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Dr IWAN SUWANDY, MHA
The Curaçao Historic Collections
Frame One: The Curacao
European presence began around the year 1500, when groups were sent out to extensively map the borders of South America and the surrounding islands. Spanish interest quickly waned, however, as they discovered that there was no gold on the island and farming was difficult because of a lack of fresh water.
By 1634, the government-backed Dutch West India Company had claimed Curaçao for its own and had begun to settle the island in earnest. Plantations were erected, and farmers began growing corn and peanuts in addition to native fruits. The saltwater ponds that prevented irrigation would soon prove themselves invaluable, as the economy of the island shifted to salt mining and international export. But saline ponds were not the only advantageous geographical features to be found here. The deep water and natural barriers surrounding the island’s ports made them popular with Caribbean traders. The capital city of Willemstad became particularly well-known, as it played host to merchant ships under every flag imaginable.
The Sephardic Jews who arrived from the Netherlands and then-Dutch Brazil since the 17th century have had a significant influence on the culture and economy of the island. Curaçao is home to the oldest active Jewish congregation in the Americas, dating to 1651. The Jewish Community of Curaçao also played a key role in supporting early Jewish congregations in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. The years before and after World War II also saw an influx of Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, many of whom were Romanian Jews.
For much of the 17th and 18th centuries, the primary business of the island was the slave trade. Slaves arrived often from Africa and were bought and sold on the docks in Willemstad before continuing on to their ultimate destination. The slaves that remained on the island were responsible for working the plantations established earlier. This influx of inexpensive manpower made the labor-intensive agricultural sector far more profitable and between the Netherlands and China the trading done on the docks and the work being done in the fields, the economic profile of Curaçao began to climb, this time built on the backs of the slaves. When the institution was abolished in 1863, the island’s economy was severely crippled.
The defeat of the Dutch in the Napoleanic Wars caused Curaçao to be conquered by the British Empire from 1800 to 1803, and again from 1807 to 1816, after which it was handed back to the Dutch due to the Treaty of Paris.
When oil was discovered in 1920, a new chapter began in the history of Curaçao. Suddenly wealthy, the country experienced a large number of people immigrating from South America and other countries in the Caribbean. This added new life to the cultural composition of the island, an aspect which has only enhanced the local tourism industry.
In 1929 a troop of Venezuelan rebels seized the Waterfort in Willemstad
The Netherland Antillen Historic Collections
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the end@copyright Dr Iwan suwandy 2010.