Bonaire is an island in the Netherlands Antilles, and as such, is a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Together with Aruba and Curaçao it forms a group referred to as the ABC islands of the Leeward Antilles, the southern island chain of the Lesser Antilles. While Papiamento, Spanish and English are commonly spoken, the official language is Dutch.

Bonaire has a land area of 288 km² (111 sq. miles). At the 2001 Netherlands Antilles census, the population was 10,791 inhabitants, which means a population density of 37 inh. per km². In 2004 the population was estimated at 10,185 inhabitants. Uninhabited Klein Bonaire, nestled in the western crescent of the main island, is 6 km² (2.3 sq. miles). Bonaire is served by Flamingo International Airport.

The structure of the relationship between Bonaire and the Kingdom is being considered for change under proposed legislation.

Diving and Other Natural Features

Bonaire is world renowned for its excellent scuba diving and is consistently rated among the top shore diving and Caribbean diving locations in the world. Bonaire's license plates carry the logo Diver's Paradise (in English). The island is ringed by a coral reef which is easily accessible from the shore along the Western and Southern sides. Furthermore, the entire coastline of the island has been declared a marine sanctuary, preserving local fish life. Bonaire is also consistently recognised as one of the best destinations for snorkeling.

The coral reef around uninhabited Klein Bonaire is particularly well conserved, and it draws divers, snorkelers, and boaters.

Bonaire is also famed for its flamingo populations and its donkey sanctuary. Flamingos are drawn to the brackish water, which harbours shrimp they feed on. Starting in the 1500s, the Dutch raised sheep, goats, pigs, horses and donkeys on Bonaire, and the descendants of the goats and donkeys roam the island today.

Washington Slagbaai National Park, located at the north side of the island, is an ecological preserve. The highest point of Bonaire, Brandaris, located within this preserve has a complete view of the island.

Lac Bay, (also known as Lac Cai or Lac Cay) on the eastern side of the island, is a windsurfer's paradise. Locals Taty and Tonky Frans in 2004 were ranked in the top five of the world's freestyle windsurfing professionals.


Bonaire was originally settled by the Dutch in the late 15th century as a source of salt, exploiting its natural topography, using evaporative methods through the flooding of flat-lands with sea water. Much of the early population of the island was in the form of slaves used to work the salt ponds. Today the slave huts remain as a historical site, and are the names of two popular dive sites "Red Slave Huts" and "White Slave Huts."

Salt production today is on a larger scale and covers much of the southern half of the island, and is run by the industrial giant Cargill. The USA is a major buyer. The southern end of the island, on maps, is often referred to as Solar Salt Works.

Schunck's Kledingindustrie Bonaire

In 1948, Pierre Schunck (1906-1993), stemming from a family of weavers and son of the builder of the famous Glaspaleis in Heerlen, the Netherlands (see Schunck), arrived to set up a clothing industry, which would become Bonaire's first real industry, providing employment (and health care) for a large part of the (young) women who were left behind because many men had left as sailors or to work for the oil companies on Curaçao and Aruba. Preparations for the operation of this company would also result in better electricity and water supplies and eventually it would account for half the export of the island.

Schunck had previously visited Curaçao and Aruba, but the conditions of employment were less favourable there. The government for the ABC islands had planned large scale industry, trade and tourism for the two larger islands, and smaller industries for Bonaire, especially for the women. So Bonaire appeared to be a better choice. Since the already present salt winning and ship manufacturing were small scale, this was to be the first real industry in Bonaire. As a result, there were no facilities or expertise to exploit and workers had to be educated first. Schunck asked the goverment the same perks that the industries, including the rich oil companies, on the other islands received (no import tax for 25 years), but he received no help there. So he turned to governor P. Kasteel, asking him to provide the basic necessities, most importantly water and electricity. This was granted, but supply of electricity remained dodgy for the next few years. Another problem was that everything had to be imported, from machines and building material down to the simplest srews. And all products had to be exported because there was barely a local market for them. This was problematic due to the long supply lines and the then obligation to let all shipping go through Curaçao. After half a year of trial production (in the later Zeebad), the new buildings (400 m2 in Kralendijk, which would grow to 900 m2 during the first expansion) were finished on 17 August 1948. For this, Bonaire's first waterpipe had been constructed, from Pos Calbas to the airport, passing by the factory, with a hydrant in Rincon. For the people of Bonaire, the new electricity grid meant that refrigerators became an option. But to save diesel, the generator wasn't kept running after midnight. As a warning, the lights started blinking at 23.30 h.

Production focused on company clothing for large companies like Shell (a major employer on Curaçao) and uniforms for police and customs officials and the initial production capacity was 700 overalls, 300 trousers and 400 shirts, with a 45 hour work week. Work was organised by the bundle-progress specialisation system, which the women favoured because (unlike Dutch workers) they preferred not to rotate work.

Because of the former relative lack of electricity, few knew how to work electric machinery, so 2 qualified men were hired to teach (initially) 10 women. By january 1951, there were 72 employees, 27 of whom experienced. The education had cost 70 000 gulden over that 2 year period. Another year later, there were 110 employees. All overhead staff were male and all workers were female, but the former numbered only 5 and remained the same, while the latter grew in numbers, providing a major source of employment for the women on this small island. Export of the company's produce was on average just over 200 000 gulden, which constituted about half the total export of Bonaire.

Mortality rate for women
age group 1942 1955
0-19 8.7 2.3
19-50 3.7 2.3
> 50 27.3 36.7

But productivity was only 30% of that of European workers, due to Bonairians traditionally not being industrially-minded, the climate and resulting lifestyle, and the poverty and resulting malnutrition (worse than on surrounding islands). To combat the latter problem, Schunck introduced factory-paid meals and health care, with additional care at home for the employee's families by the white-yellow cross, assisted by Pierre Schunck's wife Gerda Schunck-Cremers. As a result the mortality rate for young women dropped considerably, as the table shows.

As a result of the high cost of education and health care, and lack of support from the Antillian government, the company had to be liquidated in 1954. But because closing of the factory would cause serious unemployment, the Dutch government took over the company and from 1955 to 1960 it operated under the name Bocofa (Bonaire Confectie Fabriek) N.V. Despite the fact that this company did receive government support it couldn't cope either and by 1961 it started operating under yet another name, Cambes Textiles N.V. (the first letters of the six Dutch Antilles), of which all shares, worth 400 000 gulden, were in government hands. By 1975, there were 175 employees and the yearly turnover was over 1 million gulden. In the early 1980's the company had recieved a blow from the closing of the Shell and Lago refineries on Curaçao and Aruba, two important customers, and the number of emplyees had dropped to just 74. the Antillian government sold the company to Texport/Unitex, for only a quarter of the estimated value of 1 250 000 gulden, to ensure a continued employment for the women. But the new company was only interested in profit and not in the welbeing of the Bonairean population and closed the factory on 20 december 1991, sacking all 85 employees.

Ultimately, Bonaire turned out to be a bad location for a clothes factory. But for the women of Bonaire, who consituted a large part of the population, it was a blessing because it made them economically independent and socially emancipated. It had also laid a basis for other industries, with a better water and power infrastructure now in place. The new hope for Bonaire's economy is tourism, in which watersports play an important part.


The only generally recognized towns on the island are Kralendijk and Rincon.

Other smaller settlements include

Kralendijk has many suburbs/neighbourhoods (on an island with such a small population, the distinction is not always clearcut). Kralendijk's suburbs/neighbourhoods include:

Several smaller towns had existed in the national park, but are now abandoned. They were: Labra, Ishiri, Kokorobi, Jan Doran, Vlijt, Rigot, Porto Spano, and Kunchi.


External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

Maps of Bonaire 12.16° N -68.23° E

Mapquest zoom level 7 only has the Kralendijk region; this region is also available in zoom level 8, 9, and 10.