Tambú: Curaçao's African-Caribbean Ritual and the Politics of Memory

Tambú: Curaçao's African-Caribbean Ritual and the Politics of Memory

Tambú: Curaçao's African-Caribbean Ritual and the Politics of Memory

Tambú: Curaçao's African-Caribbean Ritual and the Politics of Memory


As contemporary Tambú music and dance evolved on the Caribbean island of Curaçao, it intertwined sacred and secular, private and public cultural practices, and many traditions from Africa and the New World. As she explores the formal contours of Tambú, Nanette de Jong discovers its variegated history and uncovers its multiple and even contradictory origins. De Jong recounts the personal stories and experiences of Afro-Curaçaoans as they perform Tambu-some who complain of its violence and low-class attraction and others who champion Tambú as a powerful tool of collective memory as well as a way to imagine the future.


Whether it is celebrated or rejected, attended to or ignored, the past
is omnipresent. —David Lowenthal

From the air, Curaçao looks narrow and flat. It appears stark and quiet, its dry desert plains scattered with clusters of tall cacti, its shores noticeably rocky, dotted with divi-divi trees and Dutch-styled windmills. Stepping off my plane means leaving my air-conditioned reverie to enter the warm humid air that breathes the sudden realization: this is my home for the next year. I am here to study Curaçaoan culture—to scout the island for its music and the country’s African-based ritual rhythms.

I slide into the back seat of a taxi. With one glance at my hotel address, the taxi driver is off, his pace brisk, braking only occasionally for the potholes and speed bumps. We are on our way to the central city of Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao. Unlike many other islands, Curaçao has not gained colonial independence. Instead, after World War II it acquired a measure of autonomy as a member of the Netherlands Antilles; and, with the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in October 2010, Curaçao became a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, to which it remains economically, politically, and socially tied.

2. the Netherlands Antilles had comprised Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao (known as the Windward Antilles, due to their location in the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea) and Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten (defined collectively as the Leeward Antilles, due to their northern location). Aruba became an independent entity in 1986 (the crusade toward gaining full independence was halted in 1990, due to internal strife among Aruban citizens). With the recent (October 2010) dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, the islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba have become “public bodies” of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which, collectively known as Caribbean Netherlands or bes islands, are considered overseas territories of the European Union; while the islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten have become constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

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