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a Rancho fisherman
Ana Maria Hernandez
We can find fragments of Rancho's history in family photo albums, in the memories of our old ones, in the alleys of Oranjestad, and maybe even in the sayings we use daily. We could imagine, for example, that Juan keeps a photograph of his father, a fisherman from Rancho back in the day. Maybe Maria, who now lives in The Netherlands, remembers the song her grandfather used to sing to her about the sea. When Ricardo remembers his mother, he probably thinks of the recipe of fish for ‘crioyo’ fish from Rancho.
This material is invaluable. It documents the life and experiences of a community and is an integral part of the island's cultural heritage. Unfortunately, from the start of our investigation, we understood how difficult it is to get access to these materials. Most of the old photographs and other types of documentation have been lost. As is often the case, these types of important elements of our history are valued late, which means little to no effort is done to preserve them on time. One of the goals of the Rancho Foundation is to try to rescue the remaining primary and secondary sources on the history of Rancho through interviews in the fishing community of the neighborhood.
Interview with Carlos Roberto Quandt (Rancho fisherman), Samuel Sarmiento (artist) y Ana Maria Hernandez (curator) at Rancho Foundation. Photographer: Rafael Barragán. © Fundacion Rancho.
It was on a Saturday morning that we sat down for a chat with Carlos Roberto Quandt at the headquarters of the Rancho Foundation at Visstraat. Carlito, as he is best known in the community of Rancho, is one of the last remaining fishermen active in the neighborhood. Many of the known fishermen of Rancho have unfortunately passed away, have another profession that provides a more stable source of income, or can simply no longer practice this profession. This has had a huge impact on the community's access to fresh fish; a resource that had always been the primary source of sustenance and economical stability. I will elaborate further on the causes and the various consequences this problem has had on the community in our future blog entries.
The conversation covered many topics such as his knowledge of the fishing techniques, the dangers of the sea, our connection to nature, and the real impact of the developments of the Harbor of Playa on the community. All of this, through the lens of his recollections.
Samuel Sarmiento, Interview cu Carlitos Quandt, 2022
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Fragment from the interview with Carlito Quandt:
"My first time fishing"
Carlito comes from a traditional 'Ranchero' family. His father, Bartolo Quandt, was a helmsman and a fisherman, as was usually the case in this community. When I asked him to show me in his family tree who knew how to fish, he replied, without skipping a beat: “we were all fishermen”. I do need to clarify here that the task of fishing in the community, was only done by the men. The importance of women's role within the community has remained vital and is related to aspects such as commerce and trade. Their role within the community is another important subject of our investigation.
When we asked Carlito about his childhood in Rancho in the 60s and 70s, his memories were intertwined with the sea:
“In Rancho we had everything. We had a beautiful childhood. We would for example go from [Visstraat] to the Harbor [of Playa] in two or three minutes. We went to eat fruit, and we went swimming. The harbor was very very clean and when the weather was bad, if you went looking for the kids of the neighborhood, you would not find us [in Rancho]. We were all swimming at Mambo Beach, our favorite beach. Or we would borrow the canoes. We would go to the cay to grab ‘calco’ (sea snails). We had a beautiful childhood. It was wonderful in Rancho.” (1)
Carlitos repairing a 'crioyo' boat. Photo courtesy Carlos Roberto Quandt.
Nowadays, Carlito repairs boats, a skill he learned as a child by watching Ercadio Orman, Django, and Isauro Peñaranda build ‘crioyo’ boats in the alley next to his home. He used to make his own miniature boats with the wooden crates of whiskey he could find. Carlito built his first big boat around 20 years ago, named Nora Isabel after his mother. It has a 22 ft deck, a 20 ft keel (a heavy wooden beam at the bottom of the boat), and is one of the few ‘crioyo’ boats left anchored at the Harbor of Playa.(2)
Nora Isabel, Carlitos' crioyo boat at the Habour of Playa. Photo: Rafael Barragán. © Fundacion Rancho.
The ‘crioyo’ boat tradition is part of the cultural patrimony of Aruba but is a tradition that is being lost. (3) The lack of knowledge transfer between generations plays a big role in this. Carlito is one of the few people left on the island with the ability to build and fix these types of boats. Another factor that contributed to the decline of this tradition was the arrival of fiberglass boats on the island. This material makes sturdier and sometimes more affordable boats. But the topic of the ‘crioyo’ boats is broad and deserves more attention in a blog entry of its own.
Technological advances such as fiberglass boats proved beneficial for the fishermen by easing some of the tasks that used to make the profession more difficult and dangerous. Carlito tells us how his uncle never wanted him to have a boat of his own: “he said working on the sea was daunting”. (4)
Carlito elaborates on the differences between fishing with a sailboat (back in the day) and fishing with the technology available now:
“If you ask a fisherman nowadays to go back in time, he would go the first day and wouldn't go back. When you were fishing on a sailboat [back in the day], you had to raise the anchor by hand. There was no motor to raise the anchor for you as you have nowadays. Back then, you had to go on your knees, lean your back on the mast and lift it by hand. That's why the men of Rancho were well built.”(5)
Another difference is the current use of a winch, a mechanical device that is used to adjust the tension of the fishing line. Back then this was done purely by hand. The type of fishing lines used has changed as well. Plastic fishing lines have replaced the cotton fishing lines they used before. Carlito tells us about the preparation of these cotton fishing lines, a process called ‘tam e liña’, which involved dabbing them with a kind of natural oil that prevented rot. (6) They used the bean from the mangroves, took the top off, cut a cross on it, and then pass the fishing line through it so it got soaked in the oil.
Illustration of the fishermen's method of calculating their position at sea without GPS technology. © Plataforma Aruba
Fishermen used to make use of references on land to estimate their location on the sea: “[They] used light, and hills, etcetera, to calculate their boat’s position.”(7)
The book Perseverancia, mentioned in our previous entry, gives a nice illustration of this method:
“From time to time [fisherman 1] kept his eyes on the mainland. He made his calculations to see if the distance between their boat's location and the terrain was the right distance for them to change course. [Fisherman 2] was also keeping an eye on land, to exchange his thoughts with [fisherman 1] about the distance, the sea’s current, and the wind.” (8)
Nowadays, the use of GPS, a computer system that guides fishermen to where they want to go, makes the skill of calculation by land references obsolete and can even be helpful when fishermen get lost at sea. But the predominant use of technology can have its downside. Carlito warns about the dissonance between man and nature that comes as a result. The fishermen’s intuition is a crucial element in fishing and should be developed and preserved:
The more technology we use, don’t forget, if something happens and technology disappears [or fails], how are we to start again? You [work] with technology, I [work] with nature. That’s the thing.”(9)
The topic of the intuition of the fishermen is fascinating. According to the stories we have read and heard, their intuition can be so well developed that they know exactly what fish ate the bait way before they can even see it. We can read this in some passages of Perseverancia as well:
Photograph taken by the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy during their mission in Aruba between 1914 until the end of the 1930s. The photograph was captioned in Dutch with 'een bootje in de haven' (a little boot in the harbor).
“It doesn't take long before [fisherman 1] is combating another fish. From the movements of [fisherman 1], [fisherman 2] understood that this was no Barracuda…”I think it’s a mulato’, [fisherman 2] yells from the other side of the boat. The fish takes a big chunk of the sea to defend itself; it goes from one side to the other… Slowly but surely [fisherman 1] regains control. [Fisherman 2], who follows the battle from a distance, jumps to help [fisherman 1], and sure enough, as he said, it was a mulato.”(10)
In this other passage of the book, we read how the fisherman uses his intuition once more:
“[The fisherman] feels a tremendous force pulling at his line. His experience tells him it could be no other than a shark eating his catch.” (11)
E intuicion y experiencia di un piscador por scap’e di peliger, tin biaha miho cu e tecnologia. Carlito ta conta nos di un experiencia un par di aña pasa, unda su intuicion a scap’e di peliger:
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Fragment from the interview with Carlito Quandt:
"The Sea Has No Mercy"
Our conversation with Carlito covered many topics and stories that demonstrate the dangers of working on the sea. But for now I will leave it here so we can share them more extensively in a future blog entry.
Interview with Carlos Roberto Quandt at Rancho Foundation. Photographer: Rafael Barragán. © Fundacion Rancho.
Carlos Roberto Quandt, interview at Fundacion Rancho (Aruba), 3 December 2022.
Lucia Kelly, Coleccion Di Palabranan Poco Uza Na Papiamento, Augustus 2018. Free online: https://ana.aw/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/20180814_palabranan_poco_uza_version1.0.pd
Byron Boekhoudt, Piscamento na Aruba, 2015, p.4-6.
Interview with Carlito Quandt, 3 Decemer 2022.
Marco Valentino Christiaans, Perseverancia, 2002, p. 174.
Interview with Carlito Quandt, 3 Decemer 2022.
Interview with Carlito Quandt, 3 Decemer 2022.
Christiaans, p. 38-39.
Ibid., p. 41.
the color and flavor of the fishermen's life
Ana Maria Hernandez
Image taken by Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy in 1923. We see a fisherman rowing a canoe at the harbor of Playa (Archivo Nacional Aruba).
The fisherman's trade is often a battlefield. The difficulties of the fishing community, more specifically for the ones who make their living from fishing, are related to the dangers of being on the sea, the access to the harbor and the fish, their rights, and the sometimes confusing relationship between the general community and fishing traditions. This last point is the result of a disconnect with the fishing community due to the lack of information and regard for this profession. Technological advances such as GPS and motors have made certain aspects of fishing easier, but other developments such as the refineries or currently the developments around the harbor in Playa have caused fundamental changes in the practice of this profession.
"[The boat] goes up and down with the waves. You can only hear the sea. It's quiet on the boat as if there is no soul on board. Tjaaaaaashiiiiii, tjaaaaashiiii, tjaaaaaashiiiii. Suddenly: pull, both fishermen are tense. In a fraction of a second, the peace on the boat transforms into a battlefield. Both fishermen are engaged in a harsh battle with the fish they have on the line. (1)
The book Perseverancia written by Marco Christiaans in 2002.
In this literary passage, Marco Valentino Christiaans (b. 1949) tries to capture a fraction of a second in a moment of fishing. His semi-biographical work Perseverancia (2002) tries to document, in Papiamento, what life was like for Aruban fishermen at the beginning of the 20th century. With the outermost care possible, Christiaans records various important aspects of the fishing tradition on the island, based on interviews with local fishermen and the community of the time. While reading the book I asked myself if this still reflects the life of the fishermen today.
One of the goals of the project ODE TO THE FISHERMEN is to imagine and (re)construct the life of the fishermen of Rancho. But we are immediately confronted with the realization that it is impossible to talk about one homogeneous and orderly story. When we speak of the Rancho fisherman we're talking about multiple characters. This investigation is a search for the different pieces that together form a complex mosaic. Each piece has its own qualities, is affected by different circumstances, and is a reflection of its time. We asked ourselves if there are key points where all these pieces meet. What characteristics are important to identify a global basic portrayal?
To get closer to an answer, we started looking at the portrayals in Perseverancia and compared them with more current information. We are using discussions common in the local press, interviews with fishermen and their community, and the report Piscamento na Aruba (2015) written by marine biologist Byron Boekhoudt. This publication has as its goal to "give an insight into the current state of fishing in Aruba" as well as to "give a bit of the color and flavor of the life of the fishermen and their families." (2)
The report Pesca na Aruba written by marine biologist Byron Boekhoudt in 2015.
At the start of the investigation, we began putting together a map where we could visualize the different areas of importance related to the topic of the fishermen of Rancho. This map is still being developed and is updated daily with new information and other connections. This makes it easier for us to identify the characteristics of the Arubian fishermen, and, if possible, the particular characteristics of the Rancho fishermen. Initially, we identified six areas we could use as sub-themes where we can deepen our focus.
6 AREA en
In the area we identified as networks and community, we can for example talk about the transference of knowledge within the community, studying the sites where they take place and how. In the narratives of the fishermen we find in Perseverancia, we can recognize different points of encounter where the community comes together and where the exchange of experiences, knowledge, respect, and fish take place. These are specific moments that together form a system or a ritual and have a specific purpose. An example of this could be the moment when the fishermen arrive back at the shore from a fishing trip. Here, the fishermen share stories of their achievements of the day, their losses, and the battles fought against their adversary: the fish. (3) Valuable information is exchanged between the fisherman; information that can help them be safer on the sea, or help them have a more productive fishing trip next time, or information that will, later on, be part of the public identity of the fisherman. According to the report of 2015, this exchange still takes place today but these points of encounter are now known as Fishing Centers. (4) One of these centers is the Harbour of Rancho, also known as the Harbour of Playa. This specific spot has been in the news lately due to the urban developments taking place around it.
Harbour of Rancho, 2022.
The communal points of encounter and the relationships or networks within the community are areas that we will focus on in the investigation. We are looking more closely into the conditions that shape these points of encounter, how they function and what necessities they respond to. We will also look at their capacity as centers of knowledge transfer. In the upcoming blog entries, I will delineate other points of encounter that are important for the processes of the fishing community.
Image taken by Gerardus Hubertus Delnoij betwen 1964 and 1965. On this photograph we see fishermen and e imagen nos ta wak traditional boats (Archivo Nacional Aruba).
The 6 areas on our map can be seen as broad categories that will help us organize and process information. But this map will become more intricate since it is clear that some areas are interconnected with each other. A boat for example could be considered an important tool for the profession of fishing. The role of a boat in the life of a fisherman is so prominent that they don't have to own one. A boat is a physical and symbolic place where stories are written in time and knowledge is applied and shared. A boat is also a way fishermen express their beliefs. It's not uncommon to see boats with names of saints or to hear of a fishermen's saint that offers him the hope of protection while at sea. And we cannot forget of course that boats are the scenarios for stories that present themselves as mundane moments, but are later on revealed to be myths in the making. There are a lot of other topics, like this one, that will interconnect the areas on this map.
Another important preparatory step is to have a clear understanding and definition of what a fisherman is. In Boekhoudt's publication, he defines it based on three categories that follow the norms of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA).(5) You have the professional fisherman who fishes a minimum of 40 hours a week. You have the recreational fisherman who fishes less than 20 hours a week. And you have the occasional fisherman, who fishes less than 3 times a week. There is also a distinction between traditional fishing and recreational fishing, which is based on the use of technology, traditional practices, and how far they stay from the shore. We wonder if there are other institutional definitions for what a fisherman is.
It's interesting to also see how the local fishermen themselves identify themselves and define their profession. This is one of the questions we pose during the consultations we're currently conducting with local fishermen and the community. Last week we sat with Carlito Quandt, one of the last active fishermen of Rancho. In an upcoming blog entry, we will explore through the stories of Mr. Quandt how fishing influences the identity of the community of Rancho. This interview will touch upon different aspects and will uncover more connections within the investigation.
Marco Valentino Christiaans, Perseverancia, 2002, 45.
Byron Boekhoudt, Piscamento na Aruba, 2015, 3-4.
a fishermen's village
Ana Maria Hernandez
Two years ago, Clifford Rosa from Rancho Foundation invited me to help him develop projects that could merge artistic practices, heritage, and the community of the neighborhood of Rancho. These projects would be part of their program celebrating our capital's upcoming 200th anniversary. During this time, there were heavy discussions taking place on the island around the plans for the harbor of Oranjestad. To put this matter in a very black-and-white way, it was a discussion around the displacement of local fishermen and lack of access to the haven against developing and improving the area for the locals and the tourists. But this discussion is extremely complex and nuanced from both sides. All attempts at dialogue have been influenced by politics, clashing perspectives, inflated expectations, and a deep lack of understanding about our fishing community. What was clear was that a big part of the Aruban community did not feel directly affected by the plans for the harbor and stances were taken without an understanding of this nuanced situation.
Fishermen woodcut print at the end of Then and Now (1932) by H.E. Lampe.
But for the inhabitants of Rancho, specifically, the ones who still live off fishing, these discussions are all too real. Walking around the neighborhood of Rancho is quite an experience, where its strong links to the harbor and fishing traditions are palpable. There is a strong sense of history and an urgency to capture and preserve the essence of this part of the island's identity. The core of our ODE TO THE FISHERMEN project emerged from this.
This year, Rancho received funding from the Mondriaan Fund to kickstart this first project. These blog entries are a way for us to share our enthusiasm, methodology, and findings with local and international readers. We don't see this project as a one-way flow of information. For us, this research is a collaboration with anyone and everyone who has ideas, leads, information, stories, feedback, and corrections for us. So please feel free to reach out to us and become part of this project.
Aruba's National Archive.
Our approach was to start looking for references in literature and audio-visual material. Our first stop was at Aruba’s National Archive (ANA), where our keywords were simple: fishing, Aruba, and Rancho. Together with Aruba's Nacional Library, ANA has been digitizing important documents and images, not only preserving them but also making them accessible to the community. This access allows us to keep these materials safe while revisiting and reviewing them in the hopes of finding new information and perspectives. The collections available online include photographs, videos, texts, and books.
After this visit, we continued our search into the literature available online about Rancho, looking specifically for the earliest mentions of the neighborhood. It was clear from the beginning that the name Rancho was practically a synonym for 'fishermen’s village.'
Photograph taken by the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy during their mission in Aruba between 1914 until the end of the 1930s. The photograph was captioned in Dutch with 'visvangst' (fishing).
It is stated that the first mention of Rancho was in 1855 in the archives, but we are still looking for this document. One of the earliest mentions we found so far was written by Henri van Kol (1852-1925). He describes Rancho as a fishing settlement near Oranjestad “where good people lived in shabby huts next to dirty salt-producing pans.”(1) This was a struggling community with scarce resources that had nothing but their catch of the day to survive. According to him, their poverty was a result of the small proceeds of fishing, the lack of boats and good tools for fishing, and the small market for fresh fish on the small island. In his text written around 1904, Van Kol states that there are 50 inhabitants in Rancho that live off of fishing.
Cover of Naar de Antillen en Venezuela written by Henri Van Kol in 1904.
Another early source referencing Rancho is the Report on Fishing by Dr. J. Boeke (1874-1956) written between 1904 and 1905. Here, Boeke mentions Rancho as the place on the island where most fishermen lived. This report gives a very insightful view of the fishing practices of the time, which we will revisit later in our blogs. The short entry about Aruba in this report tells us more about the inhabitants of Rancho. Boeke describes the Aruban fishermen as “mostly descendants of the original inhabitants, the Caraiben, they still show a clearly Indian type.”(2)
Cover of Report on Fishing written by J. Boeke in 1907.
In his book Aruba Then and Now (1932), H.E. Lampe (1884-1953) tries to give his readers a glimpse of what life was like on the island before the 1920s.(3) Shortly after, the island underwent rapid and major changes since the arrival of the oil refineries on the island. Rancho and its inhabitants are mentioned briefly twice in this book. On page 18, he describes the men of Rancho as “born fishermen” that “do nothing but practice their profession." He does make it a point to add that "they never take this seriously enough.” He then continues talking about the advantages the fishermen have over the island’s merchants. He concludes his short passage on local fishing by saying they get their products for the same price and effort now compared to before, but they sell them at a higher price. "We will return to these people and their customs later.”(4) And so he does on page 25. Here, Lampe refers to Rancho as a “then-feared fishing village” where the fishermen, called rancheros, usually ended their parties with confrontations with local police. Fortunately, says Lampe, “this human race has become much more civilized and polite, with the favorable consequence that they are now afraid of the police.”(5)
By the time writer and historian Johan Hartog (1912-1997) wrote his account of what Aruba was like before and after the 1920s in his Aruba: Past and Present (1953), the community of Rancho had 45 fishermen living in the neighborhood.(6) Hartog tells us that Rancho “has remained the fishermen’s settlement it always was.” Hartog lived in Aruba between 1950 and 1980. During his time on the island, he wrote the four-volume Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Antillen, a historical account of the Dutch islands in the Caribbean. He also left us with an incredible collection of historical images of what life was like on the island. I highly recommend taking a look at the digitized collection. In his publication Aruba in oude ansichten (1972), we can find some incredible images of Rancho and its inhabitants.
Photograph taken by the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy in 1924. The photograph was captioned with Ranchoe.This image was used by Hartog in his book. He captions this photograph with ‘Rancho started as a fishermen’s village with around 50 inhabitants.’
On page 35 we find a photograph of Rancho from around 1923.(7) Here we can clearly see the so-called ‘shabby huts’ mentioned by Kol. Hartog captions this photograph with ‘Rancho started as a fishermen’s village with around 50 inhabitants.’ On the next pages, we get a closer at the men and women of Rancho.
Photographs of Rancho's men and women included in Hartog's publication.
Some of the photographs in Hartog's book were taken by the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy. This is a Catholic lay religious congregation for men founded in Tilburg, The Netherlands. The brotherhood was on a mission in Aruba from around 1914 until the end of the 1930s. During their mission in the Caribbean, the brotherhood took more than 30 thousand analog photographs from which 10 thousand have been digitized and made available online. Unfortunately, there is no consistency in dating them and the descriptions written on them are often very vague. Nonetheless, the visual information in these photographs helped us find threads that we aim to unravel throughout the next 6 months.
Photograph taken by the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy in 1924.
Photograph taken by the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy during their mission in Aruba between 1914 until the end of the 1930s. The photograph was captioned in Dutch with 'visvrouwen' (fishingwomen).
Photograph taken by the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy during their mission in Aruba between 1914 until the end of the 1930s. The photograph was captioned in Dutch with 'Vissershutje met belangstellenden' (Fisherman's hut with candidates).
Something important to note is that the literature of the island is quite young and that the older references written were by clergymen and government officials and later on by locals living during the period of ‘holandisashon.’(8) This meant the writing was in Dutch and the perspective was often tinted by its cultural influence.
The subject of our local fishermen presents us with important questions beyond what they do and who they are. It also asks us to reflect on the ways we engage with marginalized communities and to reconsider how global conditions affect local realities. As we dive deeper into this subject, our ambition is not to offer an extensive survey but to map out key lines of questioning that we hope future projects and professionals aim to address. For now, we have a ton of unanswered questions we invite you to help us figure out.If you or your family members have stories, anecdotes, audiovisual material, or any information you think is important to add to the project, feel free to contact us.
Photograph taken by the Brothers of Our Lady Mother of Mercy during their mission in Aruba between 1914 until the end of the 1930s. The photograph was captioned in Dutch with 'Schildpad' (Turtle).
Henri Van Kol, Naar de Antillen en Venezuela, 1904, 280.
J. Boeke, Rapport betreffende een voorlopig onderzoek naar den toestand van de Visscherij en de industrie van zeeproducten in de Kolonie Curaçao (Deel 1), 1907, 75.
H.E. Lampe, Aruba Then and Now, 1932.
Johan Hartog, Aruba : Past and Present : From the Time of the Indians until Today, 1961, 384.
Johan Hartog, Aruba in oude ansichten (1974), 35.
Wim Rutgers, Balans. Arubaans letterkundig leven. De periode van autonomie en status aparte 1954-2015, 2016, 32.
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