Dos kachu

“These cow horns were used as lamps by enslaved people in the 19th century”, one of our participants told us. “They would fill the lamps with cow dung and use the dry, cotton-like substance from the inside of the datu (blood fruit cactus) as a wick. These horns are actually from a calf. I used a machine to make inscriptions on it: birthday, date of death of its owner, my uncle.”

Between the mid-17th and mid-19th century a plantation society evolved in Curaçao that was different from other Caribbean islands. Enslaved Africans and other groups interacted in a harsh, dry tropical climate and established a society with a complex heritage. The plantations used little capital, little technology, and had almost no incentive to modernize as crop production was not used for export but for the inhabitants themselves.

We don’t know enough about daily life on the plantations as historical sources are all written from the slave owners’ perspective. Objects like these cow horns illustrate the inventiveness of enslaved people in dealing with everyday challenges. From the 1860s onwards cow horn lamps were replaced by kerosene lamps.

“We don't know enough about daily life on the plantations.”