The Culture of Saba

With its small population, Saba's culture is made up of a close-knit network of families

Photo credit: © peacenik1

Culture of Saba

Because of Saba's steep and perilous coastline, early European explorers generally avoided this little island. When English settlers finally arrived around 1632, they believed the island was uninhabited, but archaeologists have discovered evidence indicating that either Carib or Arawak Indian tribes lived here thousands of years ago.

The Spoken Word

Since being colonized by the Dutch in the 17th century, the ownership of Saba has changed quite a few times, passing among the French, English, Spanish, and Dutch, until possession of the little island was permanently relinquished to the Dutch in the 19th century. Because Saba has been inhabited by various ethnic groups and people of different nationalities, the island's current population consists of a mixture of ancestries.

Many Saban citizens are descendants of African slaves who were brought to the island to work on plantations during colonization. Other members of Saban society include people of Scottish, Irish, and Scandinavian backgrounds who can trace their lineage to early European settlers. Although Saba is governed by the Dutch, very few people on the island are of Dutch descent. Dutch is the island's official language, but most islanders speak English in their homes. Because English is so widely used on Saba, the Dutch government has had to revise its educational curriculum to include English as one of the languages taught in classrooms.

What's in a Name?

...calm and quiet with an old-time feel...


The island of Saba is pretty small and has a population of approximately 1,200 residents, and most of Saba's people can trace their last names to one of half a dozen families. About one-fourth of the island's population has the last name Hassell, and most of the people who aren't Hassells are named either Johnson or Simmons.

The overall atmosphere of Saba is calm and quiet with an old-time feel. Another part of the Saban population consists of a relatively large group of expatriates. About 250 immigrants, who are mostly students and teachers at the Saba Medical School, live on the island. Most of Saba's native youth leave the island to find work elsewhere in the world, and the population sometimes appears to be mostly made up of either elderly citizens or infants and children.


Most of the people on Saba practice Catholicism as their primary religion, which is a reflection of the European influence on the island. Although Catholicism is the most popular religion, Saba is also home to believers in the Anglican, Wesleyan Holiness, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Jewish faiths.

Village People

Saba is a quaint, culturally appealing island with four main alpine-like villages with charming cobbled streets. Many of the houses have red roofs, which lends them the appearance of gingerbread houses. Until recently, the Saban villages were only connected by a network of rugged pathways cut from rock that intersected throughout the island. In the 1930s, the Saban people decided they needed a road to replace the criss-crossing footpaths. Construction of  "The Road" began in 1938, and it is now a 19-mile road that goes from village to village and winds and climbs around the mountainside.


Help us improve! We welcome your corrections and suggestions.

About Food