The Caribbean Netherlands are the three special municipalities of the Netherlands that are located in the Caribbean Sea. Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba are islands in the Caribbean Sea. Together they make up the Caribbean Netherlands. Originally, the islands were overlooked by Spanish invaders due to their lack of gold, silver or other minerals. They were ceded to the Dutch, who capitalised on the islands’ abundant riches of sugar cane and salt, as well as seafood and fish, and have slowly evolved over the decades into a very attractive alternative tourist destination in the Caribbean Sea.
The islands of the Caribbean Netherlands enjoy a tropical climate with warm weather all year round. Statia used to be one of the greatest trading centres in the world during the 17th and 18th century. Bonaire is the largest of the three islands and lies north of the coast of Venezuela. The island has an international reputation as one of the best scuba diving and snorkelling resorts in the world. Saba is a dormant volcano that rises steeply from the ocean. With 2910 feet (887 meter) Mount Scenery is officially the highest point of the Netherlands.
In 1499 Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci arrived in Bonaire and claimed Bonaire for the Spaniards. By 1636, after having been to Bonaire before, the Dutch took possession of the Island. A plaque in Wilhelmina Park honors Mr. van Walbeeck the Island’s first Dutch Commander. In the late 1600’s, African slaves were brought to work on the Island. Saba was settled by the Dutch in 1632 but, because of its inaccessibility and ruggedness, never achieved economic importance and often functioned as a buccaneers’ stronghold.
Owing to a warm climate, the early Bonaireans dressed in light colored cotton garments. The laborers wore mostly work clothes that served to protect them from the sometimes-harsh elements. Head scarves, hats made from palm fronds and imported cloth were made into dresses and clothing for the families. Of course, when it came to dressing up for a festival or party, no expense was spared. The ladies turned out in fine dresses and the men wore suits and hats that were the fashion of the day.
Saba Lace is a handcrafted art of needlework designs which began as a cottage industry on the Caribbean island of Saba at the end of the 19th century. Lacework came to Saba in the late 1800s and spread among the island women. Mary Gertrude Hassell Johnson was sent to school in Venezuela, where Spanish nuns taught her how to make this delicate craft. She brought the technique home and taught other Saban women how to make it. With the majority of the men away from the island seeking employment as sailors and ships captains, the women set out to support the island’s struggling economy. Saba lace is not actually lace, but a unique form of needlework. It is crafted by pulling thread through linen and shaping designs. The Lace Ladies create doilies, table runners, napkins, bread warmers, aprons, bookmarks and ornaments that are sold in shops all over Saba.
By: Swati Singh
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