Papiamentu, Cultural Resistance, and Socio-Cultural Challenges: The ABC Islands in a Nutshell

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since November 25, 1975, when Suriname became independent from the Dutch Kingdom, the tropical remains of the Netherlands (1) comprise six Caribbean islands. They are divided into the Leeward Dutch Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao; abbreviated ABC Islands) north of the Venezuelan coast and the Windward Dutch Antilles (Saba, St. Eustatius, and a section of St. Maarten; abbreviated SSS Islands) east of Puerto Rico. (2) The six territories rarely represent focus areas of Caribbean research. Many studies simply neglect the islands or dedicate--except for the studies by individual scholars (i.e. Rutgers, Broek, Martinus, Clemencia, Allen etc., for instance in the volume on Caribbean literature edited by Arnold in 2001)--but a small number of pages to different socio-cultural aspects. Within linguistic and literary concerns, however, the interest in the ABC Islands has been increasing particularly during the past two decades. This is to a large extent due to Papiamentu, the local Creole vernacular, which plays a pioneer role in the field of Creole languages and has reached remarkable corpus, status, and prestige (the tripartite system stems from theories developed by Kloss and Haarmann). More recently, however, socioeconomic and political issues have been foregrounded in several publications (Oostindie), since the economic decline on Curacao led to a considerable growth in emigration. As a result, the European diaspora grew from about 70,000 according to Narain/Verhoeven (112) to an estimated 100,000 at the turn of the millennium.

Taking these introductory remarks as motive and point of departure, this paper aims at providing the background for a critical understanding of the contemporary linguistic situation and literary life with regard to the Creole culture of the ABC Islands. The text falls into four sections: The first section (chapter 2) provides a historical synopsis from 1499 to our days and is subdivided into three sociolinguistically relevant subsections. The first (2.1) gives a short account of the developments from the Spanish discovery until the nineteenth century, while the second focuses on the changes subsequent to the 'oil-turn' in the early twentieth century. The last subdivision is dedicated to the episode of the May 1969 riots and its effects. Section two (chapter 3) sheds light on linguistic and literary issues. It starts by giving a short overview of the development of Papiamentu (3.1) and subsequently concentrates on facets of multilingualism (3.2). In subsection 3.3 more recent developments with regard to education and language planning are discussed. Finally, I turn to questions related to the role of Papiamentu literature and literary translation (3.4). Incidents regarding the growing European diaspora are discussed separately in chapter 4. As a conclusion, the paper gives an account of future potentials and possibilities of the Creole culture within a globalized world (chapter 5).

Before stepping in medias res, however, it seems important to clarify that, in my opinion, Caribbean issues require a multiple perception of the conditions to be analyzed. Consequently, a single discipline with its canonical and paradigmatic boundaries does not suffice to come to relevant conclusions. Hence coming from a linguistic background--with particular roots in Romance linguistics (3)--I will aim at addressing the subject matter from a transdisciplinary angle. This allows an acknowledgement of the findings and approaches of different concerned fields as much as the creation of a problem-specific scientific paradigm.

2 Historical Synopsis

Different historians at different times have focused on the past of the Netherlands Antilles (4) (cf. the publications by J. Hartog 1953, 1957, 1961; R. A. Romer 1976, 1978, 2000; A. Romer 1997). In different publications, the history of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba has been divided into various periods, consistent with the purpose of the respective studies. …