Like Aruba and Bonaire, Curaçao was home to the Arawaks until the Spanish laid claim in 1499. Origins of the island’s name are lost with one story linking it to the name of an Arawak tribe, while another more improbably says that it derives from the Spanish curación (cure) in honor of several sailors who were cured of illness on the island.
Either way, the arrival of the Spanish proved the opposite of a cure for the locals, who were soon carted off to work elsewhere in the empire or killed. The Dutch West India Company arrived in 1634, and so did slavery, commerce and trade. Half the slaves destined for the Caribbean passed through the markets of Curaçao. Many of the plantation houses have been restored and can be visited, including Landhuis Kenepa, which has displays on Curaçao’s African heritage.
The end of slavery and colonialism sent Curaçao into a 19th-century economic decline. Subsistence aloe and orange farming provided a meager living for most. Oil refineries to process Venezuelan oil were built in the early 20th century and this fuelled the economy. Relative affluence and Dutch political stability have made Curaçao a regional center for commerce and banking. Tourism and a growing expat population provide additional income. Curaçao is on its way to being an independent entity within the Netherlands, just like its rich and envied neighbor Aruba.