Indigenous heritage of continuing significance
Shimaruku. Kadushi. Chuchubi. These are Caquetio words, Gerard van Buurt explains in his book on Amerindian words in the Papiamentu language. The first inhabitants of the island left us words for mostly plants and animals; Shimaruku meaning a small tree or shrub with orange-red, Kadushi is the name for a columnar cactus and Chuchubi is a tropical mockingbird. Words with ‘shi’ are believed to be original Caquetio words.
Van Buurt presents a list of words in his publication Caquetío Indians on Curaçao during colonial times and Caquetío words in the Papiamentu Language. The Caquetío influence in Papiamentu, a creole language, is small, he notes, ‘but there are definitely a few original Caquetío words in Papiamentu.’ In almost all cases these are names of local plants and animals and toponyms. Dividivi very likely is the original Caquetío form, as are Watapana, Wayaca, Kalabari, referring to different types of trees. Chogogo is the Caquetio word for the greater flamingo, wimpiri is a small insect, and the Caquetio named the yuana.
The Caquetio lived in small settlements along the coasts of the inner bays. They caught and ate various types of fish, shellfish and turtles. There was little storing or trading of food. They grew just enough food for themselves and their families. In growing vegetables, they showed their agricultural skill. They cultivated maize by soaking the seeds in water and planting them in rows. Cassava, sweet potatoes and groundnuts were planted in large mounds of earth. They squeezed the poisonous juices out of the cassava before making the flour.
They used a type of agriculture known as shifting cultivation. After cutting down the vegetation in a particular plot of land, they set fire to the remaining foliage and used the ashes to provide nutrients to the soil. Immediately after the burn they started planting in the ashes. The cleared area was used for a relatively short period of time, and then left alone for some years so that the natural vegetation could grow again.
In 1499 the Spanish arrived on Curaçao and raided the island for slaves. Some 2000 Caquetíos were transported to Hispaniola to work in mines. These people presumably comprised the entire population of Curaçao, Bonaire and Aruba combined, but 150 to 200 were returned to Aruba and Curaçao in 1526 to work on the exportation of brazilwood, kwihi and dividivi. The Spaniards were responsible for deforestation of the islands. The clearing of the natural habitat was later continued by the Dutch when they started the construction of the refinery. By then there were no Caquetios left on the island.