History of Curaçao

1500 year-old petroglyphs near Hato Caves.

The history of Curaçao begins with Arawaks settlements, an Amerindian people coming from the mainland in South America. They are believed to have occupied the island for hundreds of years before the European invasion.

Pre-colonial history

The oldest trace of human occupation in Cub can be seen in Rooi Rincon. It consists of a natural extension in the rocks used by preceramic residents. The remains that have been discovered consist of waste heaps of animal bone material, shell, and stone. The objects are composed of shell and stone, which can be used for varying purposes. There are also rock paintings in Rooi Rincon. The dating of these earliest remains of Curaçao is between about 2900 BCE and 2300 BCE.

Ceramic period Remains of pottery have been discovered at San Juan and Knip. They are dated between 450 BCE and 1500 CE. The material belongs to the Dabajuroid tribe, mainly the Caquetio people, who came from neighboring northwestern Venezuela. Based on their language, these Indigenous inhabitants are classified as Arawaks. The Caquetíos lived in tiny settlements with up to about 40 residents. The villages were often situated near inland bays, primarily on the south coast. The later Caquetíos lived from small-scale cassava cultivation, collecting shellfish, fishing, and hunting small game. Also, they traded with Indians from other islands and the mainland. Residences have been found at Knip and Santa Barbara.

The scientific study of the first residents of the Netherlands Antilles began in the 19th century, notably with A.J. van Koolwijk who made the early field investigations. He also made a list of the petroglyphs on the island.

Spanish period

Spaniard Alonso de Ojeda invaded Curaçao on 26 July 1499. At that time, about 2,000 Caquetios existed on the island. By 1515 almost all Caquetios were captured, enslaved, and driven away to Hispaniola. The Spanish established their colony on the island in 1527 and ruled it from one of the Venezuelan cities. The Spanish introduced many non-native animals and flowers to Curaçao. Sheep, horses, pigs, cattle, and goats were brought from Europe or other Spanish colonies. The Spaniards also planted various non-native trees and plants.

The takeover by the Dutch West India Company

The Netherlands was effectively isolated from Spain in 1581, and the Dutch West India Company (WIC) was established in 1621. In 1633, the WIC lost its base entirely in the Antilles when a Spanish fleet slaughtered its settlement on Sint Maarten. The WIC took an interest in Curaçao as a new base for privateering and trade, using its unique salt production (to preserve fish, notable herring) and natural harbor. Good salt pans could be located both on Bonaire and on the coast of Venezuela. Also, on Curaçao itself was blackwood, a native raw material for natural paint, lime, fuel, AND cattle.

The fleet WIC, ruled by Admiral Johann van Walbeeck attacked the island in 1634, and the Spaniards on the island completely surrendered in San Juan in August. Almost thirty Spaniards and a large part of the Taíno were deported to Santa Ana de Coro in Venezuela. About thirty Taíno families were permitted to live on the island.

Slave trading and free port

For much of the 18th century, the island’s primary business was the slave trade. Enslaved people often arrived from Africa and were bought and sold on the Willemstad docks before continuing to their final destination. Between 1662 and 1670, Ambrosio Lomelín and Domingo Grillo shipped 24,000 enslaved people.

The WIC supplied slaves at very cheap prices and thus drove most English, Portuguese and French traders out of the slavery market. Enslaved people were purchased by traders and then sent to various destinations in South America. And Central America. A relatively small proportion of the incoming Africans stayed on Curaçao.

Modern History

Following England and France’s example, the Dutch ended slavery in 1863, bringing a shift in the economy to wage labor. The Dutch state paid the slave owners 200 guilders per slave for the loss of their homes. Some residents of Curaçao migrated to other islands, such as Cuba, to work in sugar cane farms. Other former slaves had nowhere to go and continued working for the plantation owner in the tenant farmer system.

This was an established order in which the former slave leased land from his previous master. In exchange, the tenant promised to give up most of his yield to the former slave master. This system lasted until the start of the 20th century.

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