Bonaire Culture and History
Bonaire is home to people of over forty nationalities, and so the local Bonaire culture is influenced by dozens of ethnic groups. Indigenous people as well as African, Asian, European and South American influences have shaped the culture of Bonaire. You can enjoy the many celebrations that unite people through food, music and dance.
Salt has been harvested in Bonaire for hundreds of years and today, produces 400,000 tons of salt per year. The low, flat landscape provides an ideal environment where sea water is pumped in to condensing ponds. The area is also a natural habitat for brine shrimp and the flamingos that feed on them. The brine is progressively evaporated then filtered to remove debris from the brine, and this is fed to the flamingos at the nearby Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary and other migratory birds.
Visit the Salt Pans and you’ll see the huge mounds of salt surrounded by pink ponds against the the turquoise shore and marine blue sea. Take some memorable photos of this exquisite landscape.
Imagine the life of a slaves working the salt pans of Bonaire. They lived in the settlement of Rincon and walked to work at the salt pans, a seven hour walk by foot. The slave huts were constructed in 1850 to improve the lives of the slaves, providing sleeping quarters and a place to put their belongings while they worked during the week. They would then make the long walk back to Rincon to see their families on the weekends. The slave huts are maintained as an important part of the cultural history, a reminder of the hardships the earlier generations had endured.
Nestled in the desert hills is the oldest settlement on the island, a small town called Rincon. Enjoy local food and dance at the Cultural Market held once a month at Magazina di Rei. Walk through a garden with native species into a patio area with seating and tables overlooking the valley where the townspeople live. In the center, you’ll hear a band playing music and local people dressed in traditional clothing doing traditional dances. Sample the food offered by local restaurants and browse the tables of locally made crafts. A building built in 1824 has an exhibit hall with an interesting display about the history of Bonaire. Historic artifacts from tools to musical instruments are explained in detail with well-maintained exhibits.
Winfred Dania, known as the “Van Gogh of Bonaire” because he spent his life as an artist, and his work was not well known until after his death in 2012. Since then, his work has been on display in various exhibits and the cultural importance of his work is more appreciated.
Winfred was born in Aruba to a mother who was Aruban and his father was Bonairian. He had polio as a child which left him deaf. At the age of five, he was sent to school in the Netherlands, where he learned to speak and communicate through sign language until he was seventeen, when he came back to his father’s birthplace. He considered himself a true Bonairian, and expressed himself through painting.
The director of a local museum, Frans Booi, recognized his talent and they became friends. Frans asked Winfred to illustrate his writing about the mythology of Bonaire. Dania’s beautiful works combined spirituality, cultural history, mythology and personal expression. There were hidden figures and hidden meanings and specific arrangements with particular intent in his work.
Dania started to paint abstract works once a year on his birthday and began to explore more modernism in the later years. Numerology was also very important to him and had a significance in his work, as well as arrangement and order. He started painting on blocks, and other three-dimensional objects and was particular about how it was to be oriented and displayed.
Surrealism, numerology, modernism, mythology… so many different aspects of his art is represented in his work, yet all of his work has a consistent feeling that somehow connect his pieces together and to the viewer.
Learn more about Winfred Dania’s art work exhibits on facebook.