Zeezwaluw Post number 1
Zeezwaluw and her crew are still in Curaçao, anchored in “Spaanse Water” at the south side of the island. As the columnist found out lately they have been busy. This time of year (December) they were not occupied by boat jobs but doing a bit of walking and socializing.
One of the walks was to the Jan Thiel salt pans nearby the anchorage of Spaanse Water. These salt pans are not in use anymore, too labour intensive, so nature is pristine again. The crew had discovered a few hiking signs along a path going into the right direction. But to have a more up-to-date hiking map they used http://www.maps.me an app like Google maps. Maps.me can, after downloading the required area, be used off-line. By zooming-in they learned that even the tiniest hiking trails were visible. Great feature! On a nice sunny day, they put their walking shoes on and off they went.
The first kilometres to the start of the trail was just along the road with holiday compounds so not too interesting. As soon as they reached the trail and beyond the first sign, nature was all around them.
The sandy path meandered through low bushes and some trees bending leeward. Along the path in tiny scrubs they saw many white objects, a kind of snail houses, but all were empty or dried out but still sticking at wherever they landed. Walking along the path which was slightly downhill they never saw other human beings, just birds and iguana’s. The first sight of the saltpans was through the bushes followed by a stunning wide view over the whole area.
These saltpans are home to flamingos and herons. It is really incredible for they are not flying away when approached by humans. The trail crossed a dam over the old seawater-intake to the saltpans; actually the salt-pans were a bit below sea-level for easy influx of sea water. The crew had a little pick nick/coffee break on top of the dam. So they could enjoy the view to the crystal blue sea on one side and the salt pans at the other.
Thereafter they did not follow the trail across the dam but meandered along the shore of the saltpans trough thick bushes before the path went uphill again. Most of the trail has beautiful views over the lake in different directions. The last part of the trail is a wide path up-and-down hills before it ends at the road again. During the 8km hike the crew did not see other hikers at all.
The crew was educated in Bonaire about the history of slave labour in the saltpans. So due to the fact that there are salt pans in Curacao, they liked to learn more about the kind of labour in the salt pans of Curacao. Was it also slaves who did the hard work?
As luck would have it, there was a special museum in Willemstad’s “Otrabanda” (means other side of the St Anna bay) about slavery in Curaçao.
“Kura Hulanda museum” is situated in “Kura Hulanda Village. In the now renovated gathering of buildings was the old slave trade centre/depot. Part of the museum is situated in the re-erected old slave barracks.
The in Africa captured slaves were transported from their homeland in Africa across the Atlantic Ocean and finally brought together in Curaçao. After being sold the slaves were scattered all over the Caribbean Islands. Some of them were sold to landowners in Curaçao for different kinds of labour (also in the salt pans) which brought the African culture into this part of the world.
Due to the slave trade still many of the nowadays customs in Curaçao as well as in the other Caribbean islands have African roots. These custom related events and art from all over the affected African countries are shown in the museum. The crew spend a long time in the museum to see all those artefacts from highly skilled African craftsmen. It is tough to look at those old and very rare art objects in relation to who made them and where it came from.
They never realized how high the standard of African craftsmanship was in that period. You have to see the pictures to understand what the crew means.
But not only the beautiful art but also the circumstances the sailing vessels transported the slaves from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean was made visible.
In the cellar the darkest part of the museum, they re-build a ship’s cargo hold. The cargo was the slaves, chained on hands and feet and to each other without a matrass, for the duration of the passage. The tiny space in height and width available for grown adults was unbelievable, they could hardy move.
As sailors and ocean crossers, the Zeezwaluw crew was able to picture and imagine what a horrible sea voyage that must have been for those poor people who never saw their homeland again. Finally in 1868 came abolition and freedom for the slaves in the Dutch Caribbean Islands. This period is still a painful subject to talk about for many of the citizen of Curaçao, due to Dutch merchants and sailors had been involved in the slave trade.
The Zeezwaluw crew was very impressed by the beautiful art this museum exhibits as well as explaining the dark period of slave trade in general and Curaçao’ place in it, they told the columnist.