Bonaire

The "B" of the ABC Islands ("A" = Aruba, "C" = Curacao), Bonaire is one of the Caribbean's least tourist-developed and least visited larger islands, yet it is, both on land and under the sea, one of the Caribbean's most striking.

Bonaire is located 30 miles from Curacao; 50 miles north of Venezuela and 86 miles east of Aruba, outside of the Caribbean hurricane belt. The island is a mere 24 miles long by 3-7 miles wide

Bonaire's early years were not ones of prosperity. Her inhabitants were mostly convicts from other Spanish Colonies in South America. The only permanent settlement was the village of Rincon, located far inland where it was thought to be safe from marauding pirates. In those years, development was discouraged in favor of the richer, more productive colonies.

The name Bonaire is thought to have originally come from the Caiquetio word 'Bonay', a name that meant low country. The early Spanish and Dutch modified its spelling to Bojnaj and also Bonaire. The French influence while present at various times never was strong enough to make the assumption that the name means 'good air'. Regardless of how the name came about, the island remained as a lonely outpost until 1526

In 1633, the Dutch took possession of Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba. The largest island, Curacao, emerged as a center of the notorious slave trade. Bonaire then became a plantation island belonging to the Dutch West Indies Company. It was during those early years that the first African slaves were forced to work, cutting dyewood and cultivating maize and harvesting solar salt. Grim reminders of those days still remain in the form of slave huts and salt pans which were laboriously constructed by hand. They are an important part of the island's heritage and have been left to stand mute testimony to Bonaire's repressive beginning.

Until 1816, ownership of Bonaire changed hands a number of times, finally being returned that year to the Dutch as a result of the Treaty of Paris. A small fort, Fort Oranje, was built to protect the island's main resource, salt. Salt was one commodity that Bonaire had in endless supply, although it took back breaking slave labor to produce it. In the early days of the industry, the most important use for salt was in the preservation of food, since refrigeration was still centuries away.

By 1837, Bonaire was a thriving center of salt production. The government, who by then controlled the industry, built four obelisks, each painted a different color, red, white, blue and orange (the colors of the Dutch Flag and the Royal House of Orange). They were erected strategically near areas of the salt lake. The idea was to signal ships where to pick up their cargoes of salt. A flag of the corresponding color was raised atop a flagpole, thus signalling the ship's captain where to drop anchor. Three of the obelisks can still be seen today.

The abolition of slavery in 1863 signaled an end to the era of exploitation of those first Bonaireans. It was almost a hundred years later that the salt industry was revitalized. Today it is a division of Cargill, Incorporated, one of the largest businesses in the world. It also was during this time that the island began to attract visitors.

Tourism was born when the island government constructed the first ship's pier in the harbor. It allowed cruise ships to tie up alongside the wharf and discharge passengers. It also made it easier to bring in goods and supplies for the island's residents. Hotels began to spring up and cater to the early visitors who enjoyed the tranquility of Bonaire. In 1943, the construction of a modern airport south of Kralendijk made it even easier for tourists to reach the island

It was the sea that first earned the island it's reputation as a prime diving and snorkeling destination ,consistently one of the world's top 10. One reason for this is that Bonaire, surrounded by fringing reefs, hosts abundant excellent reef-diving spots that are accessible a few feet from the shore.

February brings all the carnival activities: Carnival Tumba Festival, Carnival Youth Rincon Parade, Carnival Youth Playa Parade in Kralendijk, Carnival Adult Parade in Rincon, then the major Carnival Parade on the 26th of Feburary.

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Information provided courtesy of: Caribbean Association Midwest America