Culture in Aruba

The people of Aruba come primarily from European, African, and Latin American countries and the culture of the island reflects these varied backgrounds. The language, food, religion, and celebrations on Aruba are composed of a healthy mix of these countries. Aruba is closely tied to Holland because of its long occupation and present partnership in the Netherlands kingdom. The official language is Dutch, which is seen on the street signs, official documents, and many local newspapers. However, many aspects of Aruba’s culture reveal strong influences of contributing cultures, such as the common language Papiamento.

Papiamento dates back to the sixteenth century, as a means for African slaves to communicate with their owners. Papiamento reflects the mentality and culture of the many peoples who have inhabited the region, including the Arawak and Carib Indians, African slaves, South American traders, Spanish conquers, Dutch merchants, Portuguese missionaries, and French and English settlers.

While grammar is basic, many non-Arubans find its syntax and intonation challenging. Much of Papiamento has been handed down verbally from generation to generation. Its proverbs contain a simply stated wealth of philosophy and insight. Through humor and metaphor, utilizing food, animals, and objects from everyday life, Papiamento lends universal guidance and wisdom. Some popular phrases are “Bon Dia” for good morning and “Masha Danki” for thank you.

Aruban food is simple in preparation and taste. Mostly grilled without a lot of grease or spice, chicken, fish and vegetables are often accompanied by local vegetables such as corn, broccoli, potatoes or rice. Johnnycakes are fried biscuits prepared with slat fish from Canada and Norway, which are popular in Aruba. Also popular are stews of beef, chicken, and goat, with ingredients of a cucumber called concomber and rice with black beans. Stuffed cheese, called keeshi yena, is a traditional Aruban dish dating back to the days of the Dutch West India Company.

It was originally made by hollowing out the round Dutch cheeses and stuffing them with a mixture of chicken, vegetables, and spices. More modern recipes include raisins, grated cheese, breadcrumbs, olives, capers, and gherkins, and beef, fish or shrimp is sometimes used in lieu of chicken.

Often eaten in place of bread is a cornmeal pudding similar to polenta. Slaves brought this recipe to the Caribbean from West Africa. Dishes of Asian origin, such as the Nasi Goreng and rijstaffel of Indonesia and the Chinese vegetables bok choy and snow peas, are included on Aruban menus. Desserts in Aruba are rich and sweet. Black cake, or bolo preto, is the Antillean rum and cognac-soaked delicacy of choice at Family events, such as weddings and birthdays. It takes several weeks to prepare before garnished with white icing and sprinkled with silver candy balls. Other favorite Aruban desserts are sweet and colorful cakes and gelatins.

The people of Aruba are predominantly Christian. Roman Catholics make up the majority with 82 percent of the population, while Protestants are second with eight percent. Other religions present on the island include Judaism, Muslim, Hindu and Confucian. There are several churches on the island that have become tourist attractions for their antiquity and beauty. The Santa Anna Church in Noord was built between 1914 and 1919. The neo-gothic wood-carved altar was sculpted by Hendrik van der Geld of the Netherlands and the stained glass windows were created in 1932 by Wilhelm Derix of Germany. Built in 1877, the rectory of this church is the oldest in Aruba.

Our Lady of Alto Vista is located on a high plain near the north coast. It is a quaint, simply constructed chapel, which had a clear view of approaching pirate ships from the north. The original structure was built of stone and wood in 1750 and the antique Spanish cross is the oldest work of art in the Netherlands Antilles, except for Indian Artifacts.

Carnaval, Aruba’s most exciting celebration, is preceded by weeks of celebration, parades, elections, contests, and parties. Many schools, business’s and organizations dress up in elaborate costumes to compete for coveted titles. At the beginning of the celebration, Aruba’s Prime minister symbolically transfers command of the country to the prince of Carnaval. Tivoli, Aruba’s oldest social club, has produced a dazzling nighttime lighting parade for this event. The Grand Carnaval Parade in San Nicolas begins in the middle of the night and lasts until dawn, and the Oranges tad parade takes place that next day, making for an exhausting weekend for celebratory Arubans.

The burning of King Momo, a life-size effigy, marks the end of Carnaval at midnight on Shrove Tuesday, before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Central figures in Carnaval lore are the beautiful queen and the prince, who is the authoritative figure guiding the parade and later restoring order with his sidekick, pancho. Music is an integral element at Carnaval and most popular are the Caribbean beats of Tumba and Calypso. The origins of Carnaval are found thousands of years ago. The work is derived from the Latin carne vale, meaning farewell to flesh, signifying the time when many Christians gave up meat and other sacrifices.