More than 50 different nationalities are represented on Curaçao, each with their own unique customs and traditions. Although Papiamentu, Dutch and English are recognized as official languages, you may also hear Spanish or one of the many other local languages. People from all over the world have come to Curaçao over time, creating a vibrant and colorful cultural mishmash.
About 154,000 people of these nationalities on Curaçao call the island home in 2023. So they have very diverse backgrounds. Most of the population is of mixed Afro-Creole and European descent. Some islanders are also foreigners from places like China, the Levant, Portugal, Suriname, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Colombia, as well as the British West Indies. Most native Curaçaoans speak Papiamentu as their first language.
A bit of Curaçao history
Curaçao was inhabited by Arawak Indians from the South American mainland. It was first visited by Europeans in 1499. It was inhabited by the Spanish and later by the Dutch, who established it as an important trading center for the Dutch West India Company. The Spanish deported almost the entire indigenous population as slaves to Hispaniola in 1515.
The Dutch had a distinct advantage on the island because of the presence of one of the most picturesque natural harbors in the West Indies. The capital city of Willemstad is located on the Schottegat, a huge, deep and virtually enclosed bay on the south coast of the island. It offers access via a canal known as St. John’s. Anna Bay and which runs through a series of reefs.
The Dutch originally settled in the Caribbean in search of salt for their herring trade. The years between 1660 and 1700 were prosperous years for the Dutch West India Company; during this time the slave trade expanded and Curaçao’s harbor became available to foreign ships. For both importing food and shipping goods grown on South American plantations.
Curaçao was one of six Dutch West Indies dependent territories united under one government in 1845. In 1954, the colonies were restructured into the Netherlands Antilles and gained independence in domestic affairs.
Former Netherlands Antilles
Since the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles on Oct. 10, 2010, Curaçao has functioned as a sovereign state within the Netherlands. The Netherlands (along with the special municipalities of Saba, St. Eustatius and Bonaire), Aruba, St. Maarten and Curaçao form the four modern member states that make up the Kingdom. Today we call it the former Netherlands Antilles.
Multicultural society in Curaçao
The multicultural society resulting from the different nationalities in Curaçao is responsible for a variety of styles in fascinating music, cooking and art. This is what makes Curaçao so colorful and bright. The following is just a brief overview of the island’s various multicultural components. There is much more to tell.
Music & Dance
Curaçao is full of dance and music. Typical waltzes, danzas, mazurkas and a style called tumba, after the accompanying conga drums, can all be heard in the music of Curaçao. The tumba is the island’s most famous musical style. The name “Tumba” is used to describe a particular type of rhythm with African influences. Salsa, Samba and Merengue are commonly danced in local bars.
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Curaçao is home not only to brightly colored Caribbean-style homes, but also to a considerably vibrant art culture that nationalities have brought to Curaçao. A rainbow of hues meets you in all shapes and sizes. In the Punda district, for example, you can discover art galleries in several places. Surrender to the Caribbean passion that fills the streets and carries you away. Among other things, discover the real Curaçao and the vibrant Street Art scene here. The streets of Punda, Otrobanda, Pietermaai and Scharloo are filled with public murals by local and international artists, transforming these neighborhoods into veritable open-air museums. You will also find beautiful works and galleries in other parts of the island.
People from Spain, the Netherlands, Africa, Indonesia, India, Venezuela and Portugal are some of the nationalities living in Curaçao. Each group brought unique culinary traditions, skills and spices. This has created a vibrant kitchen.
Snack Curaçao pastechis (patties), arepa di pampuna (pumpkin pancake) or keshi yena (cheese balls). Have lunch with karni stoba (stew), chicken with batata (potato) or moro (mixed rice) or try iguana stew, a local specialty. To quench your thirst, we recommend an awa di lamunchi or batido (fruit shake). Above all, don’t forget to toast with a cocktail with Blue Curaçao liqueur.
When it comes to celebrations, Curaçao’s Carnival takes the crown. The celebration begins two months before Lent and lasts until the last week. There is no set date for the Carnival Festival. Throughout the month of February, people of almost every nationality on Curaçao celebrate Carnival with various parades. The Grand Farewell Parade is followed by the Horse Parade, followed by the Children’s Parade, the Teen Parade and finally the Grand March. In other words, one big party!
In addition, several Jump Ups and Jump Ins are held between the days of parades. Jump Up is actually a nighttime parade in which anyone can participate for a small fee and no elaborate costumes are worn. Instead, participants are given a shirt to decorate in their own way. Jump Ins, on the other hand, happen at a party venue. It can be described as a carnival festival where the Tumba is the only music played.
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The term papia, which means “to speak,” is where the name Papiamentu comes from.
Learn a few of these words before your trip to Curaçao. Tourists’ efforts to speak Papiamentu are greatly appreciated by locals. You can also get by with Dutch. Here are a few words you can use to at least make an interested impression.
English = Papiamentu
Welcome = Bon Bini
Good morning = Bon dia
Good afternoon = Bon tardi
Good evening = Bon nochi
Fine week = Bon siman (on Sunday and Monday)
Happy weekend = Bon wikent
Goodbye = Ayo
Until next time = Te otro bia
Goodbye = Te akiratu
Goodbye = Te awero
Until tomorrow = Te mañan
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