The Island Territory of Bonaire (Dutch: Eilandgebied Bonaire, Papiamento: Teritorio Insular di Boneiru) is one of five island areas (Eilandgebieden) of the Netherlands Antilles, consisting of the main island of Bonaire and, nestled in its western crescent, the uninhabited islet of Klein Bonaire. 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.
Bonaire's first inhabitants were the Caquetios Indians, a branch of the Arawak who, around 1000 AD, sailed from what is now Venezuela. Traces of Caquetio culture are at a number of archaeological sites, including those at Lac Bay and northeast of Kralendijk. Rock paintings and petroglyphs have survived at the caves at Spelonk, Onima, Ceru Pungi, and Ceru Crita-Cabai. The Caquetios were apparently a very tall people, for the Spanish dubbed the Leeward Islands las Islas de los Gigantes (the Islands of the Giants).
Bonaire was claimed for the Spanish by Amerigo Vespucci and Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. Under Spanish occupation, the natives were enslaved and transported to Hispaniola, but the island's physical resources were largely ignored. By 1526, the island was depopulated. That year, Juan de Ampues, regional governor, turned it into a cattle plantation and repopulated it with Indians.
In 1633, the Dutch, having lost the island of St. Maarten to the Spanish, retaliated by capturing Curaçao, Bonaire, and Aruba. While Curaçao emerged as a center of the slave trade, Bonaire became a plantation of the Dutch West India Company. A small number of African slaves were put to work alongside Indians and convicts, cultivating dyewood and maize and harvesting solar salt around Blue Pan. Slave quarters, rising no higher than a man's waist and built entirely of stone, still stand in the area around Rincon and along the saltpans as a grim reminder of Bonaire's repressive past.
The Netherlands lost control of the island twice, from 1800-1803 and 1807-1815. During these intervals, the British had control over the neighboring island of Curaçao, and, by extension, Bonaire. During the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, Bonaire was a protectorate of Britain and the United States.