Tanki Maraka Heritage Park
It’s not a well known fact to visitors of Bonaire that the island hosted a U.S. military installation during World War II, but now, with the opening of the Tanki Maraka Heritage Park, visitors can get a glimpse into this particular slice of Bonaire’s history and the island’s role during the second world war.
The Tanki Maraka site is a World War II Open-Air Museum highlighting the area of a U.S. military camp from 1942 to 1947. This museum park has been presented as a combined effort by BONAI (Bonaire Archaeological Institute), the Government of Bonaire, Mondriaan Funds, and STINAPA.
In all, over 3000 documents were digitized, with many coming from the National Archives in Curacao and the Monqui Maduro Library, also in Curacao. Here on Bonaire, oral history interviews were conducted with many of the island’s elders, who were living on Bonaire during World War II.
The archaeological site was first located using oral history reports, and then in July 2007, BONAI began to survey the site and do excavations. The majority of artifacts that were found were surface finds. The base included barracks, a personnel area, a sports area, and a technical area.
But why have a U.S. base on Bonaire? Some history is in order:
On May 10, 1940, at 3:00 AM, The Netherlands was invaded. The invasion was quick and effective. On that same day, all German nationals or Nazi sympathizers in the Dutch islands were arrested and sent to interment camps on Bonaire.
May 11 and 12 brought the first U.S. military on Bonaire, along with British and French forces. The call for troops came to protect the oil refineries on Curacao and Aruba, both helping with the war effort to supply Allied forces.
In February 1942, Holland invites a significant U.S. military presence but focusing on Curacao and Aruba because of the refineries. It was just days later, on February 15 and 16, 1942, Germany attacked both refineries.
Later that year, in October, 1942, it was decided that a small base, but with radar capabilities, would be constructed on Bonaire, one of several U.S. bases in the region.
With the end of the war on May 9, 1945, the troops remained for about two years more, as they decommissioned the base. The Tanki Maraka camp was completely cleared of all wooden structures and technical equipment by February, 1947. Only the concrete foundations were left behind.
The Tanki Maraka Heritage Park provides a self-guided tour through the premises of the old base. The signage is excellent, giving visitors to the site an amazing perspective into life on Bonaire during World War II. The images from the war are compelling, adding to the sense of history that one feels while walking through the grounds. The walk takes about one hour to complete. The park can be found along the road to Rincon. After leaving Kralendijk, be watchful for a sign to the park on the right, and then the driveway to the entrance is just a short distance.