Paardenbaai embodies an important part of the early history of Oranjestad; the natural harbor facilitated horse trade that dates back to the early days of Spanish colonization of Aruba. This trade in livestock and primarily horses was one of the key factors in the early development of commerce and later settlement of the town at the bay. During the following three centuries, the horse trade remained important for the island: for the Spanish period during conquest (1500’s), and later for the Dutch under the West Indian Company rule (1600’s and 1700’s) Aruba remained as what could be considered a ranch that facilitated the colonization projects. In the early Dutch Colonial period (1800’s & 1900’s) this role diminished and a shift to other industries and small scale farming became more important. Thus for over four centuries a great variety of livestock (primarily horses) was kept on the island where it remained accessible and could easily be transported to other destinations.
Historic accounts relate that at times the herds would count up to thousands of horses, roaming the island. Testament to the foundational importance of this period is the simple fact that from this period onwards and to this day, almost two hundred years after the official re-naming of Playa Caballos to Oranjestad (1824), the town at the bay is still referred to as Playa and its residents are still known as Playeros, in the local language Papiamento.
The importance of the Caribbean Sea and the Horse Bay is also evident in the symbolic blue color of the horses, serving as a reminder of their voyage to and from the island. A deep blue color that still bathes their skin as if they seemingly just emerged from the bay pacing forward into town confronting us with the rich identity of our past. Click here to download the map of downtown Oranjestad.
Meet the beautiful mare Rosalinda, a gentle creature, able to transform difficulties into opportunities. Livestock trade and especially horses remained a source of commerce and trade for Aruba for over three centuries. Paardenbaai embodies an important part of the early history of Oranjestad. A fundamental phase that resulted in the settlement and naming of the town at the banks. One of the most remarkable firsthand accounts of this occurrence is relayed by the Dutch preacher, Gerard B. Bosch, whose book the Travels in West Indies is an incredible document of the early Dutch Colonial period. Through his eloquent writing we revisit Oranjestad around 1824 and learn how shiploads of horses were still being brought in, only to be flung overboard by strong seamen. Once in the bay, a strategically placed horse would incite the others to swim to shore.
Meet the stray mare Saturnina, always in her own orbit. Distinctly feminine, she is charming, sensitive and very capable. Paardenbaai is based on numerous historic accounts that tell us of a thriving horse and livestock trade of our past. Trading started during the Spanish period (1500-1639) where Aruba was first confronted with the collision of diverse cultures. It is widely reported in historic records that the indigenous peoples of the Americas had been terrified by the Spanish horsemen, believing them to be monstrous hybrid creatures. These creatures introduced change and transformation where new ideas of territory, exploitation, and industrial development, were superimposed on the indigenous peoples of Aruba who were known for their harmonious existence. Today we find ourselves reclaiming part of our identity with the introduction of these horses in to public space. With them, layers of history and complexities of our past are being negotiated. Through this project we are creating an opportunity for dialogue and community by placing these socio-political symbols in the everyday public arena as an open invitation to learn more about our past.
Meet the faraway mare Escapia, a sensitive and creative creature, able to transform limitations into fantastic opportunities. Paardenbaai confronts us with symbolic sculptures positioned within the public arena as expressive symbols of our past and made accessible to all for interpretation. Powerful beings that encapsulate layers of identity and history presented through works of contemporary art claiming their place in this day and age. The horse represents companionship, endurance, victory and freedom. While their blue color of the Caribbean Sea is symbolic for spirituality, calmness, subconscious, power and success. The hybrid aspect within this project relates to the human animal question where man is seemingly becoming disconnected from the natural world and the environment. Harmonious coexistence between man and nature has been an essential part of human development for millennia. However, recent developments and disconnect have drawn our attention to this fragile balance. The layered personal meaning, as well as the contextual regional relevance presented within this project, once more allows us to see the power of art.
Meet the less fortunate mare Sinforosa, the martyr of the herd always looking out for trouble. Paardenbaai is based on numerous historic accounts that inform us of the existence and importance of the horse and livestock trade in our past. After two decades of relative turbulence and upheavals (1792-1816), a period during which the island was practically depleted of livestock by the English and French, Aruba passed once more unto Dutch hands. With the re-establishment of the Dutch rule 1817, and the newly acquired status as Dutch Colony, came more stability. With this order also came unfavorable conditions that caused the livestock and horse trade to diminish significantly. One of these factors being, the privatization of the livestock trade (this of course had been going on for over two centuries, but was now made official and could be taxed properly). Another determining factor was the change in land property laws of Aruba during the Colony, which allowed privately owned land for the first time and resulted in great parcels being sold. The division and enclosure of grazing land and water basins further hindered herding and breeding opportunities. The biggest setback to the horse trade was the additional taxation that made the business of horse breeding and trading unprofitable. Furthermore, with the discovery of alluvial gold in Rooi Taki, a whole new industry was introduced. Aruba was now under the spell of a gold rush. By the end of the nineteenth century and in the beginning of the twentieth century, livestock trade was still in a rapid and steady decline. Aruba became primarily dependent on gold mining, phosphate mining, and aloe cultivation.
Meet the joyful mare Eufrosina, always enjoying all that flows from the fountain of life. Paardenbaai is based on numerous historic accounts that tell us of a thriving horse and livestock trade in our historic past. This trade started during the Spanish period (1500-1639) where Aruba, initially had been considered an Isla Inutil (useless island) by the Spanish conquistadores. Only to realize shortly thereafter that its strategic location, accessibility by its natural harbor, and the need for livestock (especially horses) to facilitate Spanish conquest missions on the mainland created ideal conditions to convert the Island of Aruba into a rancho (ranch). This was also the case for the neighboring territories on the Terra Firme (mainland), where livestock exchange and commerce still exist to this day amongst the native Wayuu peoples of the Guajira peninsula as well as the Caquetio natives of the Peninsula of Paraguana.
Meet the stallion Ambrosio, the immortal hero of the herd and the symbol of power and nobility. Paardenbaai, brings us back the excitement and danger of days gone by. A period in time where privateers and pirates sailed across the Caribbean, playing their part in the fight for naval supremacy fought amongst the Spaniards, the English, and the Dutch. In the seminal book, Aruba Past and Present, by Johan Hartog we learn of many of these historic adventures. On an early Dutch West Indian Company reconnaissance expedition in 1627 by Dirck van Uytgeest, we learn how he was dissuaded from landing on the island by the menacing sight of local horsemen. Under the later rule of the Dutch West Indian Company (West Indische Compagnie 1636-1792), Commanders had as one of their tasks the continuation of horse and livestock breeding. This livestock breeding and trade would be seen as the main economic potential for Aruba throughout the W.I.C. period. During this time, Aruba was visited on numerous occasions, and of these was in 1642, when “our very own” Peter Stuyvesant would use the island as a stopover on the way to his many raids on the Spanish territories on the Mainland. These horses were the primary target for French and English Pirates, and the absence of a well-equipped fort for protection facilitated this less honorable practice. Another well documented visit was by the notorious Captain Morgan in 1668, relayed to us by his shipmate Exquemelin. In his accounts we learn of the numerous horses on Aruba and the curious fact that locals travelled even the shortest distances (50 paces) by horse. This familiarity and everyday interaction of our ancestors with horses and the abundance of livestock early on in our history will come as a surprise to many.
Meet the lucky mare Bonifacia, trustworthy, honest and responsible to the extent that she has tendency to sacrifice her needs for those of others. Paardenbaai brings us back to a time where spirit of community, hard work and faith were an integral part of everyday life in Aruba. One of these remarkable matriarchs relayed through oral narration was Ana Catharina Tromp, better known as Mama Grandi. She was married to Bernardino Silvester in 1764; they were unquestionably considered as pillars of the church of Alto Vista and respected well beyond the Noord District. Their livelihood depended primarily on the commerce and exchange of livestock as their herd was of significant size, which positioned them amongst the wealthiest inhabitants at the time. The herds, in those days, consisted primarily of horses, donkeys, cows, sheep, and goats and were shepherded by privately owned servants that at the time came from Colombia or Africa. The Noord district, where the oldest indigenous settlements remained throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was an emblematic community. In many ways it represents the remnants of the indigenous past as well as the first creolized inhabitants of the island at the time.
Meet the heavenly filly Celestina, unpretentious, pious and a true Samaritan. Paardenbaai brings us back to a time where an abundance of grass was widely available for the livestock, which could graze freely towards the savannahs along the north westerly coast of the island. Especially in the Noord District, where most families depended primarily on livestock, we learn of the grazing locations for specific herds. For example, we learn that horses use to graze near Arashi, cows in the area near Ceru Muskita and Druif, and small stock such as sheep and goats south of the hills of Alto Vista and Kurimiauw. Local oral traditions also brings us Mama Largu (tall mama), the daughter of the respected Mamanchi or Mama Grandi, who never married nor had any children, but nevertheless inherited a significant herd. She is known to have lived an austere and simple life despite her wealth. And legends abound about the buried coins she is presumed to have left throughout the district.
For more information about these horses please click here.