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History and Culture of Bonaire

The history and culture of Bonaire can be seen in the faces of its people. The different features and hues tell the story of dozens of ethnic and racial influences.  

In 1499, (possibly September 6th) 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.

During the period of 1799 - 1816, sometimes referred to as the “time of confusion” the Island was occupied off and on by various countries and individuals. This was due to changing European politics, which in turn affected the Caribbean Islands.  In 1816, Bonaire returned back to the Dutch.

Rincon Village Bonaire


Rincon Village is the oldest village on Bonaire. Additionally, it is the oldest in continual existence within the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. Originally settled by the Spanish in the early 1500’s, Rincon was strategically nestled within a valley to ward off impending danger from pirates and other threats.  

Slaves were brought to Bonaire and worked tending crops and in the salt pans.  Slaves lived in Rincon with families and walked to the salt pans in the south to work, and stayed there for the work week.  They returned to Rincon to gather supplies at Mangazina di Rei (King’s store house), and family visits before heading back to the salt pans.

Bonaire Culture


The culture of Bonaire can be seen in the faces of its people.  The different features and hues tell the story of dozens of ethnic and racial influences.  Indian, African, Asian and European inhabitants have all contributed to who Bonaire is today.  Two of the most unmistakable features are the smiles that break out when greetings are made and the soft yet firm handshakes that pass between old and new friends.

Bonaire’s culture is rooted in religious and holiday celebrations.  Many traditions take origin from African homelands and European harvest and feast days. The music is a blend of tribal beats but using modern instruments and makeshift farming tools instead.

Bonaire Celebrations


This is what we do best. The traditional celebrations calendar in Bonaire is filled with exciting activities throughout the year. Most of these celebrations have some main elements in common, which is uniting people with food, music and dance. The celebrations on Bonaire are an important part of the culture on Bonaire. It's a form of reminding everyone that life is about having fun and dancing to the rhythm of the music.


Being very resourceful, the people of Bonaire have combined their different ethnic backgrounds to produce a truly unique dance style.  The rhythms are reminiscent of African drum beats yet contain modern influences making them seem fresh and new. Listen

The Simadan, one of Bonaire’s most widely known dances, is traditionally done in celebration of a successful maize harvest and takes place in fall. Everyone in the village plays a part in bringing in the crops and celebrating with food and drink.

The Bari is another Bonaire dance with harvest roots.  It is strongly influenced by the Waltz, the Mazurka, the Polka, and a local dance 'Baile di Sinta,' which is performed around a maypole.  These all originate in Europe.  The Rumba, Carioca, and Meringue came to Bonaire from northern Caribbean islands, while Latin America contributed the Danza and the Joropo.

Bonaire musical traditions

Music & Instruments

The Bonaireans were quite resourceful in creating musical instruments.  Of note was the Bari. It is a small rum barrel covered with a stretched sheepskin to create a drum.  The Bari is used especially during the Simadan. 

Many other instruments were fashioned from broken or discarded tools.  The “Chapi” was a small percussive instrument made from the metal end of a hoe and struck with a small metal bar.  A plow blade was used to make an Agan. For Simadan, a hollowed out calabash floating in a tub of water was used to tap out a beat.  Conch shells and cow horns were valued instruments. 

A dried donkey jaw with teeth intact was used as a shaker creating a unique vibrational sound.  Today, local musician Gaby Mercera creates and sells traditional instruments.

Bonaire Dress

Traditional Dress

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.

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As of 10-10-‘10 the Netherlands Antilles has ceased to exist. In the new constitutional structure, Curaçao and Sint Maarten have acquired the status of countries within the Kingdom (like the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba before the changes). Aruba retains the separate country status it has had since 1986. Thus, as from 10 October 2010, the Kingdom consists of four, rather than three, equal countries: Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten are not Dutch overseas dependencies, but full, autonomous partners within the Kingdom, alongside the Netherlands, and each enjoys a high degree of internal autonomy.

The three other islands, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba have voted for direct ties with the Netherlands and are now part of the Netherlands, thus constituting ‘the Caribbean part of the Netherlands’. The relationship’s legal form will be that each island has the status of public body within the meaning of article 134 of the Dutch Constitution. In broad terms, their position is now like that of Dutch municipalities, with adjustments for their small size, their distance from the Netherlands and their geographic situation in the Caribbean region. For the time being, Netherlands Antillean legislation will still be applicable in large part to the public bodies. Every resident of the three islands who has Dutch nationality now has the right to vote in elections to the Dutch House of Representatives alongside the existing right to vote in European Parliament elections. They are not, however, allowed to vote in Provincial Council elections because the public bodies are not part of any Dutch province.

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National Symbols

Bonaire is part of the BES islands which forms part of the Dutch Caribbean. Although Bonaire is part of one country it still holds its own flag.

Description of the Bonaire flag

The flag contains the colors red-white –blue representing our respect for the Dutch Kingdom’s tricolor.

At the upper end of our flag we have a yellow triangle, which is the bright light for our sun and also the beauty of our nature. Most Bonairean flowers are yellow like Kibrahacha, Kelki hel,Brasilia Hobada, Cucu, Sente-bibu, Anglo, Watapana and many others. The blue triangle is the color of our beautiful sea. Seen as a gigantic wave or a high mountain that we have to climb to reach the top for the progress of our nation.

The white symbolizes peace, liberty and tranquility. In the white area there is a black ring with four points of the navigation-compass. That compass is what our indisputable navigators have used to travel all over the world.

In the ring there is a six-pointed red star. The color symbolizes blood, as the fighting and surviving spirit of the six traditional regions which form together the people of Bonaire.

Coat of Arms of Bonaire

The crown; According to the heraldic regulations an island belonging to the Kingdom of the Netherlands has a right to carry the Duke’s crown over its Coat of Arms.

The ships wheel; representing the Bonaireans who were always recognized as the best navigators (sailors) in the region. The compass-card and the star; the compass card symbolizes the determination to the course. The six pointed star represents the six traditional neighborhoods of Bonaire.

The blue color of the Coat of Arms; the blue color represents our unity with the sky and the sea, both are blue. The colors of the Caribbean Sea, which has always connected us to the rest of the world and which plays an important role in our economy.

things to do in bonaire

Local Artists

The Island is home to many accomplished artists from all over the world. Many genres are represented from around the world from fine art, fused glass, performance arts as well as poetry in the local language! Shops and galleries sell handcrafted items and paintings created by talented local artists.