An Island Discovery: Kura Hulanda Museum, Curaçao
By KeriLee Horan
Special to The Lost Girls
With the summer months comes the inevitable question of where to take one’s long-awaited vacation. Living in the United States, the Caribbean islands are often the luxury vacation we dream of—white sandy beaches, a mixed drink or two, and some adrenaline pumping activities—with all the clichés of a vacation one could hope for.
The island of Curaçao, while offering all of the typical amenities of a Caribbean island, has much to excite both the physically and intellectually adventurous explorer. A gorgeous location for hiking, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, and exploring a cove of flamingos, Curaçao certainly provides as many luxury activities as nearby Aruba and Bonaire.
Perhaps even more exciting than cliff jumping, however, are the political happenings of 2010. Until October 10, 2010, Curaçao was a colony of the Netherlands, but has now gained autonomous status. As a result, the island’s diverse population is undergoing a surge of cultural pride that any guest to the island would be lucky to experience.
Guests to the island will find soon after landing in the small national airport that Curaçao is both a linguistically and culturally diverse island. Because the island’s history is deeply rooted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the current population of the island is comprised of descendants of slaves and colonizers, as well as ex-patriots from the Americas and Europe. With such a diverse population, Dutch, Spanish, English, and Papiamentu (the majority creole language) are all spoken by many inhabitants of the island.
Because Curaçao is located just off the coast of Venezuela, in an area reached by heavy trade winds, Curaçao played an instrumental role as a Dutch depot for the colonies. The majority of slaves brought to the New World from the Netherlands were transported through the island of Curaçao.
This is the rich and important history of the island one might miss if not for men like Jacob Gelt Dekker, a Dutch entrepreneur. Among many development projects Dekker has undertaken, the Kura Hulanda museum may well be his crown jewel. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, tourists and locals alike can explore what is often simply referred to as “the slavery museum.” The museum offers both guided tours by multilingual staff members as well as audio tours to those who prefer to wander the grounds on their own.
What Dekker has built is nothing short of jaw-dropping. The museum encompasses thousands of artifacts from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, including shackles, traps, punishment devices, and even pillars used to tie slaves to for flogging. The museum moves chronologically from the villages of West Africa, from which slaves were captured, to modern day slavery throughout the world.
Perhaps the most impressive facet of this museum, apart from its sheer all-encompassing nature, is Dekker’s attention to detail. Amidst the rusted chains, genuine brands used to mark slaves, gut-wrenching artwork, and torture devices, the museum boasts a recreation of the hull of a slave ship. Guests are beckoned to descend a steep, narrow staircase underneath the main level of the museum. Under the amber light filtered through a small iron grate in the boards above head, Dekker has constructed a section of a cargo hold that would have brought slaves across the Atlantic. The construction is accurate in its measurements, and includes ankle and hand shackles that slaves would have been bound by throughout their journey.
This harrowing experience is sure to give even the most informed history buffs something new to consider. The museum is centrally located in the city of Willemstad’s Otrabanda section. Students, groups, and seniors receive discounts, making this museum a must-see for all visitors of Curaçao. At the very least, an hour or two spent in this museum will give guests of Curaçao strong insight into the history of the diverse population currently found on the island along with its haunting past.