Once a neglected corner of the map of postcolonial studies, the literature of the Dutch Caribbean (in this issue also called the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, or the ABC Islands) is becoming of increasing interest to scholars in the U.S. and Europe. This special issue of the Journal of Caribbean Literatures follows such recent landmark publications as A Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages (Arnold 2001), which includes A History of Literature in the Caribbean, with Volume 2: English and Dutch Speaking Regions. Such overviews are necessary to allow scholars and readers to gain orientation to the literature and language of the region.
Unlike the larger, all-inclusive projects of that type, we have chosen a single locus, the ABC Islands, and a single language and literature, Papiamentu, for this issue, preferring depth to breadth and understanding the sacrifices that choice entails. Papiamentu is a uniquely universal Creole. Gary C. Fouse (one of our contributors) points out in The Story of Papiamentu (UP of America, 2002):
Papiamentu, like all creole languages, is the result of different
peoples coming together who speak mutually unintelligible
languages. There are many other creole languages that exist over
the world, such as Cape Verdean Creole, Haitian Creole and others.
What makes Papiamentu so interesting is that it has achieved a
status on the islands of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire, that few if
any creoles can claim in their respective countries.
Notwithstanding the official status of Dutch, Papiamentu is spoken
by all levels of the native society on the three islands and has a
literary function. (Most of the local newspapers are written in
Papiamentu.) Another interesting aspect of Papiamentu is that
linguistic experts all over the world have studied this language
and have divergent opinions on how Papiamentu evolved and what its
true origins are. (1-2)
The estimated number of native speakers is about 250,000 on the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, with some 100,000 residing in the Netherlands. And Papiamentu has a rich literature. Thus there is a tremendous amount to cover.
This collection is only a (we hope provocative) beginning of piecing together the dynamic mosaic of inquiries the literature and culture of the ABC Islands deserves. Or one might see it as a kind of fugal construction, with some themes, such as the question of the origin of the language, reiterated in various ways by different essays. Whatever metaphor we choose, we hope we are creating the foundation of a community of discourse about Papiamentu literature and culture that has not existed before, venturing out into territories of disagreement, raising transversely positioned arguments, and so forth. We are not staging a debate or simply representing one point of view. You might say we are creolizing the topic of Papiamentu linguistic and social development and the development of Papiamentu literature.
Our effort is to spark further the development of a scholarly literature, here predominantly in English, about primary "texts" (and we are advised of the looseness of that appellation, as oral "texts" are included) in Papiamentu. We are, we believe, providing an essential constellation of contextual framework for understanding the linguistic, cultural and literary issues and controversies of this region. …