The Salt History of Bonaire

After Columbus lost in 1495 his exclusive rights to explore the New World, the Caribbean became open territory. Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci (from whom the Americas derive their name) were among the first to take advantage of this: in 1499 they landed on Bonaire and claimed it for Spain.

Although the small island of Bonaire, lacked many of the resources that made other Caribbean colonies prosperous, however it did have one precious commodity… SALT! Thisvaluable salt was a necessary ingredient for preserving meat and fish.

In the late 1620's, the Spanish had cut off the supply of this essential mineral to the Dutch (used mainly for salting herring fish). A few years later, the Dutch captured Curacao, Bonaire, and Aruba and gained valuable control of Bonaire's salt pans. While Curacao emerged as a center of the slave trade, Bonaire became in 1633 a plantation of the Dutch West India Company. A small number of African slaves were put to work on Bonaire cultivating dyewood, maize and also harvesting solar salt. They were joined by a few remaining Indians and convicts. Slave quarters, rising no higher than a man's waist, still stand along the saltpans as a grim reminder of Bonaire's repressive past.

History tells us that ‘production’ of salt started in 1636 and over the next two centuries the salt industry on Bonaire expanded. First under the Dutch West India Company and then under direct governmental control. By 1837 Bonaire's salt production had grown so large that four obelisks were built near the Salt Lake to guide ships coming in to load. The obelisks were painted red, white, blue, and orange, the colors of the Dutch flag and the Royal House of Orange, to direct ships which came to load salt, to the appropriate pan and which names we still use!

Finally the slavery was abolished in 1862 and in the middle of the nineteenth century, the salt industry on Bonaire fell into sharp decline. The abolition of slavery and increased international competition reduced its profitability....

 

         

Making salt in the old days....you can't imagine this?

Nevertheless, with a comfortably dry climate and steady trade winds, Bonaire has always been recognized as an ideal location for the production of salt. For over three centuries, the island's culture and prosperity was dependent upon this most important of the world's spices. Today, about 22 % of the Bonaire surface is used for the process of evaporation of sea water, a process in the hands of professionals and safely adopted in the fragile environment of Bonaire. The stunning colored salt pans are also home to one of the hemisphere's great populations of Flamingoes!

 

The four elements of the Bonaire history:

Fort Oranje, the slave dwellings, the obelisks and the .....salt!