Bonaire history

History of Bonaire

A small island in the Caribbean that has been around for millions of years and is best known as ‘Divers Paradise’. But what about its history?

The island was created all those years ago by a collision of underwater plates, pushing a huge land mass upwards. Part of the island is therefore volcanic, the other part consist of limestone formed by stony coral. The first human remains on Bonaire date back to 3300 BP (before present) and are from the Indians that spread throughout the Caribbean. The subsequent groups, under which the Caiguetios (a clan of the Arawak people) arrived on the ABC islands (Aruba, Curacao & Bonaire) around 500 AD. Rock paintings and petroglyphs have been found and preserved in different caves on the island. They can be found in the spelonk caves and Onima.

The name of the island ‘Bonaire’ most likely comes from the Caquetio word Bonay, meaning low country. The spelling was modified by the Spanish and Dutch to Bojnaj and later to Bonaire. Another theory indicates that the name is of Spanish origin, as they were the first Europeans to colonize the island and the name would have come from “buen aire”.

In 1499 Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda arrived on Bonaire. The Spanish found the three ABC islands useless because of the lack any known metal deposits. In 1515 they enslaved the Caquetio people and deported them to work in the copper mines of Santo Domingo.

The Dutch first arrived on Bonaire in 1623, ships of the West India Company to obtain meat, water and wood. In 1633 the Dutch, having lost the island of St. Maarten to the Spanish, retaliated by conquering the ABC islands. Curacao became the center of the slave trade as where Bonaire became a plantation island. Salt was the biggest export product. The slave huts/quarters, too short for a man to even stand in are still present on the island.

Bonaire changed “ownership” a few more times. From 1800 to 1803 and from 1807 to 1816. During these intervals the British took control over Curacao. Curacao being the capital of the Dutch West Indies the British gained control of Bonaire as well. The white traders that settled on Bonaire built the settlement of Playa (Kralendijk) in 1810.

By 1837 Bonaire’s salt production had gotten bigger and bigger, with salt being a necessary ingredient for preserving meat and fish before refrigeration and thus an important ingredient. They placed four obelisks near the Salt Lake to guide ships coming to load. These obelisks were painted in red, white, blue and orange. Representing the colors of the Dutch flag and the Royal house.

Bonaire became part of the Netherlands Antilles in 1954 with control of local matters through an Island Council, Executive Council and a lieutenant governor. Since 2010 Bonaire is a special municipality within the Kingdom of the Netherland.

In 1962 the Stichting Nationale Parken (STINAPA) was founded for the purpose of protecting nature and the island. STINAPA succeeded in 1969 in establishing both the flamingo nesting sanctuary and Washington National Park as the first nature preserves in the Caribbean. In 1979 the Slagbaai plantation was added together with the Bonaire National Marine Park.

The Marine park consists of the whole Bonairian coastline from the high water mark down to a depth of 200 feet. The mangrove forest in Lac Bay is also included in this.

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