Cacti. Cacti and more cacti.
Few places on Earth will have a greater concentration of these perforating plants than the island of Bonaire. We had been surrounded by them all morning along the west coast.
Then on to the discovery of Washington Slagbaai National Park, surprised by one of the few gray and rainy mornings that these southern and drier parts of the Caribbean will have witnessed.
We leave the park, on its eastern side, onto a paved road registered as Kaya GRE Herrera. Among cacti, this path twists towards the middle of the island.
The Glimpse of the Yellowish Rincon Dotting the Vegetation
A few kilometers later, from the top of another Kaya, To Mira, we find the yellowish houses of Rincon.
We see it concentrated closer to the foot of a large cliff wall, with a smooth top, with a thorny lining, of course.
It features a church with a triangulated pediment and a rocket-like tower.
On the verge of the first houses, a number of electricity poles make it possible to use appliances that have made life easier for residents, at least, so it was supposed to be.
From that distance, subsumed in the green of the vegetation, the houses seem to us more like a village lost in nothingness than a city.
In any case, we were facing the second city of Bonaire, the “other” of the capital Kralendijk. When we got closer, we found that it had a lot more life than it appeared from there.
Rincon remains in the exact place that the Spanish colonists assigned it more than half a millennium ago.
The Arrival and Colonization of Rincon, by the Spaniards
Just a year before the turn of the XNUMXth century, a trio formed by Alonso de Ojeda, Juan de La Cosa and the Florentine – shortly after, nationalized by Castilian, Amerigo Vespucci, who had the honor of naming the New World – found the island we were now exploring, deep in the Caribbean.
They claimed it for Spain as Ilha do Pau Brasil, due to the abundance of this wood. The settlement of the new territory took place a few years later.
With the route to those parts of the world just unveiled, British, French and other pirates were quick to settle camps there.
Concerned about its vulnerability, the Spaniards decided to populate it in a valley shielded by cacti, sunken and, as such, hidden from the monocles of the pirates.
At that time, like other Antilles, the Caquetio Indians, of the Arawak ethnicity, already inhabited this Island of Brazil (and such a valley).
They called it Bojnay (lowlands), a term believed to be in the genesis of Bonaire.
The Spaniards described the indigenous people as prehistoric creatures, dwelling in mud huts. In a short time, they enslaved us.
They moved us to the island of Hispaniola, to the vicinity of what is now Santo Domingo.
There, for some time, they had operational silver mines, one of the raw materials that they most appreciated taking from the Americas, in order to enrich the Crown and the Empire, which continued to grow.
Juan de Ampies and the Livestock Breeding Project from Rincon
In this eagerness to control as much of the world as possible, the Spanish Crown appointed a commander to what are now known as the ABC islands: Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao.
The task fell to Juan de Ampies. It occurred to Ampies that bubbly Bonaire could at least serve as a cattle-raising island that could supply the neighboring Hispanic territories, especially leather.
His plan was to recolonize the island of a few Spaniards and many more Indian slaves recently removed from there so that they could take care of herding and cattle raising.
Accordingly, in addition to returning some Caquetios, Juan de Ampies ensured that ships loaded with animals would be sent from the Metropolis.
From horses, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs and cows destined for a breeding centered on Rincon.
We come across descendants of these animals on the streets of the city and its surroundings. With an errant herd of goats on a dirt perpendicular from Kaya Para Mira.
And with elusive donkeys on the seafront on Bonaire's east coast.
The Even More Complex Genetic Miscellany in Bonaire
The inhabitants of Rincon, in turn, are descended from these founding Spaniards, from the Caquetio Indians who served them, and, in almost all cases, from both. But not only. In the meantime, the Dutch and even some Portuguese complicated the island's genetic base.
We wander through the central streets and alleys of Rincon, around the Sint-Ludovicus Bertandus church, the Parokia San Luis Beltran, in the Papiamento dialect.
At that hour when the heat was getting tight, we passed a few passersby hurrying to get inside the cool of their homes or their favorite cafe-tascas.
Cadushi Distillery and Bonaire's Most Famous Liqueurs
Due to the lack of available interlocutors, we decided to visit the headquarters of the Cadushi distillery, which produces a profusion of liqueurs.
All include flavors from Bonaire's countless cacti, Aloe Vera and so-called Kadushis, the largest of the island's three tree-like species.
We taste some flavors, investigate an old still and the farm's creative garden, chatting with young employees.
Soon, we changed air.
The Cultural Fortress of Bonaire da Mangazina di Rei
We go to the heart of historical and cultural preservation of Rincon and Bonaire, its Mangazina di Rei.
Izain Mercera welcomes us there, Creole inhabitant, of course, lord of a golden skin under a straw hat, a soft and easy smile. We speak in Spanish, with sporadic attempts to use Papiamento that we were not prepared to prolong.
Izain explains the origin of the building, considered the second oldest in Bonaire and the kind of farm that surrounds it.
As a way of illustrating a more cultural part of the explanation, excerpts from popular themes of the island play us, in a jambé.
With the support of small irons, a wind whelk and another strange instrument, a box with a kind of metal claws that his fingers made vibrate and sound.
The host shows us the museum area of the complex and the open view over the surrounding cactus valley, once again, to everyone's surprise, irrigated by new intense rain.
He explains how, in 1990, the organization resulted in a Foundation tasked with training new generations in the cultural genesis of Bonaire, from the cultural confines of its people, its musical traditions and even specific cultivation techniques of a land so full of cacti.
As the name suggests, Mangazina di Rei was a warehouse with real use.
The intricacies of history dictated that, years after Juan de Ampies' command, it had been owned by a Dutch monarch rather than a Spaniard.
The Passage of Bonaire and Rincon to the Ownership of the Dutch
In the second decade of the XNUMXth century, the Dutch India Company was hyperactive. It guaranteed that the Dutch would rival the Spanish and the Portuguese.
At the same time, the Dutch were regular customers of the products and services of the ABC islands, in particular Bonaire, where the boats anchored to supply themselves with water, wood and the meat produced there.
Since 1568, the Dutch fought the 80 Years' War with the Spaniards, indirectly, also with the Portuguese, insofar as, under the Philippine Dynasty, Portuguese territories came to be considered Spanish.
Now, the Caribbean and its Antilles soon proved to be a tropical stage for war. In 1633, the Spaniards captured Sint Maarten from the Dutch. These retaliated.
They captured Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao to the Spaniards. One such Peace of Münster ended the 80 Years' War. It left territories exchanged on both sides.
The ABCs were left of the Dutch, who would only lose their control, for a few years, to the British.
Then, during the Napoleonic Wars and, more recently, in World War II, for the Germans.
This Dutch prevalence justified the warehouse in which Izain Mercera received us, a warehouse built in the XNUMXth century by the Dutch government to store the rations that fed the slaves in the service of the administration.
The Arrival of More Slaves and Sephardic Refugees in Neighboring Curaçao
During the 80 Years War, the Dutch even unloaded Spanish and Portuguese prisoners on Bonaire. The great evolution in the island's demographic structure took place when they transformed Curaçao into the main slave hub in the Antilles.
At the same time, they turned Bonaire into an exporter of brazilwood, corn and above all the salt that continues to abound in the now almost amphibious south of the island.
To serve these plantations and salt pans, the Dutch forced African and indigenous slaves to work, side by side with prisoners.
The population of Rincon and Bonaire mixed twice, in a genetic panoply that we see in the faces and, in particular, in the eyes, hair and skin of the local people.
The Historical Overlay of the Papiamento Dialect
Over time, the language used by slaves overcame Hispanic and Dutch. The slaves came from Guinea Bissau, from Cape Verde and the Gulf of Guinea – also from São Tomé and Principe. They arrived at the ABC islands speaking Creole Guene.
After the expulsion of Sephardic Jews from Iberia in the mid-XNUMXth century, they ended up taking refuge in Curaçao. There they reinforced and improved the combination of pure Portuguese with the predominant Guene.
As expected, this contagion of Portuguese and Portuguese-Creole terms reached every corner of the ABC.
In full force to Rincon, the oldest corner of Bonaire.