When we were planning our first visit to Curaçao I began to read what was easily accessible on the internet about the history of Curaçao. I was surprised, and a little disappointed, that I had to go to multiple sources to get a broad understanding of the history. What I eventually found was a history of diverse, proud groups of people whose stories merged on this small island in the south Caribbean.
This first post is a brief overview and will be followed by other posts detailing parts of the history.
History; the story of the past, impacts the present.
Europeans intersected with the story of the island know today as Curaçao in 1499. However, that clearly was not the start of the story. It could be argued that the story of Curaçao began at some distant time when the ocean levels lowered and an island appeared. More practically however, the island’s story began with the arrival of the Arawak people sometime around 2500 BC. A number of archaeological finds including cave drawings give us only a brief glimpse into the story of the Arawak.
Europe’s entrance in the story was devastating to the Arawak people who were enslaved and decimated by the Spanish in their futile search for riches. In the early 1600’s the Spanish gave up on Curaçao being a source of wealth and abandoned the island.
The Dutch West India Company however viewed Curaçao differently than the Spanish and in 1634 claimed the island. Having a longer term view they soon established plantations around the island and built the many landhuis that still dot the island. It was the deep protected harbors of Curaçao that provided its wealth, as international trade rather than agriculture, became the strength of the economy.
At this point in the island’s story, a second group of people suffered devastation. Multiple African groups were enslaved as the Dutch West Indies Company used Curaçao as a key point in the trade of slaves. It was during the years of slavery that the Papiamentu language emerged and is still a vibrant part of Curaçao’s history.
Yet another people group intersects with the growing story. In 1651 Jewish immigration from Amsterdam attracted other Jews escaping persecution from Spain and Portugal.
Not to be left out, additional peoples, the French and British, became a part of this developing story. In the early 1800’s both expressed their interest in Curaçao. On two occasions, the British gained control and the French made at least one attempt. The fate of Curaçao was finally decided with the 1815 Treaty of Paris which awarded Curaçao to the Dutch.
The next significant chapter of the story was the abolishing of slavery in 1863. Many of the freed people emigrated to Cuba for employment in the sugar cane plantations, others stayed in Curaçao and worked for wages or became part of the new tenant farmer system.
The economy struggled until the early 1900’s when oil was discovered off the coast of Venezuela. The Royal Dutch Shell Company built the Isla Refinery on Curaçao and began processing oil in 1918.
In 1954 Curaçao became part of the Netherland Antilles (along with Aruba, Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten) as part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Netherland Antilles was dissolved in 2010 at which time Curaçao became an independent nation within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
I encourage you to delve further into the rich and diverse history of the island and its people.
Note: As we develop this website there will we additional posts related to the history. We encourage to return to the home page and subscribe to be alerted as more posts become available. There are also many excellent museums on Curaçao relating its rich culture.
- G&D -