What Are the ABC Islands: Bonaire


Bonaire is a small island located in the southern Caribbean, part of the Netherlands Antilles until its dissolution in 2010, when it became a special municipality of the Netherlands. Bonaire has a rich history, shaped by its location at the crossroads of major shipping lanes, and its abundant salt pans, which have been exploited for centuries. This essay will provide an overview of the history of Bonaire, exploring its indigenous, colonial, and modern history.

Indigenous History

The original inhabitants of Bonaire were the Caquetios, an Arawak-speaking people who arrived on the island around 1000 AD. The Caquetios lived on Bonaire for several centuries, subsisting on fishing, hunting, and agriculture. They also produced ceramics and traded with other indigenous groups in the region.

However, the Caquetios’ peaceful existence was interrupted by the arrival of the Spanish in the late 15th century. The Spanish enslaved the Caquetios and put them to work in the salt pans and on the sugar plantations. Many of the Caquetios died from overwork and disease, and by the 17th century, the indigenous population of Bonaire had been largely eradicated.

Colonial History

In 1634, the Dutch claimed Bonaire and established a slave-based economy based on the production of salt and later, the cultivation of aloe vera. The salt pans on Bonaire were some of the most productive in the Caribbean, and the island became an important center of the salt trade.

In the 19th century, Bonaire played a crucial role in the abolition of slavery in the Dutch colonies. In 1848, slavery was abolished in the Dutch West Indies, and the former slaves were put to work on the salt pans and in the aloe vera plantations as “contract workers.” This system, which lasted until the early 20th century, was exploitative, and many of the workers lived in poverty.

Bonaire was occupied by the Germans during World War I, and by the Americans during World War II, but it was returned to the Dutch after the war. In the mid-20th century, Bonaire experienced a period of modernization and economic growth, as the island became a center of the petroleum industry.

Modern History

In the 1980s and 1990s, Bonaire underwent a transformation as it developed a tourism-based economy. The island became a popular destination for divers, who were drawn to its abundant coral reefs and clear waters. This helped to diversify the island's economy and bring new prosperity to the island.

In 2010, the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved, and Bonaire became a special municipality of the Netherlands. This change brought increased investment and development to the island, as well as greater political stability and closer ties to the Netherlands.


Bonaire has a rich and diverse history, shaped by its location at the crossroads of major shipping lanes and its abundant salt pans. From its earliest days as a home to the Caquetios, through its colonial era as a center of the slave-based salt and aloe vera industries, to its modern transformation into a tourist destination, Bonaire has played an important role in the history of the Caribbean. Today, the island is a thriving community, proud of its unique heritage and committed to preserving its natural and cultural resources for future generations.

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