The Culture of Curacao

The ethnic diversity that is the signature of Curacao culture can be seen in many facets of island life

Photo credit: © Schoop Digita

Culture of Curaçao
 

Curacao is a country diverse in heritage and ethnicity. In fact, 42 different ethnic groups call this Dutch Antilles island home. The island's residents, most of which are of European or African descent, represent various cultural heritages and have a strong sense of cultural awareness.

European Influences

The influence of Dutch culture on Curacao is evident throughout the island, from the centuries-old colonial buildings to the remnants of plantation life seen in the landhuizen houses. As the official language of Curacao, Dutch is taught in schools and spoken in business and government. As soon as the Dutch arrived on Curacao and established themselves as rulers of the country, they had an effect on all levels of society. About four percent of the Dutch population on Curacao was born in Holland. Thousands of Dutch people have made Curacao their homeland. Many Curacaoan students leave the island to study in Holland; some come back with a degree, while others never return to the island.

Jewish Culture

Maps

The Jews are another ethnic group that settled on Curacao and had a great impact on the island's culture. The first Jewish settlers came to Curacao around 1659 from places such as Amsterdam, Europe, and South America, trying to escape the remnants of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. The Dutch Protestant environment on Curacao didn't limit the freedom of the Jews, and there were no laws against their employment or residences. As a result, they became highly successful in the trade and shipping industry.

From the time they first arrived on the island seeking relief from persecution, the Jews had a great impact on Curacao's politics, culture, and economy. By the early 18th century, the Jewish population on the island reached about 2,000 people. In 1732 the Jews established the Mikve Israel Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad. This synagogue still stands today and is one of the oldest synagogues still in use in the Western Hemisphere.

African Heritage

The heart of Curacao's heritage beats with the rhythm of African culture, and the majority of the island's population consists of people of African descent. These islanders have overcome a history of slavery and oppression to establish an intriguing culture that resonates throughout the island's language, music, art, and beyond.

Although Curacao's official language is Dutch, most of the islanders speak a dialect called Papiamentu. Curacaoans even spell the name of their island Kursow, which is a Papiamentu word. This Creole language originates from a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and several African languages. The islanders speak Papiamentu, which has been used on the island for about 300 years, just as well as they speak Dutch. This multifaceted language comes from an oral tradition and was meant to be spoken more so than written. Because of this, you may find different spellings of the same word used throughout the island.

...fascinating musical instruments...

 

One of the most enduring manifestations of African culture on Curacao is music. Tambu, an ancient form of music and dance, can be attributed to the island's African heritage. The Africans brought to Curacao as slaves passed along the traditional rhythms from generation to generation. The beat of a drum is the foundation of the tambu. Initially, slaves used farm equipment as makeshift instruments. Later, they used small hollow cargo containers covered with goat skin.

Many fascinating musical instruments are used to carry on the African musical traditions on Curacao. These include the bastel, a horn made from a cow's horn; the chapi, made from a hoe and metal rod; and the carco, a drilled conch shell that is used as a horn.

From Europe to Africa, the diverse heritage of Curacao has blended to create a beautiful tropical culture.

 

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