Historical use “beaches of the sea”: III

Series Cultural Heritage

If we consider the spread of ranchos along the coasts of Curaçao, it appears that almost all of them are found along the south coast of the island between Fuik Bay and Oostpunt. Only a few are found along the north coast of Oostpunt and along the north coast of Klein Curaçao. Elsewhere on the island, there is an abundance of caves in the cliffs along both the north coast and the bays of the south coast which the fishermen could use as a sleeping-place and shelter and for the temporary storage of nets. Due to a deviating shape of the coast, such spots with natural shelters are practically not found on the east side of the island and the fishermen apparently felt the necessity to build their shelters themselves. On strategic spots between Fuik Bay and Oostpunt, there are no less than 27 of such structures. Others were demolished in the past for stone winning, and disappeared. Only few are still used and maintained by fishermen.

In the past, just as nowadays, the east “head” of Curaçao, or briefly “Kabes” was an important fishing spot to catch mulá, buní and grastèlchi laman (pelagic fishes). This fishing takes place preferably just before sunrise. Before the diesel and gasoline engines were generally used (the middle of the 20th century), trolling was done with little sailing-boats. In order to get going early, the fishermen would spend the night near the lagoon of Kabes, close to the natural freshwater wells on the spot. The boats were usually anchored at night along the south coast, just east of the most easterly boundary wall of plantation Duivelsklip, in an area that is known as Rancho in popular speech. This area lies on the west side of the lagoon and at the beginning of the rubble wall “Basora”, which separates the lagoon from the reefs of the south coast. At Rancho, there are still at least eleven ranchos to be seen in varying states of deterioration. The use of this area by fishermen is very old. As early as 1779, the author Hering mentions a “kind of little harbor to protect fishermen’s shacks and canoes of the Indians” at this most easterly situated navigable inland waterway of the island.

Most ranchos are in a terribly dilapidated state, which indicates that they are not often used nowadays. Fragments of old gin bottles of both glass and pottery, indicate that these spots were used from the middle of the 19th century. The ranchos are usually situated close to the coast on spots that are subject to heavy sea and inundations during storms and hurricanes. Most of the existing structures, therefore, probably date back to later than 1877 when the island was struck by the catastrophic hurricane “Tecla”. In Bonaire, too, (near Lac) and in Aruba (Oranjestad) there are and/or were small areas on the coast with the name of  “Rancho”. These place-names could have a related origin on those islands too.

In two earlier issues, it was brought forward that the term “beaches of the sea” was not defined very closely through the ages. All natural shapes of the coast (such as rocky coasts and mangrove woods) were reckoned among the “beaches of the sea”. It was also discussed how, as early as in the early colonial era, measures were taken to guarantee the public nature of and access to the coastal strip for the population. As a consequence of this, there are patrulis (patrol paths) all over the island leading to the sea. Nowadays, many of these paths are used very little. In this article, it becomes also clear that the public accessibility of the coast also applied to an ample strip of land to bivouac and spend the night at sea. The presence of the primitive fishermen’s shacks, known as ranchos, spread along the coast of Curaçao, form a silent witness of the degree of the public nature in the past few centuries. Historical and geological investigation into the ranchos may give new insights into daily life of ancient times in the future. The historical memory becomes blurred rapidly, however. Anyone who can remember or add something to the location or use of ranchos is requested to make this available for documentation by contacting the author.

Sources:

Hering, J. H. 1779. Beschrijving van het eiland Curaçao en de daar onderhorende eilanden, Bonaire, Aruba en Klein Curaçao. Herdr. De Wit, Aruba, 1969.

Joubert, S. M. 1999. Dikshonario Papiamentu-Hulandes. 2de herziene druk. ISBN 99904-0-290-6.

Subtitling photo:

Rancho in use at “Oostpunt”.

Text and picture: Dr. A. O. ‘Dolfi’ Debrot.