Monthly Archives: February 2015

A Past Gone With the Wind: The Landhuizen of Curacao

Rif St. Marie Landhuis

Rif St. Marie Landhuis – 1680

Our imaginations and interest were immediately piqued on our first full day upon the island when our hostess casually mentioned the plantation houses of Curacao and pointed out a couple of these “kas grandi”  (great houses) during our introductory tour of the northwestern half of the island.  Architecturally unique to the Dutch Antilles, the landhuizen provided a backdoor to the culture and history of Curacao neglected in the discussions of the UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassed in the districts of Willemstad.

Landhuis Habaii now houses the Gallery Alma Blou

Landhuis Habaii houses the Gallery Alma Blou –  ciirca 1752

Landhuis Papaya houses a treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction

Landhuis Papaya is a halfway house for those with drug and alcohol dependencies – 1850

Landhuis Dokterstuin - now a restaurant serving local food

Landhuis Dokterstuin is a restaurant serving local food – 18th century

It was our good fortune that the first plantation we visited was the marvelously preserved Landhuis Kenepa, in Knip. Moreover, it was a museum dedicated not to the aristocrats who owned the plantation but to the slaves who built and toiled in the homes or under the glaring sun in the fields and salt flats of the owners. This intriguing structure highlighted the role of Sula (also known as Tula whose iconic image is seen throughout the island today) one of the leaders of a widespread, but ultimately unsuccessful, slave rebellion in 1795 which was brutally suppressed.

Landhuis Knip is now Museo Tula - also called Kenepa

Landhuis Knip is now Museum Tula – also called Kenepa – 17th century

Our knowledgeable guide, Michalyn, sang soulfully in Papiamento, a pidgin tongue originated by the slaves and now one of the two official languages of Curacao.  The songs, passed down through the generations, spoke of a far-away homeland, day-to day cares, faith and future dreams and were sung by the slaves while washing clothing, grinding corn and other required labors. The foreignness of the tunes and language coupled with that of the isolation of the plantation lent an ethereal quality to the restored house now furnished with a mix of artifacts of the master’s costly possessions and the slave’s scant belongings, work tools and handmade musical instruments.

Landhuis Savonet Museum

Landhuis Savonet Museum – 1662

The first mansions were built in the 17th century as the focal point of the plantation, surrounded by outbuildings and warehouses and, at their zenith, there were over one-hundred landhuizen on the island. They were built upon large foundations which provided a platform, or veranda, at the front and rear of the house and were usually built on hill tops so that the manor overlooked the plantation.  From this lofty vantage point the home was cooled by the sea breezes flowing through the open doors and windows on both levels. This location also allowed the plantation owner, the shon, to observe the workings of slaves and the overseers from the verandas and the elevated location provided a direct line-of-sight with at least one other landhuis to allow for signaling in the event of an emergency – say a slave uprising.

Landhuis San Juan neglected and in need of restoration

Landhuis San Juan neglected and in need of restoration – 1662

Landhuis Morgenster shuttered and vacant

Landhuis Morgenster shuttered and vacant – 1786

Landhuis Kas Abou is uninhabited

Landhuis Kas Abou is uninhabited – circa 17th century

The abolition of slavery in 1863 signaled the end of this period of domination. The system died a slow death, hanging on through a familiar pattern of share cropping, where the former slaves, for lack of other options, exchanged their labor to maintain the plantation for plots of land to tend for their personal use and erect the now historic Kunuku houses. However, the times and the markets gradually gave way to the arrival of Royal Dutch Shell and employment in its refineries and the related service sector in the early 20th century.  The whole landhuis edifice began to crumble with the owners and the workers moving into the city of Willemstad, to the Punda, Otra Banda or Scharloo districts depending upon their circumstances.  They began to build a social order free of the colonial plantation system.

Landhuis Zorgvlied

Landhuis Zorgvlied – destroyed during a 1775 slave rebellion

Landhuis Fontein ruins

Landhuis Fontein ruins

The manors themselves began to fall into disrepair. The intercession of the Heritage Foundation, a national governmental organization, and private individuals has managed to conserve about half of the original larger plantations; roughly 55 are still extant. Others, scattered around the island, are in various stages of disrepair, neglect and destitution with little hint of their former grandeur while nature moves to reclaim her own.

Landhuis Jan Kok - houses the Nena Sanchez Gallery - 1704

Landhuis Jan Kok – houses the Nena Sanchez Gallery – 1704

Landhuis Groot Santa Marta employs the physically and mentally handicapped

Landhuis Groot Santa Marta houses Fundashon Tayer Soshal which employs the physically and mentally handicapped – circa 1675

Landhuis Ascension open for tours and owned by the Dutch Navy - 1672

Landhuis Ascension open for tours and owned by the Dutch Navy – 1672

Our visits to several of the landhuizen expanded our understanding of both the history of slavery and the plantation system but also exposed us to the wonderful utility of which these remarkable relics have been converted.  While some are still private homes many have been transformed into museums, art galleries, restaurants, small hotels and commercial business interests, including at least one distillery.   These plantation houses with a brutal history mired in slavery, presented us with a unique opportunity to augment our perception of colonial Curacao and the living history of the landhuizen.

Landhuis Zeelandia now occupied by private businesses

Landhuis Zeelandia now occupied by private businesses – 18th century

By Richard and Anita

 

Shake Your Booty & Cover Your Ears: Carnival Parades in Curacao

Children's Carnival ParadeA couple of things are certainties at Curacao’s Carnival parades. First, you will wait way longer for them to commence with the activities than you had anticipated and second, when they do get around to the parade to-do the initial order of business is to dispense earplugs along the length of the route.

Banda Bou Parade

So it went at the Children’s Carnival Parade one Sunday afternoon. It was an event requiring patience waiting in the scorching sun while being pressed up against a metal retaining rail as Banda Bou Paradelatecomers crowded in. We rationed our water from newly purchased and sweating bottles (because, after all, neither of us wanted to lose our places while searching for a porta-potty.) After a truncated eternity the street began to clear and there appeared, in dazzling canary yellow uniforms with the requisite short skirts, the Insel Air girls with their smiles and ear plugs for the masses. Children's Carnival Parade  All the schools, youth organizations and numerous companies, it seemed, had a presence at the children’s parade. And the theme of the parade was geared to the age; cartoon characters from past and present, including many that we recognized and remembered well. Passing before us were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, The Flintstones, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and other, new characters that were completely unknown.

Banda Bou Parade

Children's Carnival ParadeWe discovered quickly enough the reason for the ear plugs. Even before the first child was in sight we noted that spaced generously throughout the parade were Banda Bou Parade large mobile sound systems. Multi-tiered, ginormous woofers, tweeters, mid-ranges and bass blasted out live performances of Tumba, Curacao’s unique music, and Calypso or D.J. inspired audio mayhem of rhythm based “shake that thang baby” music.  But whether live or Memorex the volume was deafening. Shouting to each other was impossible. We could feel the vibration deep in our ribs and sternum from the bass rattling your bones, maximum decibel, blaring volume.

Banda Bou Parade Banda Bou ParadeCuracao has its own unique twist on the pre-Lenten celebrations that originated with the plantation owners and wealthy merchants who threw extravagant and stately balls complete with masks and wigs reflecting the heritage of their homelands. The slaves mimicked the upper crust behavior in their own homes with their songs, folklore and customs. After the abolition of slavery, with Banda Bou Paradethe enhanced freedom of expression and the rise of a freer, urban working class, the celebrations grew more elaborate and moved from the homes to the streets. Here developed the tradition of today’s Carnival with beauty pageants, Tumba dance competitions, street parties (the jump-ups), private in-door affairs (the jump-ins) and parades that encompassed all the island.Banda Bou Parade

Banda Bou parade routeHaving enjoyed ourselves with the children’s parade we ventured to the Banda Bou Parade in the town of Barber the following Saturday.  We were instructed to get there a couple of hours early as it was heavily attended since the Carnival frenzy continued to build as the countdown to sobriety and atonement, Ash Wednesday, was nearing. We arrived at our destination and drove the parade route from the end point towards Banda Bou parade routethe beginning and were politely, but emphatically, advised with head shakes that various parking spots we eyeballed were reserved as evidenced by a chalk mark, a cinder block or a folding chair. Near the front of the route we found a spot on the side of the road.  It was 1:00 PM; the parade, we’d been informed, started around 3:00 PM.  And so we sat and watched traffic ebb and flow, watched the Harley scooter contingent rumble through for a few passes, watched the vendors come and go, watched families with excited children, watched the sun cross a cloudless sky, watched the plates of food and Amstel beer and the locally distilled rum concoctions disappear.Banda Bou Parade

Sometime near 4:30, the police finally halted traffic and we waited with sorely tested anticipation. And then, the vivid canary yellow uniforms of the Insel Air beauties were among us again distributing foam hearing protectors with dazzling white-toothed smiles.  Shortly afterwards the parade was underway this time with children, teens and adults.  The bands and Tumba dancers, all elaborately costumed, strutted, shimmied and shook as they passed. Behemoth sound trucks, enough to justify the ear plugs, floats and cars with dignitaries and well-wishers rolled past us. And when it was done, we were among the first to lead the trek back down the island in the direction of Willemstad, deafened and carrying on a conversation at much louder levels than usual, happy that we had endured the wait and experienced another Carnival parade.Banda Bou Parade

Banda Bou ParadeThe next day, Sunday was the finale,  the Grandi Marcha Parade, a wild, riotous event for the adults celebrating what we were told was the island’s version of the New Orlean’s Mardi Gras festival that would eclipse all the previous parades.  Beginning in the late afternoon and extending well into the night it’s the city’s big blow out with the dancing, drinking and raucous partying so excessive that the day after is a national holiday, a day of recovery if you will.

Call us weenies with no sense of adventure but … we skipped it!Banda Bou Parade

By Richard and Anita

The Kunuku Homes of Curacao

kunuku houseWe’ve always been collectors.  However, as long-term travelers we carry all our possessions with us and our collections are now confined to friends and experiences, memories and digital pictures. And what fun we have as we find the things that make each place we visit unique.  On Curacao, we’ve explored many roads around the island and we’ve noticed simple homes with slanted sides scattered about the countryside.  As we’ve hopped out of the car for a better look and perchance a photograph we’ve occasionally been met by the family dog, for the most part in good humor, or occasionally by the proprietor perhaps curious as to the workings of the foreign mind.  And we’ve been counting, notating and reading about these houses as collectors are wont to do.Kunuku Museum

To our great delight we saw that one of these structures, called Kunuku houses, has been lovingly restored and is now a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Kas di Pal’i Maishi (Sorghum Stalk House) has been turned into a small museum dedicated to educating people about the lives of the slaves following their emancipation on July 1, 1863 and the homes in which they dwelt. During our tour of the grounds and house our guide was extremely patient and answered all of our questions as we struggled to assimilate this intriguing information.Kunuku house

Prior to gaining their freedom the slaves lived in makeshift shelters on the land near the plantation manors using native materials for their crude dwellings. Posts, poles and stalks provided the walls while a hipped roof covered with thatch provided protection from the scorching sun and torrential downpours during the rainy season. After the abolition of slavery some of the 7,000 people previously held in bondage were given plots of land upon which they could build a permanent home and raise a few staple crops.  For many of the former slaves, emancipation was just a word; a sharecropper system soon developed which tied them to the land and left them indebted to their previous owners. However, from these private holdings grew the Kunuku homes, some of which survive and are still in use throughout the island.Kunuku house

The permanent homes retained the same basic style as the improvised shelters. They were symmetrically rectangular with a centered doorway, a style recalling dwellings in West Africa from which many of the slaves had been abducted. Windows on each side and the high hipped roof took advantage of the frequent island winds to cool the home. The measurements were not exact but homes commonly would provide roughly 500 square feet of living space. The daub and wattle walls were tapered on the outside to provide greater stability. The interior of the walls were filled with compacted rubble and covered with a plaster made of clay, crushed coral rock and aloe vera which gave it a whitened and durable finish. The dirt floors were treated with a mixture of cow dung and clay which, over time, developed a reliably sealed surface. The peaked roof with rafters and supports provided a stable platform for the thatched roof composed of five layers of sorghum leaves.inside the home

The cooking was performed in a separate small building to reduce the chance of fire and the homes were divided into two rooms.  The larger room was used by all the family for their daily gatherings, meals and, at night, by the children.  The parents slept in the much smaller room which many times contained a bed with sloping sides and a patchwork quilt.master bedroom in Kunuku house

Outside might be an open aired privy screened by a cactus hedge and the house could also be surrounded by a pillar cactus fence of two to three rows to keep out roaming animals and define the property boundaries.Pillar cactus fence

Many of the Kunuku homes still in existence are occupied although, of course, in the 21st century the floors are tiled or finished concrete and modern amenities have been installed. The roofs, while still steeply pitched, are no longer made of hand-hewn logs with covered thatch but are corrugated metal or synthetic roof tiles. Some of the dwellings have additions or have been joined together but the original tapered walls and distinct symmetrical shape remains.Kunuku houses joined

Kunuku houseHere and there throughout the countryside are crumbling ruins and abandoned or damaged houses and these allowed us to view the interior of the walls showing the compacted rubble that lent strength to these structures.ruin of Kunuku houseThe history of Curacao is not solely in the Dutch architecture of Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or its centuries old, imposing plantation houses.  The simple and time-tested Kunuku homes with traces of their African roots have also been recognized, reclaimed and preserved as part of the rich heritage of the island and give an additional depth of character to the people who live here.

pride in Kunuku heritage

pride of placeBy Richard and Anita

 

 

 

Unexpected Journeys: Going to Curacao

Curacao - western sideSeveral months back we started thinking about where we wanted to go after leaving Ecuador.  With a bit of back and forth it was clear that both of us were ready to leave the Americas.  We wanted a change in cultures, something apart from the Hispanic inspired societies based upon the Spanish colonial model. Something exotic, something totally different with ancient history, spectacular landscapes, exceptional architecture and unique cuisine.Western side of Curacao

Our conversations went something like this:

“Europe or Asia?”

“Ooooo – what about Turkey?”

“Oh, I want to see Eastern Europe.”

“But what about New Zealand or Morocco or Vietnam  …?”

Obviously, our focus needed to be adjusted and refined.  Some people call this kind of conversation “brainstorming” but we call it “derailed.”   We decided to go online and, after some reading and more conversation about our enormous world with all its possibilities for places to travel, we finally came up with … Malaysia.  It had much of what we wanted including a large expat community, a variety of cultures and nationalities, was high on the exotic meter and completely different from any place we’d ever been.  And a plus – it would be a great jumping-off point to begin our travels in Asia.  We checked out airline tickets from Ecuador to Malaysia (electing to avoid any Malaysian airlines for the time being) and decided it was eminently doable although we wouldn’t be traipsing back to the US for a time.salt flats by Nena Sanchez gallery

And then, before we began to make the serious moves of purchasing the airline tickets and securing our initial lodging, we received an email from a friend we had housesat for in Costa Rica who asked if we might be interested in house and pet-sitting for her sister in Curaçao.  Hmmm … so here’s where we get a little red-faced and have to admit that we had not a clue as to the whereabouts of Curaçao.  We googled it, repeatedly, once to figure out where it was, another time simply to hear its pronunciation (Kur-uh-sow) and then to research the island itself.  For those of you who also have no clue where it is:curacao carib

And so, we read about the island country of Curaçao, which became an independent nation in October, 2010, when the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved.  The island was “discovered” by the Spanish in 1499 who promptly enslaved the indigenous Arawak population. It languished in obscurity for well over a century until 1634 when the Netherlands achieved independence from Spain and claimed possession of the island.  Shortly thereafter the Dutch West India Company decided that its natural harbor and setting made it an ideal location for shipping, commerce and piracy. It also became a thriving center for the Atlantic slave trade and its affluence is reflected in its colorful edifices which blended Dutch and Spanish architectural styles but also resulted in some buildings completely unique to the island, particularly those associated with the older plantation system.Willemstad

Our readings about Curacao resulted in our sensing that this here-to-fore unknown country could be exactly what we were seeking; exotic with a unique history. We sent a few emails back and forth with the homeowner to find out more of what she was looking for in caretakers for both her home and pets.  Soon enough, with very little resistance and much enthusiasm, we had a seven-week house and pet sit lined up in a lovely country surrounded by Caribbean waters.Wllemstad

So, what to do with December since our 90-day visa for Ecuador expired at the beginning of the December?  Cartagena, Colombia went back on our list and, as our faithful readers know, we had a terrific month in that picturesque city sight-seeing and immersing ourselves in its fascinating history.

After years of fixed plans, following demanding career paths and setting five-year goals we’ve come to treasure f-l-e-x-i-b-i-l-i-t-y.  We must remain mentally nimble to take leaps as opportunities present themselves.  It’s become a huge part of our travel plans – or no plans – and we try not to get too far ahead of ourselves so that we can change our direction, slow down or, conversely, move a bit faster.Curacao Otra Banda

And as for our travels after Curaçao? We have airline tickets to the Dominican Republic and other, more nebulous plans that we’re waiting to fall into place. Our travel lifestyle has slowly transformed into unexpected journeys that require curiosity and uncertainty as the ability to avail ourselves of opportunities that may present themselves.view from Museo Tula

By Anita and Richard