History

There was a time that there was no Bonaire.
In the depth of the sea craters spitting there lavamas,
then there were forces that lifted up a hilly part above the water.
Three times Bonaire disappeared again under the sea.

Bonaire once was connected with Venezuela.

The oldest parts of the island you can find in the North-West, behind Rincon and in the Washikemba formation.
Thinking about this past, how come that on this island, born out of the sea, there are thousands of plants and animals? Well Bonaire instead of many other islands was connected to the mainland, in this case Venezuela.
At that point the organism spred on the island untill one day there was a subsidence of the soil and Bonaire was surrounded by water.

Around 1.000 BC, the first settlers arrived in Bonaire. They were the Caiquetío Indians from Venezuela, Indian Inscriptions at Bolivia, Spelonk and near Onima are remnants of stay of these Indians in Bonaire.

Save plantation Bolivia

We think this site will give you a good impression as to why we have to save Plantation Bolivia.

Much has been written about the history of Bonaire. To tell the history of Bonaire we have chosen to use the fourteen articles that Father Paul Brenneker has published in Amigoe di Curaçao 1943: “History of Bonaire” (originally in Dutch). The sections which are relevant to Bolivia you find here and have been translated to English.

Father Paul H.F. Brenneker (Venlo, 7 May 1912- Willemstad, 7 Feb 1996), an enthusiastic Catholic clergyman of the Order of Dominicans, left behind a great cultural legacy upon his death, including over a hundred publications, prints, photos, poems, a large collection of sound recordings of songs and stories and thousands of artifacts.

Courtesy of the Heritage Center of the Dutch Cloister Life.

Indian

On the mainland, the numerous tribes of Indians did not always live in peace with each other. The constant danger of war, and the heavy losses suffered by robbery and plunder made many Indian chiefs look for safer places. The Indian moves easily if there is a better live elsewhere.In clear weather, the faint shadows of fairly large islands were seen in the North. Some of them then ventured into their small boats and reached the goal after much effort. According to well-founded guesses, this is how Bonaire got its first inhabitants.

The country was good. The Indian, who is a born hunter and fisherman, could life here. There were plentiful edible fish. The sea also provided them Carco’s, Sea snakes and Cocolishi’s. At that time, rabbits and deer still lived on the island; and iguanas crawled around in unprecedented numbers. The soil, without cultivation also produced edible things, as: Calbas seeds, the stems of the Bringa mosa, the thick, fleshy leaves of the Pita, which cut into pieces became edible biscuits.These biscuits are still eaten and bear the name of Indian biscuits.

The Island is also full of Cadushi and Jatu, of which young shoots and fruits are edible. Because of the present of freshwater wells, some agriculture was also possible. If they had brought in some cattle, which was quite possible, since there has certainly been some relation between the Indian who stayed behind and the one who left, Bonaire – at least in the opinion of an Indian – was a good country to live in.

Whether the same Indians have continued to live here, or whether other tribes have also been added, or whether one has driven the other out, we do not know. If Bonaire was inhabited by the same tribe as that of Curaçao, then the first inhabitants where the Caquetías, a tribe of the Arowaks. Safety and the need for freshwater have forced them to settle in the North-East corner of the island, in the heel of the Bonaire shoe.

Numerous strange drawings on the walls of caverns and dens point us more precisely, where they
mainly resided: Spelonk, Fontein, Seru Pungi, Onima and Seru-Grita-Kabai. Those drawings are mysterious figures. No human has yet been able to untangle them. With very few exceptions, none of them represent anything specific, at least according to our understanding. They are circles and crosses, points, stripes and squiggles. After a long search one finds sporadically something that resembles a snake, a fish, a lizard or a crab. They are probably some kind of family brands. The material with which they are painted is also puzzling. That they have not perished after so many hundred years makes us strongly suspect that a mineral and no vegetable dye has been used. Most are red, some are black. Red may be colored earth, a type of earth that also occurs on Bonaire. A few years ago, people dug for the roads just north of Mentor. A pipe or vein was then found, from which, in a granular form, the reddish brown colored earth rolled out.

Another thing the Indians left us are their stone axes. Since the iron was completely unknown to them, they used stone tools. Smooth cut stones, of a type of stone, which are not found on Bonaire, were tied to a piece of wood or allowed to grow into it: that was their hatchet. Serrated the sharp edge, then the stone was thrown away and a new one was taken. That is why today many of those axes are still found, but almost all damaged or broken. The native people keep them carefully and use them as amulets against lightning strikes. They are the so-called thunderstones, which occur in all nations.

The oldest residents have certainly given their island a name. We do not know exactly how it was. But over time, that name has been pronounced and written in very different ways. In the ancient writings one finds Bonari, Buinari, Boynare, or Banari. Possibly all these variations include an Indian “banare”, which means companion, and the first inhabitants have called the island a companion of Curaçao.

(Image credit: Rotstekeningen van Curacao Aruba en Bonaire, P. Wagenaar Hummelinck, 1953-1972)

Plantation

Plantation Bolivia is located in the northeast of Bonaire and covers an area of approximately 3,000 hectares, which accounts for one-tenth of the entire island.

There is limited knowledge about slavery in this area, mainly because the archives of the first West India Company (WIC) has been lost, and there was a lack of written records about Bonaire during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Bonaire was under the dependency of Curaçao, and its significance lay in being Curaçao’s storehouse, penal colony and, from around 1820, a breeding ground for new slaves. The historical information available mostly comes from oral history (an important source for Bonaire’s history) and reconstruction and interpretations of later sources [*].

Originally known as Broheta during the time of the WIC, the area was later named Bolivia in 1868 after the majority of Bonaire was auctioned. In the auction brochure, the government recommended Broheta as follows:

“It is quite suitable for cattle-raising, as it contains natural fresh-water wells and some established works for driving up the wild cattle; on the south side there is also a lot of wood of the above-mentioned types of wood.”

The ‘works set up’ referred to the coral structures used to corral the cattle. The mentioned types of wood were Wayaká (Pokhout, Guaiacum officinale) and Brasil (Kampèshi, Verfhout, Haematoxylon brasiletto). The new owner,Ernst Barend Hellmund, named the plantation Bolivia.

Hellmund saw potential in the area, likely to the availability of wood and the opportunity for livestock raising of raising. However, historical maps [**] indicate that Bolivia was hardly used for agriculture, if at all. Only in a small number of places (probably from the time of the Spaniards) Sorghum is grown and (from about 1840) also Aloë vera. Most of the area was deemed unsuitable for agriculture due to the limestone soil composition. Despite this, the area supported extensive livestock farming, including goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, cows, and horses that roamed freely for centuries.

Bolivia was likely never inhabited, not even by the original inhabitants known as Caiquetio. These indigenous people left behind their traces in the form of petroglyphs, and after being enslaved by the Spanish colonists, they were brought to Hispanola. A few dozen Caiquetios were brought back to Bonairearound 1515 to manage livestock and water resources.

Enslaved individuals were used as cheap labor by both the Spanish and the WIC. Starting from 1636, when the WIC gained control over Bonaire, enslaved individuals, including Africans, were put to work in the salt pans, in the south of Bonaire, and livestock management, primarily focusing on goats and sheep. These animals were bred for the meat, skins and manure, which were essential products for the population of Curaçao. Animal husbandry has been practiced in Bolivia since the Spanish occupation.

The management of the cattle and the area during the WIC’s control and later by the government from 1793 was overseen by enslaved individuals known as  “bombas”. These individuals supervised other enslaved workers, providing the animals with water and corralling them during slaughter. The living conditions of bombas and enslaved individuals in Broheta are unknown, but assumed they slept outdoors or in self-made huts using wood, mud, dried dung, and leaves, similar to the housing of enslaved individuals in the salt pans.

After the 1868 auction, three overseer houses with outbuildings were constructed in Bolivia – one in the east, one in the center, and one in the west. These buildings, although dilapidated, still exist and may be restorable. After emancipation, some freed slaves from Rincon possibly move to Bolivia and may have started working for the new owner. However, where and how they lived in Bolivia is unknown.

Traces of the original inhabitants can be seen in Bolivia through drawings on the walls and ceilings of caves and shelters in the limestone wall of the higher plateau. The most well-known cave is Spelonk, which contains over 300 drawings according to Father Brenneker. The nearby Roshikiri cave is less famous but also has drawings by the Caiquetios. There may be many more caves and shelters along the seven-kilometer-long northern limestone wall of Bolivia that remain unexplored due to limited financial resources and dense vegetation.

In contrast to the more visible traces of slavery in the salt pans, the evidence of slavery in Bolivia is more subtle and requires knowledge to identify. These traces date back to the second English interim administration, which lasted from 1807 to 1816. During this time, the English administration leased the entire island, including the 300 enslaved people, to Joseph Foulke, a North American merchant and shipowner who was married to Louis Brion’s sister and owned a shipyard in Curaçao. Foulke was actively involved in exploiting Bonaire’s resources, particulary the Pokhout and Verfhout trees. Pokhout known for its slow growth and rich oil content used for making pulleys, and Verfhout trees, valued for its pigment used in the European cloth industry, were abundant in Bolivia during that period.

Many of those trees centuriesold trees were cut down by enslaved people between 1810 and 1816 under Foulke’s orders. However, not all trees were successfully felled. In present-day Bolivia, there are still groups of very old Verfhout and solitary Pokhout trees that stand and witnesses to that time. The largest and oldest trees of both species are spared because they were too large and heavy to transport. Some of these trees bear scars from the attempted felling, such as healed wounds on the trunks where thick branches were sawn off.These trees serve as silent witnesses to the island’s deforestation attempts during that period and are considered historical monuments by consulted botanists.

In recent centuries, Bolivia has been devoid of human activity. Since 1499, extensive cattle breeding has been the primary activity in the area. After Foulke’s period of exploitation, there has been little human intervention. There was a brief proposal in the mid-20th century to turn the cave Spelonk into a casino and brothel[***], but the plan did not materialize. However, the area has been negatively impacted by intensive grazing from thousands of goats owned by two or three individuals. This grazing has put a strain on the area and its flora, making it difficult for seedlings to thrive. Tests have shown that reducing the number of grazers significantly would rapidly lead to the restoration of the original vegetation.

[*] Bonaire van Indianen tot Toeristen, Dr. Joh. Hartog, 1957
[**] Westerman and Zonneveld 1956
[***] Amigoe, March 17, 1969

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