. 1922 First labor strike in the harbor under the leadership of Felix Chakutoe. 1954 The Netherlands Antilles (Curaçao, Aruba, Bonaire, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius, Saba) are granted internal autonomy within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. 1969 On May 30, a workers’ strike ends in a massive social uprising. Though it lasts only a day, it drastically changes the social structure and is an important step towards the emancipation of the Afro-Curaçaoan part of the population. 1985 Aruba leaves the Netherlands Antilles and becomes an autonomous state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. 1985 Royal Dutch Shell decides to shut its refinery, which is sold to the island for a symbolic sum. The refinery has since then been rented to PDVSA, the Venezuelan oil refining company. 2010 The Netherlands Antilles are dissolved. Curaçao and St. Maarten become autonomous states within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a similar status as that of Aruba, whereas the smaller islands Bonaire (13,389 inhabitants), Saba (1,737), and St. Eustatius (2,886) become Dutch municipalities.


Curaçao in Caribbean Perspective Ieteke Witteveen, Wim Kamps, and Guido Rojer, jr. Fundashon Kultura i Desaroyo

Curaçao has always been a trading center. Even the pre-Columbian indigenous population already had trading contacts on the mainland of South America. When the Dutch West India Trading Company took Curaçao in 1634, they soon realized the potential of the natural harbor of Willemstad, and they made it into a free port. And thus, whereas the English, Spanish, and French authorities imposed strict measures upon the trade in their colonies in order to protect their national interests, Curaçao was free to trade with anyone, and was given the opportunity to develop into a Caribbean trading hub. When Adam Smith, the famous economist, wished to make clear the benefits of free trade, he used the Dutch Caribbean Islands as an example: Curaçao and Eustatius, the two principal islands belonging to the Dutch, are free ports open to ships of all nations; and this freedom, in the midst of better colonies whose ports are open to one nation only, has been the great cause of the prosperity of those two barren islands (Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776). As a free port, Curaçao was able to develop a spirit of creative trading and entrepreneurship, both among the white and the colored population. Quite a few of the enslaved worked as sailors, and they were often able to trade for themselves, mainly in contraband goods such as cocoa and weapons. Curaçao’s population was multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan, and the island was a lively, busy, and even rowdy place, where pirates and prostitutes lived side by side with ordinary citizens. The trade routes were at the same time escape routes for the slaves, pirate routes, and, towards the end of the eighteenth century, routes for the dissemination of new ideas about equality, freedom, and democracy. Freedom fighters from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Gran Colombia were allowed to live on Curaçao. Among them was Simon Bolivar, who spent some time with his sisters on the island before he embarked upon his successful revolution. He later allowed foreigners to settle in the liberated areas, and thus a number of Jewish families 15

Contemporary Curaรงao

that had originally settled on Curaรงao migrated to Venezuela and Colombia. Of course, the major colonial powers of England, France, and Spain were less than enthusiastic about the hub position of Curaรงao, and when the British ruled Curaรงao from 1800 to 1802 and 1807 to 1816, they imposed strict trade measures, and, as a consequence, Curaรงao lost its momentum. When the English left in 1816, the damage that had been done to Curaรงaoโ€™s trading relations appeared to be irreparable, and the island lost its hub function. The nineteenth century would turn out to be a prolonged period of poverty. This changed drastically, however, when oil was found in Venezuela in the early 1900s, and Royal Shell, an Anglo-Dutch company, decided to open a refinery on the island. As the refinery was in need of a large workforce, many workers immigrated from the surrounding Caribbean Islands, and Curaรงao once again became one of the focal points of the Caribbean. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, the Dutch colonizers never actively promoted Dutch language and culture, whereas they took a completely different approach in the twentieth century. Until the early 1900s, most schools had used Spanish as the language of instruction, but in 1936, it was decreed by law that all classes had to be taught in Dutch. The entire educational system was now modeled after the Dutch educational system, which opened up opportunities for Curaรงao students to go to colleges and universities in the Netherlands. The ties with the Netherlands became increasingly close in the course of the twentieth century, and, as a consequence, Curaรงao drifted apart somewhat from its Caribbean neighbors. However, now that Curaรงao has achieved a new status as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, many people feel that it should reconsider its position in the Caribbean. Not many people feel the need to sever ties with the Netherlands, but at the same time, they would like to revitalize old bonds again and to reposition Curaรงao within the Caribbean community, where they feel it belongs. The government actively encourages students to study at colleges and universities in the region. Local financial institutes actively lobby for fiscal treaties within the region. The government stimulates measures that aim to revitalize the Caribbean hub position of the island for goods, services, funds, and information. Political leaders stress the importance of regional institutions, such as Caricom, and would like Curaรงao to become a member state of that institution.


Curaçao in Caribbean Perspective

The goals of the Fundashon Kultura i Desaroyo are to promote more awareness about culture as an integrating force of development and to contribute an academic, interdisciplinary approach through research and education. We feel supported by the fact that Curaçao is focusing more and more on its own region because we are sure that this will lead to renewed energy and fresh ideas, which will give a boost to both the culture and the development of Curaçao as a Caribbean country.

Wim Kamps studied English language and literature at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. He is the coordinator of the English Department of the Teacher Training College at the University of the Netherlands Antilles.

“Source: Nos Isla I Nos Mundu, 1999, Uitgeverij Hebri International B.V.”


Preparing local food at the Marshe Bieu (‘old market’) (Photo: Willemien Mertens)

Demographics Menno ter Bals

Curaçao may be known for its beautiful coral reefs, abundant sunshine, and attractive bays, but what’s equally striking is its vibrant and colorful mixture of people. Its population has its roots in a colonial past, but has since been shaped by many push and pull factors that induced migration, the most propulsive force behind Curaçao’s diverse population. Curaçao nowadays harbors a population of a little over 150,000 people from at least 100 different nationalities and a multitude of migratory backgrounds. As it is a former Dutch colony, which evolved into an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the nationality of the majority of Curaçao’s population is Dutch (89% in 2011). Curaçao’s population expanded from around 32,500 people in 1911 to over 150,000 in 2011. The 1930s marked the beginning of a period of rapid population growth. Due to the establishment of the oil refinery, there was an increased demand in laborers, which led to a

Breakdancing (Photo: Prince Victor) 19

Contemporary Curaçao

A Curaçao man and a Dominican woman dancing Bachata. (Photo: Ieteke Witteveen) huge influx of both regional and Dutch migrants. Moreover, the fertility rates were high. By 1960 the population size had reached 125,000, but the rate of growth then stalled. Massive layoffs at the refinery, the practice of birth control, and the increased participation of women in the labor market, among other factors, led to a diminishing growth. Still, the population kept growing, mainly because fertility rates dropped only slowly, and reached around 153,000 in 1985. Then, however, two periods of economic recession sparked huge waves of mass emigration, mainly to the Netherlands. These periods were again followed by peaks of immigration when the economy recuperated. The net result of these developments was that 150,563 inhabitants were counted in the 2011 census. Over the past 25 years, a tumultuous migration has taken place that has had a great impact on the composition of the population. Besides European Dutch immigrants and Curaçao-born migrants who returned to their island, many citizens of the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Haiti, Venezuela, Jamaica, and, to a lesser degree, Surinam, China, and India have found their way to Curaçao. The 2011 census found that one in every four people had been born abroad. Interestingly, more women than men tend to migrate to Curaçao. This holds true especially for the larger groups that immigrate to Curaçao, those from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. As a result, there are only 84 men for every 100 women living in Curaçao nowadays. In the 1950s, when Curaçao reached its peak growth rate, the average number of children a woman bore reached 5.2. The average house20


hold size was a little over five people in 1960, but in recent decades Curaçao has followed a worldwide trend towards smaller household sizes. With an average of 1.9 children per woman today, the average household size is 2.7 people. The number of small families and oneperson households is increasing in Curaçao, and this brings down the average household size. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when fertility rates were high, Curaçao had a young population. As with most developing and developed countries worldwide, the population of Curaçao is now going through a process of aging. The percentage of juveniles under the age of 15 years has been halved since 1960 and stood at 20 percent in 2011. The share of elderly aged 60 and over, however, has tripled in the same period: 20% of the population is 60 years or older today. Where do all those people live? The island of Curaçao covers an area of 444 square kilometers, so the average population density in 2011 was 339 people per square kilometer. However, the population is mostly concentrated in the city of Willemstad, which is situated more or less in the center of the island. The western and eastern parts of the island are more rural and less populated. In summary, Curaçao has an aging population that has absorbed a substantial number of immigrants from countries such as the Netherlands, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Haiti. The population, which is mainly concentrated in the heart of the island, lives in smaller households than half a century ago. Migration, which has followed economic trends, has been the most important factor in population growth. To learn more, please visit the website of the Central Bureau of Statistics of Curaçao at

Menno ter Bals studied Human Geography and Planning (BSc) at the University of Groningen (RUG), Netherlands, and earned a master’s degree in Population Studies at the Population Research Centre of the RUG. He has been employed as a Demographer at the Central Bureau of Statistics of Curaçao since 2008.


The harbor entrance. (Photo: Prince Victor)

A Brief History of Curaçao Nolda Römer-Kenepa Introduction Curaçao is an island in the southern Caribbean, just off the coast of Venezuela, with a geographical area of only 444 km². The island has always managed to attract the attention of world powers, which have used the island for strategic as well as economic purposes. From 1499, with the arrival of the Spaniards, until 1954, when the Netherlands Antilles were granted a certain degree of self-government, Curaçao had the status of colony. Curaçao has a rich and interesting history. Its involvement with the world powers gave the island the opportunity to play an important role in the world’s history, especially in the development of the Caribbean region and South America. Its involvement with the world powers determined not only the way the island was governed but also how it was populated. As a result, Curaçao has a population that consists entirely of descendants of immigrants coming from all corners of the world. During the course of its history, the people of Curaçao, regardless of their origin, race, skin color, or religious background, have mixed with each other, turning Curaçao into a unique island nation. Its multicultural society is open and inclusive, but still has its common culture as a unifying force, especially its language, Papiamentu. The purpose of this overview is to briefly highlight the economic, political and social aspects that have marked the history of this island. Our narrative will be both thematic and chronological.

1. From Pre- to Recorded History: 2900 BC to 1499 AD The first settlers appeared on the island around 2900 BC, and the colonial period began in 1499 with the arrival of the Spaniards. It is assumed that the encounter of the original inhabitants of Curaçao with the first Spanish visitors took place on July 26, which is the day of Saint Anna. This assumption is based on the fact that the Spaniards used to name new places they discovered after saints and holidays of the Catholic Church. The Spaniards built their first village at the very


Contemporary Curaçao

entrance of the bay, which was a narrow channel leading to the inland waters. Both the bay and this village were named after Saint Anna. The Spaniards were the first to record information about Curaçao, so we can say that the year 1499 marks the beginning of the written history of the island of Curaçao. It was at that time registered on the world map and became part of world history. There are several explanations for the origin of the name of the island, but they are all uncertain. Probably the original inhabitants already called the island Curaçao. From the first written notes on Curaçao, we learn that the original inhabitants called themselves Caquetios. They maintained close family ties with people living in the areas along the coast of Venezuela. According to the Spaniards, the Caquetios belonged to a kind and peaceful tribe of the Caribbean area known as the Arawak. As a matter of fact, politically, the inhabitants belonged to the northern area of Venezuela. They were governed by a Cacique from the Venezuelan coast. For their subsistence, they cultivated corn and manioc, fished, hunted small game, collected edible fruits, and traded with the inhabitants from coastal areas. They were keen sailors who knew how to paddle their canoe, called a piragua. They lived in wooden houses constructed on poles. Their villages were situated near fresh water sources and bays. In some of the caves on the island of Curaçao, one can find inscriptions and symbols from the pre-Colombian inhabitants, which we still cannot decipher.

2.  Economic Aspects 2.1  Spanish Ranch 1499–1634 The Spaniards introduced forced labor in the Americas, using the people of this continent, whom they called Indians, to work in the silver and gold mines. As no precious metals were available in Curaçao, the Spaniards regarded the island as an isla inútil, which means “useless island.” However, they found that the inhabitants could serve as cheap labor in the mines of Santo Domingo, which was then called Hispaniola. The island was almost completely depopulated when most of its inhabitants were enslaved and shipped to Hispaniola in 1513. Curaçao was governed according to the so-called encomienda system. The island and its inhabitants were given in property to a Spanish encomendero who, with the license of the Spanish Crown, had the right to exploit them for his own benefit. From 1525 to 1634, Curaçao was a kind of Spanish Ranch where the Caquetios worked as slaves for the 24

A Brief History of Curaçao

encomendero, keeping cattle to provide salted meat and leather for export and cutting Brazil wood. From the lumber of this tree, they extracted a dye that was used by the textile industry in Europe. Almost all the Brazil trees on the island were cut down during this period.

2.2  Dutch Stronghold 1634–1791 In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Dutch were one of the world powers heavily involved in international commerce. They sailed the waters of the world and possessed colonies. The Dutch colonization of Curaçao began in 1634, after a successful expedition of the West India Company (WIC) captured the island from the Spaniards. The WIC was a business enterprise that had been given exclusive rights by the Dutch government to sail the Atlantic waters and to trade in the areas of the west coast of Africa and South America. This company was also charged with the administration and defense of the colonized territories. When the Dutch set foot on Curaçao, they found more or less 400 inhabitants on the island. They chose the piece of land at the far end of the entrance of the Saint Anna Bay to build a settlement, which would become the present capital Willemstad, named after one of the ancestors of the Dutch royal family, William of Orange. Because of its location, the Dutch settlers used to call this settlement de Punt (in English “the point” and in Spanish punta). Soon the inhabitants adopted the Spanish version as the name of this settlement. In the course of history, “Punta” was transformed into “Punda.” The WIC decided to develop Willemstad as its main stronghold in the Caribbean from where it would operate in the region. 2.2.1  Salt for the Dutch Fish Industry The Dutch were banned from getting salt from the saltpans of southern Europe because of their hostile relationship with Spain. They came to the Caribbean in search of the precious mineral that was so important to the lucrative Dutch fish industry. The natural presence of saltpans on the island was also an important argument for the WIC to choose to settle on Curaçao. There was plenty of salt available, ready for reaping.


Contemporary Curaçao

2.2.2  Willemstad, a Secure Port The harbor entrance of Curaçao at the Saint Anna Bay was no more than a small channel leading to the spacious inland water that the Dutch called Schottegat, an ideal and secure dock area for the WIC merchant ships, both as a shelter against enemies and as a retreat in the hurricane season. As the Caribbean is notorious for its hurricanes, Curaçao’s geographical location outside the hurricane belt was also convenient for the settlers.

Piracy played an important role in the colonial history of the Caribbean, as Dutch pirates were active in this region for both strategic and economic reasons. At that time, the Dutch Republic was engaged in a struggle to free itself from the Spanish yoke during the so-called Eighty Years’ War, which lasted from 1568 to 1648. This war extended beyond Europe to the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. Dutch privateers were commissioned by the State to attack and rob the Spanish treasure armadas. They tried to win the war by crippling the Spanish economy and strengthening their own. Curaçao served as a military base and thus contributed strategically to the struggle of the Dutch to win their independence from Spain. But piracy did not end after the Eighty Years’ War, and a secure stronghold was vital for the economic activities of the WIC traders in the region. The struggle in the Caribbean region between the world powers persisted until the end of the eighteenth century, as each nation tried

Battery on Fort Beekenburg. (Photo: François van der Hoeven) 26

Contemporary curacao  

A Caribbean Community. Order the complete book at:

Contemporary curacao  

A Caribbean Community. Order the complete book at: