Episodio XXI: The Bay at Sabaneta

Pic. 1. Graphic recreation of the bay at Savanata.

There are traditions enough and to spare about Aruba’s history. According to one of them, there is supposed to have been a Commander Jahrman, who was so cruel as to force the native arubans to carry cactuses, in the manner of guns, on their naked shoulders. One has to admit that this does not seem pleasant to the skin. But the people are supposed to have tied Jahrman to a horse and rider perishing there. Another account known is that they put Jahrman under a spell so that made him jump on his horse of his own will and spurred into the sea with the same result. The bay is alleged to have been called Commanders’Bay ever since.

The name Sabaneta did not originate before the latter part of the previous century.

Pic. 2. The VOC seal.

Pic. 4. Caquetions harvesting oysters near the bay

That the natives had gotten rid of a certain man on horseback at at this spot would not be a surprise. However that this event gave the bay it name is totally unfounded. The bay got its name from the Commanders who had their residence there. The thing is that the story coincidentally matches the name in Papiamento which meant, “Commander go a way”.

The Commanders lived in the only stone house, known at that time, to be found on Aruba.

Pic. 5. A caricature of the commandeur riding in to the sea.

Old documents quoted historians saying that no Commander Jahrman is known. Evidently he means that no Commander Jahrman is known from the time the commander settled on the bay. In 1837 Aruba does get a Commander Jacobus Jarman, without h, but then the capital city of Oranjestad already exists. This Jarman has no connection with Commanders’ Bay.

This bay did not receive its name because of a commander being chased into the water there, but because of the fact that the commanders were living on its shore until the close of the eighteenth century.

Historical evidence about the man-handling or violent death of Aruba’s governors is in abeyance.

But it is an incontrovertible historical fact that the chiefs of our island used to live for centuries before the colonial era on this southern coast. Commanders’ Bay, consequently became the neighbourhood that is now called Sabaneta, for a least a some centuries. For proof we appeal to traditions, it is true, but only to be confirmed by official documets.

In a manuscript by Father H.J.de Vries from 1853 the following may be read: “On Commanders’Bay, situated at a three hours’ distance east of the Playa, that later became Oranjestad. There stood but one stone house: the commander’s; in the wilderness one still encounteres masoned graves, in a state of decay, of him and his family.” This time the Rev. Bosch is justified in noting down about 1825 another piece of information which he received by word of mouth from the Native Arubans: “Formerly the commander and his household used to live on Commanders’ Bay, which still bear his title. It is situated a few miles mere eastward. They only mark of there having been once on its shore the principal residence of the island I found to be some graves, masoned round an lying close together, which, according to the names and dates inscribed, appeared to be a centuries old.”

Pic.3. Graphic recreation of the Bay at Savaneta

There’s one document removing the last vestige of doubt. In the Public Record Office, Letters and Documents relating to Curacao, there is in the volume Protocols of 1727, under No. 112, a sworn declaration by Paulus Printz, manager of the Aruban mountain-workings (mines), and Wouter Droncker and Isaac van den Woestijne, master and boatswain of the schooner Elizabeth & Martha, in which they depose that their ship was seized in Aruba roads by two Spanish vessels, The Young Balthasar and the Colebra. From this document of 1727, which will later be of importance in another connection, we quote the following particulars: The last two witnesses affirm upon oath:” that they were sent to Aruba by order of His Honour the Director to fetch from there the manager of the mountain-works, Mr.Paulus Printz, together with the materials and slaves of the Honourable Company, and to transport the necessary victuals to the above island”, and that, while they were there, “on the 16 th of July there arrive off Commanders’ Harbour two Spanish privateers,” etc.etc. After having related divers particulars one of the witnesses deposed as follows: “The Spanish captains forced the commander to send some one to his house to fetch the letters which he had received from His Honour the Governor of Curacao, and to deliver them up to them intact, the which was done”

This story will continue in the next episode

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