Precolonial History

Our beautiful island in the southern Caribbean Sea, was formerly inhabited by Caquetio (natives of northwestern Venezuela). The oldest remains on Curaçao are dating from 2900 - 2300 BC. The remains that have been found consist of waste, heaps of shells, animal bones and stones. The objects were made for different purposes such as haunting. The earliest traces of human habitation on Curaçao can be found at Rooi Rincon, a natural well near our airport.

The Spanish discovery

Curaçao was discovered on July 26th, 1499 by Alonso de Ojeda a Spanish navigator. Around 2000 Caquetio used to live on our tropical island, when the Spanish discovered Curacao. The Caquetio descended from the Arawak Indians. In 1515 almost all Caquetio were enslaved by the Spanish and were shipped to work in Hispaniola (another island in the Caribbean Sea).

Twelve years later (1527) the Spanish settled on Curaçao. They also brought horses, sheep’s, goats and cattle from Europe. Besides importing a lot of animals, the Spanish have planted various exotic trees/plants on the island. Not all imported trees/plants survived the hot weather. The animals at the other hand were more profitable. The cattle were herded by the little remaining Caquetio and the Spanish themselves.

The Spanish were unsuccessful with agriculture. The yield of the agriculture was disappointing. Even the salt pans did not yield enough and besides that there were no precious metals or any kind of material on the island that the Spanish could use or sell. The Spanish thought of Curacao as an ‘useless island’ and therefore the island was called ‘’Isla Inutil’’. The number of Spanish farmers on the island declined over time. As a result, the number of Indians residents stabilized on Curaçao probably by population growth and colonization. The Caquetio lived scattered across the island.

The Dutch West India Company

In 1634 Curaçao was conquered by the Dutch West India Company (DWIC). The Spanish on the island surrendered and were taken to Venezuela by the Dutch and put ashore there. The DWIC was looking for a base for trade and privateering, Curaçao’s location was favorable. Curaçao also had and still has the best harbor in the Caribbean. The DWIC was also looking for a good source of salt. Good salt pans were to be found both nearby on the coast of Venezuela and on Bonaire.

The DWIC was responsible for building the famous fort on the island, Fort Amsterdam , where the Curaçao government is now located. In 1634, the Dutch started building the Fort Amsterdam under the direction of Admiral Johan van Walbeek. The fortification had cost a lot of money but the yields was not much as expected. Over time, Curaçao proved its value for the DWIC.

Image credits: Norman B Leventhal

Slave trade and free port

The Dutch West India Company started in 1655 with the slave trade on Curaçao. The slaves were brought in from West Africa and were shipped ashore on Curaçao. The slaves were traded on the Zuurzak and Asiento plantations. The DWIC supplied slaves at very competitive prices and thus competed the English, French and Portuguese traders. The slaves were bought by merchants and then shipped to various destinations in Central America and South America.

Only a small group of Africans stayed on Curaçao and ended up on one of the plantations on the island. Some of the slaves were bought by merchants and artisans and stayed in the vicinity of Willemstad . Willemstad originated in the second half of the 17th century and was build outside the Fort Amsterdam, in Punda.

Curaçao became a free port in 1674, giving it a key position in the international trade network. Partly because of this development, Curaçao became one of the most prosperous islands in the Caribbean.

Dutch colony

Curaçao became part of the Dutch colony in 1791 after the bankruptcy of the DWIC. In 1795, the enslaved revolted in Curaçao. The uprising was under the leadership of Tula , a smart slave who had a main role in the slave revolution of Curaçao. The Dutch government abolished slavery in 1863 after seeing England (1834) and France (1848) taking the first move to equality. The slave owners protested and were compensated by the Dutch state with ANG 200, - per slave for the loss of their property. Until the beginning of the 20th century, Curaçao’s economy was based on trade, agriculture and fishing. The economy improved when the major oil reserves were discovered in Venezuela in 1914. Shell established an oil refinery known as Isla in Curaçao. During the Second World War, Curaçao played an important role in supplying fuel to the allied troops. In 1953 Curaçao obtained political autonomy.