The impending farewell

By Lusette Verboom

August 26, 2023



I watch the shadow lines that the filtering light of the rising sun makes on the broad arches of the upper gallery of our Habaai mansion. The silence intensifies the rustling of the mango tree with the song of its birds that live in the tree. The warm scent of the Behen tea that I inhale takes me to Baron van Raders (1794-1868), owner of the Habaai plantation between 1844 and 1850, who brought the Behen tree from Jave to Curaçao because of the high-quality oil extracted from the seeds. There is no Behen tree left on our site.

Our territory, my territory. I, the black Lusette Verboom-Fairbairn, daughter of William Hamilton Fairbairn, born in 1916 on the island of St. Vincent. A taciturn man who, fleeing poverty on his island, left everything behind and crossed the Caribbean Sea to Curaçao during the Second World War. He was married to the firm, eleven years younger Marianita Maria Isidora, youngest daughter of Pedro Isidora, known as Pedritu di Janboos, a descendant of an enslaved person from plantation Janboos. Less than two generations later, their daughter owns one of the largest mansions on the island—a country house built by slave hands.

My husband’s voice pulls me out of my reverie. It is as if Herman becomes more connected daily with the mango tree that further obscured our view of the surroundings over the years.

“The older trees get, the farther they reach towards God, but the older man gets, the farther he gets from God.” I smile. Typical a comment from my atheistic, white husband. How far would the roots of the mango tree reach? We see her growing in all the photos of the mansion courtyard with its uneven old red bricks.

Our mango tree, where the leaves grew so dense that we can no longer see how many pairs of totolikas form their family every year, where we finally succeeded in stopping the iguanas from climbing the tree and shitting the terrace with their big turds. Where rats get their meal in the nests of the birds in the evening, and the bats cover the floor with the peel of the almost ripe fruits.

We used to see the cemetery of the nuns from our seat. That’s what I think of when I answer Herman.

“Just look at the nuns, they have completely sunk away, disappeared from God’s sight. Happy that their souls ascend to heaven.”

From the balcony arches, we follow the passing clouds that predict what kind of day it will be.

“Since when did this become our favorite place?” I asked Herman.

“You mean your favorite place in the morning. I sit here every afternoon. How many people have the privilege to look in a tree? I know exactly where the birds live.”

He is right. In the eighteen years we had the country house, this has always been his resting place while he was busy with the restoration.

“Do you know how many owners this mansion has had?”

I think of all the Protestants, Jews, and Catholics who have gone before us. The most bizarre thing was that in 2005, we bought the mansion from the chairman of the Hels Angels.

Herman regularly reads the booklet that our friend Bastiaan van der Velden has compiled about the history of the country house Welgelegen–Habaai.

“No, but I know that in 1755 Reverend Wigboldus Rasvelt was one of the first residents of the land house as it is now.”

When I hear the name of pastor Wigboldus Rasvelt, all kinds of thoughts come to me. In the archives, when he passed away in 1757, Bastiaan found an inventory of his possessions. The pastor owned 30 enslaved people. Among them, A negress called Lisette. That’s almost my name.

I always knew we weren’t alone in the mansion. Am I, born in 1956, the one who gave her Lisette- 200 years later, the light?

Herman looks at me with a slanted eye and raises his graying eyebrows.

“I know what you’re thinking, and you know I don’t believe in things like that.”

It’s no coincidence! Herman is a boatman. He even built two large boats himself. Micheal van der Meulen, deceased in 1785, ship’s carpenter and owner of country house Habaai, baptizes his wharf on the quay in 1750 with the name Herman van der Meulen. The name Herman repeats itself for several generations in this ship carpenter’s family.

Here we are. The white Shon Manchi with his black Shon Lus. Is this a healing? Reconciliation, forgiveness, and moving forward based on equality.

I think of my father. He always believed that the ghosts of the mansion were with us. From the moment we bought the estate and cleared the patio of all the grass, the mango tree started to bloom. He knew, “The mansion is happy with you.”

A group of prikichis settles in the mango tree. With their screams, they drown out the birds’ song in my tree.

It’s time to get ready for work; the shadow lines on the balcony arches are getting shorter and sharper. A lovebird’s family is pecking at food on the patio. I gently toss through Herman’s gray hair. “Remember how angry you were when I called off the sale in 2017?”

It remains silent for a long time. “I wasn’t angry.” He thinks, searching for words. “I was, how do you say? Upset? Disappointed? It was a unilateral decision on your part.”

I think back to that night.

Lost in a deep sleep, I see my father appear. Before us lies a long, deserted road. He says to me, “Don’t sell the mansion. Not yet.”

The next morning, I tell Herman my dream. Immediately afterward, I call the real estate agent.

“Take the mansion off the market.”

Herman is not happy with my one-sided, impulsive act. That makes me insecure. I tell my dream to my good friend and artist, who is also a babalao.

“So many people visit card readers, psychics looking for answers, and you just get it as a gift.” His answer was very clear.

Herman does not know this. A few nights ago, I dreamed of my mother. She visited me, accompanied by three women unknown to me. She ordered me to help. Together, we did a massive cleaning in the country house.

May I take this as a sign that the Habaai mansion is clean of all past atrocities and may now be passed on to the next passer-by?

As descendant of slaves, married to a dutchman, we bought an landhouse, build around 1750. I do think that all spirits are with us , and helped us throughout the restoration of this very important, historical building.

-Lusette Verboom

Share via

About the author

Lusette Verboom

St. Vincent, Curaçao, the Netherlands, and Otrobanda. It seems to be the genetic code in Lusette Verboom’s life. Father Fairbairn from the Caribbean English-speaking island, a Curaçaoan mother from Montaña, husband Herman from the Netherlands, and Gallery Alma Blou. Lusette is a curator and art gallery owner who seriously took up writing after participating in one of Wintertuin’s Creative Writing courses. She is currently working on her first book.