The Savonet Plantation
Savonet Plantation knows a long history. It was one of the largest plantations on the island; together with Plantation Zorgvliet it covered 1572 hectares of land.
The former Savonet plantation covers a large part of the current Christoffelpark and it has a long history of habitation and cultivation.
The fact that Savonet plantation was one of the oldest plantations of Curacao is deducted from writings dating from the 17thcentury. In these writings Savonet is being described, as been built around 1662.
The origin of the Savonet name is not clear, some of the stories state the name was deducted from the term ‘Savanna’, and others state it comes from the presence of the soap-tree or the “Savonetapel” that had been introduced to Curacao.
The West Indian Company, who managed the island for Holland was responsible for the construction and establishment of many of the plantations on the island. Savonet didn’t belong to these so called company plantations but was a private plantation, commissioned by Matthias Beck, who was vice director of the West Indian Company and Curacao at that moment.
Company plantations were plantations that were built to support the activities of the Company itself on the island. Due to the growth that the Island went through during the slave trade after getting the slaves contract, also called “asiento” in 1662, the Company Plantations increased in numbers. A lot of Dignitaries in this time took pieces of fertile ground themselves to build their own private plantations.
Even Savonet knows a ‘rich’ slave history. Some documents show that on a certain moment there were 242 slaves working at Savonet from the 3346 totalled on Curacao. This high number of slaves gave Savonet Plantation a high regard.
The relationship between slaves and their owners was very divers and complicated, and it was a different kind of relationship than existed on other Islands/countries in the Carribean.
In areas were cash crops predominated and water was not a limiting factor, the harvests were good, the slaves were seen as a piece of gear, if the slave was no longer good for the job, he was sold or simply abandoned.
But the climate on Curacao was not favourable for Cash Crops; water scarcity was a limiting factor, causing increased poverty and even hunger among slaves and even their owners.
It was vital to get enough food to provide for the population on the island.
Because of the property, the plantation owners couldn’t allow themselves to handle their slaves carelessly, because it was a big investment for the plantation owners in Curacao.
The agriculture mainly for own use made sure that everybody on the plantation wanted their harvest to succeed. Savonet Plantation showed the ‘good’ relations after the emancipation of the slaves, the ‘free slaves’ kept working at Savonet Plantation in exchange for a piece of land. This paga tera system transformed the plantation into a different kind of plantation and had unique consequences for Savonet which continued functioning into the 1950’s.
The Plantation house (‘landhouse”)
Plantation Savonet is especially unique because it is seen as the best-conserved and most complete plantation house in Curacao.
The landhouse was originally built in the 17th century (1662-1664). Builders did not have any tools on Curacao and as such most of the materials were shipped from Holland. But because the journeys were very long and did not have a regular schedule, the tools were not reliable and excessive so they looked for other solutions.
For Savonet Plantation it became a plaster of burnt lime and sand on coral rocks and rubble. The rocks didn’t all have an equal shape, which caused the builders to make thicker walls and therefore stronger walls. For the rafters they used local wood often that was made of a certain mangrove species and also Lignum vitae.
The roof tiles that lie on the roof are about 1, 5 century old and are real Dutch roof tiles.
The Savonet plantation was large in residents and amount of buildings consisting of slave huts, a milk house, big storage places, extensive irrigation system, animal corrals and the large plantation house.
Almost all plantations houses were build on high grounds. Savonet was not different in that aspect, from its locations most agricultural activities could be overseen by the owner and his family.
The locations also made sure that constant fresh trade winds passed trough the house, and there was direct visual contact with the plantation house of Zorgvliet, the nearest plantation house in the area. Visual contact was very important in time of danger beceause people could warn each other with torches.
Rumour has it that the Savonet plantation house burnt down in 1806 due to British invaders under the charge of Captain John Murray who according to the stories, put the house on fire.
John Murray was a legitimate pirate who sailed under the English flag, he had permission from the English crown to plunder and attack enemy ships and colonies.
When he got older he was declared an outlaw by the English royal house, and operated as a pirate on his own.
The story goes that the land house was sold by a certain Mathias Erasmus van der Dijs in 1832, and the buying certificate showed;
- A partly burnt plantation house.
- Storage covered with straw.
- 13 Negroes, 1500 pieces of corn, 690 sheeps, 60 cows, 52 calves, 18 steers and bulls, 28 donkeys, 100 turkeys, 50 fowls, 8 horses, 1 flock of pigeons.
This was for sale for peso 30.060!
It seems that that landhouse was rebuilt between 1815 and 1834 in the 18th century style.
However, excavation work done during the recent restoration process of Savonet, did not give any indication of the truthfulness of the story. Neither burnt artefacts nor evidence of fire was found. Savonet Plantation is unique because this is the best conserved and complete plantation house on Curacao.