Thursday, January 10, 2013

Curacao, An ABC island

While we are waiting to begin fundraising (February 2013) for phase 2 of the medical clinic, I thought I would continue exploring the ports on our upcoming Southern Caribbean cruise (especially with regard to their history of slavery).

Curacao is the largest island in the Netherlands Antilles, situated just north of the Venezuelan coast. It is said to be the most culturally diverse.

I'm really looking forward to exploring this island, (which is our 8th and final port of call). The colorful houses remind me of the many Victorians which line the streets of San Francisco.

photo source
Legend has it that one of the city's governors in the 1800s suffered debilitating migraines, which he blamed on the glare from the sun off the city's white-washed buildings. Thus he ordered the entire town to be repainted in a variety of soft pastels 
Known for serene beaches (there are 40) and exclusive diving resorts, Curacao also has great shopping, restaurants and bars. Speaking of bars. this is the perfect place to sit, relax in the cool breeze and sip the blue liqueur (by the same name).
Because of its history, the island's population comes from many ethnic backgrounds. There is an Afro-Caribbean majority of African descent, and also sizeable minorities of Dutch, Latin American, French, South Asian, East Asian, Portuguese and Levantine people.

Slave history
The Dutch became leaders in the international slave trade. Taking over major Portuguese trading posts on the west coast of Africa, the Dutch West India Company purchased enslaved Africans and transported them to Curaçao and Brazil, where they were sold to wealthy plantation owners from across the Americas.

Curaçao became one of the largest slave depots in the Caribbean. By the time the last slave galleon arrived in the harbor in 1788, the WIC had transported some 500,000 Africans to slavery. (Because of its dry climate, the island never developed large scale plantations. Curacao along with Aruba and Bonaire, make up the ABC islands and were dubbed " islas inutiles", or the useless islands).

Relatively few enslaved Africans remained on Curaçao.
Slaves were not brought there to work what little fields there were, but rather to be “stored” following the 70- to 80-day journey from Africa before being sold and shipped to sugar, coffee and tobacco plantations in South America. Their stays in Curacao were short, but countless slaves were “processed” through Curacao between 1670 and 1815, making the island the epicenter of the Dutch slave trade during that time. Source
After the horrendous trans-Atlantic trip the slaves were kept to recuperate for several months in two camps, Sòrsaka and Chinchó Grandi (present day Groot St. Joris), before being sold at a depot at Asiento (now located on the property of the oil refinery).

Nothing remains to mark these sites today.

Following the abolition of the slave trade the island sunk into a century of relative economic decline. When slavery itself was abolished in 1863 fewer than 7,000 people received their freedom.

However, for many enslaved Curaçaoans, freedom was merely a declaration. Most stayed on in the fields as share croppers, known locally as the "paga tera" (pay for the land) system. In time, some freed blacks established themselves as independent artisans and small scale traders.

When former slaves and their descendants left the countryside they created a dynamic urban culture in the small alleyways of Otrobanda.

Read the rest of the slavery story

Interesting fact -  Curacao has the world's largest museum devoted to slavery - Museum Kura Hulanda


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