Aruban People & Language
Arubans are a people of striking appearance and are known for their warm and friendly personality. In fact the earliest inhabitants of the island were a peace-loving tribe, the Arawak Indians who were mainly farmers and fishermen. Arawak cave paintings and rock art designs are still well preserved although their significance continues to baffle historians.
Geologists have also found clay pottery and other artifacts in recent excavations showing the fine craftsmanship and artistic prowess that the Arawak’s enjoyed. These qualities are a shared source of inspiration for many contemporary Aruban craftsmen and artists.
Some typical Aruban attributes such as high cheekbones are clear manifestations of Indian ancestry, although through the ages different nationalities such as the Spanish and Dutch have also left their mark on Aruban genealogy. Further blending of the population came about with the advent of increased industrialization and commercialization of the island. A fact that illustrates this blending is the fact that the present population of about 100,000 is comprised of over forty nationalities, besides original Arubans.
Dutch and the local language of Papiamento are the official languages of Aruba, but most Arubans speak a minimum of four languages including English and Spanish.Aruba’s native language of Papiamento embodies the friendliness for which the local population is known, with the language marked with an inclusive and open nature as represented in its unique sayings and mannerisms.
Unique to the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, Papiamento evolved from a rudimentary pidgin language, utilized for the purposes of communication among peoples with different native languages, into the more complex language it is today. At its base, the language is an Afro-Portuguese Creole, which, over the years, has grown in syntax and lexicon with increased borrowings from Dutch, English and Spanish, but still possessing its own unique rhythm and meanings.
Evidence of its first widespread use can be observed in official documents from Curacao in the early 18th century. Through the middle of the 19th century, Papiamento was the language of choice for written materials, including Roman Catholic hymnals and schoolbooks. The first Papiamento-language newspaper soon followed with the apt moniker of ‘Civilisado’ (The Civilizer) in 1871. Papiamento would have continued to be used as the language of instruction until Dutch subsidies came with the stipulation that lessons be taught solely in Dutch. Papiamento’s re-introduction into the educational system did not happen again until recent times.
Although in use as the native language for 300 years, Papiamento was only declared Aruba’s official language, alongside Dutch, as of March 19, 2003.