Episode CXCV – 195: What Arubans speak

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Destination values, native heritage, and cultural identity are what we advocate for in our own particular way of safeguarding all reasons to love Aruba. Etnia Nativa, through this cultural blog, “Island-Insight,” shares native cultural awareness, educates, and safeguards native heritage. It is how we encourage you to experiment with an island-keeper state of mind during your stay over. Education breaks down the barriers to greater human understanding, empathy, and empowerment.


During this episode, we want to highlight what “colonization” provoked to the American continent, among other things like, a new linguistic order.

From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, including the islands of the Caribbean Sea, knowledge of the native languages was fundamental for reasons of material and spiritual control over the native peoples. Various historical documents support the idea that, at least in the early stages of the conquest, the colonizers were concerned with having official interpreters as well as, in the religious field, the need to learn the native language in order to use it for catechizing was essential.

History also tells us not only about the lack of interest and the difficulty of the indigenous people in learning the colonizing language, but also about the lack of interest on the part of the colonizers in teaching it. A situation that forced each one to learn from the other what was convenient for him and what he needed to know. There was such “carelessness” on both sides that in present-day Peru during the Inca Empire, the Indian “Garcilaso” would affirm that the natives, although they understood Spanish in manual matters, forced him to speak it in his native language, Quechua.

Therefore, within this context of relations, beyond the attempts of the political and religious authorities to regulate the formal teaching of the new language, the learning of one or the other language remained in the hands of the daily contact between the members of both castes, both dominant and dominated.

However, it is not only a question of the subordination of the colonized culture to the colonizing culture but also of the imposition of the colonizing thought so that there is no possibility of thinking. The rules of the “game” were the same in Aruba as they were throughout the rest of the American continent, so our natives, the “colonized,” were the ones who had to learn the “new” official language.

Spaniards were the first to colonize Aruba, followed by the Dutch; meanwhile, the natives who spoke the Arawaken tongue slowly developed a dialect, currently known as the Papiamento language.

Throughout the Dutch history of our island, it was forbidden to speak the Papiamento language in schools, either on the playground or among students. If a student was caught pronouncing a word in the Papiamento language, the teachers applied a wooden stick with which they energetically struck the student’s palms, not allowing them to express themselves in their mother tongue.

Papiamento became an official language in Aruba in 2003 and in Bonaire and Curacao in 2007. It has had its own spelling since 1976. The oldest surviving text in Papiamento is a letter from a Jew from Curaçao from 1775. There are authors who believe that, at least, the linguistic base is older, and there are various theories regarding its origin. What can be defined is that Papiamento is a language that has developed on its own through contact between speakers of various languages. To communicate with one another, this language was used as a general way of communication, or “Lingua Franca.”


Intrigued by Aruba`s origins and its cultural heritage? Then we encourage you to do something outside of the tourist grid. Become one of the few visitors to Etnia Nativa, a private residential encounter set up where you can touch and be touched by authentic Aruban heritage, a spectacle of native art, archaic and archaeological artifacts, lithic tools, colonial furniture, and other items from the islands’ bygone era. Get inside a recycled environment full of peace, relaxation, knowledge, and information.

Etnia Nativa is, since 1994, the home of Anthony, our acclaimed columnist, artist craftsman, and island Piache, who guides and lectures you through his resplendent collection. E.N. is the only place that recreates and introduces you to an authentic glimpse into Aruba’s native cultural heritage. Something completely different for a change—a contemporary Native Aruba experience!

Appointment is required + 297 592 2702 or etnianativa03@gmail.com.