Culture of Aruba

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Aruba, one of the many islands that make up the Caribbean, was first discovered and claimed by the Spanish in 1499. Yet evidence and records show that the Spanish were definitely not the first people on the island. Painted petrographs left behind on walls and the ceilings of caves and excavated ancient artifacts of the Arawaks have been found in Aruba, indicating that the Caiquetios, peoples of the Arawak tribe that migrated north from the Orinoco Basin in South America, were in fact the very first inhabitants of the island.

Foreign Presence[edit]

Although the Spanish were in control of Aruba for many years, the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Netherlands soon gave the Dutch the upper hand. Finally in 1636 the Spanish handed over the island to the Dutch. Years later, the English took over Aruba for a brief period, but it quickly returned to Dutch rule in 1816 and remained that way until 1985, when Aruba became a separate entity within the kingdom of the Netherlands.

People and culture[edit]

The people and culture of Aruba have many different backgrounds, ranging from the Indians, to the Spanish, and more recently, the Dutch. Yet through the years Aruba has become the home for many different people, especially since the 20th century when industry has blossomed and people from all corners of the world call this island home. It can be said that Aruba is now made up of at least 40 different nationalities all living peacefully together.

Nowadays, the nearly 88,000 inhabitants of Aruba reflect its greatly changing history. Through local foods, architecture, celebrations, and languages can immediately be seen the different influences the past settlers had on the island. Yet the Dutch continue to be the most influential people in Aruban society, since the Dutch language is the official tongue of the Aruban people and Aruba continues to have close ties to the Netherlands.

Cultural celebrations[edit]

Aruba has its own distinct culture, which often includes celebrations. Color and music play an important role in the majority of cultural events, most notably in the yearly Carnival and Dia Di San Juan (St. John's Day) celebrations.

For Dia Di San Juan, Arubans dress in red and yellow traditional shirt and black traditional trousers to represent fire. This celebration originates from a combination of pre-Christian Arawak harvest festivals and the works of Spanish missionaries to combine them with the celebration of San Juan. Aruba is the only country in the world that celebrates this day with dancing and singing. During the celebration a singer will chant a familiar "dera gai" (bury rooster) tune while players accompany the song with drum, violin, and local instrument called a wiri. While they sing, they will choose someone to come and try to hit a fake rooster with their eyes closed. When that person hits that rooster, it will bring a wonderful smell that comes from the fruit (calabash).

Arubans often refer to Carnival as Bacchanal, a term based on the Greek and Roman celebrations dedicated to Dionysus for the Greeks and Bacchus for the Romans, their god of wine, vegetation, and cheer. Aruba's Bacchanalia shares some similarities with the ancient celebrations.

The Greeks wrote tragedies for these celebrations, and modern-day Arubans also use this time for artistic expressions. Similarly, they each have a religious significance. Aruba's Carnival is about cleansing one's body of sins, like the historic celebrations, and helps the people of Aruba prepare for Lent. "Aruba's Official Carnival Concept Design," as it is called, infuses themes of music, dance, colors, creativity, and merriment.

The New Year celebration in Aruba also includes a number of cultural superstitions and traditions; the traditional celebration is called dande. The name dande, also spelled dandee, comes from the Papiamento word, dandara, meaning to revel, to carouse, or to have a good time. After King William III of the Netherlands declared slaves to be free, the celebration began.

A group of five or six people usually performs these rituals, though more can join in. These people accompany a singer and travel door-to-door to express their best wishes for the New Year in repetitive songs, with a chorus that includes the phrase "ai nobe"(aña nobo) – "new year" – sung after each phrase. The celebratory travel usually leads to the houses of the singers' friends and family, where the host collects money in his hat to give to the group. Certain districts may have their own dande groups performing on the second day of the year. On the best view the word dandee from dandara also means "to go from a place to a other" that is not a ritual but to make peace between neighbors that had an argument in the passed year and a wish to begin with a blessed new year and "ay nobe" from a Spanish word "can't see", meaning "can't see the argument"

Superstition and pagan beliefs[edit]

Influenced by American tourists and the Latin Americans working in Aruba, Halloween is now observed and to a lesser extent the celebration of Dia de Los Muertos among the Latin Americans. The first beliefs and superstitions in Aruba date from Pre-Columbian times, when Indians roamed on Aruba. After 1820, with the disappearance of the Indians their imagery and cultural heritage was lost. With the influx of slaves during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, African beliefs and superstitions were assimilated, some of which are evident in the traditions of Dera Gai, Dande, and harvest feasts.

Fortune tellers abound in Aruba. A popular practice involves female practitioners sipping and spitting spirits (often cheap rum), amidst candles and incense, swinging a duster, puffing a cigar, in the belief that the future can be revealed by looking at the curling smoke and lit cigar end, or blowing the smoke on, unsuspecting rooster.

Cards, including tarot decks are also popular, and no ceremony is complete without the customer being dispensed a potion or bath salts, the use of which will yield the desired result. Consultation fees are steep, but good fortune does not come cheap.

Many Arubans, however, refer to these activities as like believing that roosters lay eggs (Webo di Gai).

Popular blessings[edit]

To ensure a home blessed with happiness and good fortune, ceremonial cleansing starts at the rear of the house, removing dirt through the front door. This should only be done on Saturdays. The traditional tile floors are mopped with brightly colored cleansers with names like Vini Vini (English: Come, Come), Suerte Dinero (Money Luck), Abre Camino (Path to Fortune).

To ward off evil spirits all rooms must be incensed and four lemons with crosses carved in them placed in the four farthest comers of the house. Outlandish amounts of fireworks go up in smoke on New Year's Eve every year, to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck (called Core cu Fucu, "make the curse go away").

Arubans like gambling, and everywhere little shacks are found where lottery tickets can be bought, or one can play numbers. In the past these number lotteries were not tolerated, and the winning numbers were announced on the radio, by announcing the arrivals of sailing ships from the country of origin of the lottery, with the ships' registration numbers corresponding to the winning numbers. Whenever a traffic accident occurs, lines of cars pass the crash site, and people crowd around the crashed vehicles to write down the license plate numbers. Playing these numbers in lotteries brings fortune, Gamblers who are, on a losing streak should wash their hands thoroughly, remove the underwear and put it on backwards to turn the tide.

Wallets and handbags should never be placed on the floor to avoid bad luck. Carrying magnets is recommended to ensure that you keep your money. Botanicals, shops where religious paraphernalia, fortune telling wares, potions, lotions, oils, perfumes, bath salts, incense and other essentials are sold, are often found next to shops peddling lottery tickets.

Many frequent these fortune retailers, and supermarkets also carry the glass and plastic bottles with the most peculiar labels offering good fortune and wealth. Many of these products go by such brand names as Assured Wealth, Money Bringer and Good Luck. A closer inspection of the labels will yield no specification of used ingredients. These products are sold on the strength of faith alone. Some botanicals even provide one-stop shopping for those in search of fortune by selling both fortune paraphernalia and lottery tickets.

For a young woman the surest way to attract a man is to devote herself to San Antonio. She must purchase an icon of this saint and scented candles. If this fails to work, the saint is punished, by making the icon face the wall, and putting the heat on by placing the lit candle at the back of the icon.

Practitioners of santeria recommend taking baths with sweet scented salts, oils and potions to attract a husband. Rose petals, honey, scented Awa Florida, cinnamon, sandalwood, sweet wood and musk will lure the cherished or admired male prospects.

Scented candles, also popular in the United States, seem to capitalize on these practices. Once a man is bound by marriage, he must be home broken and undergo treatment to assure his fidelity and his leave of nocturnal escapades, a process referred to as domestication (Papiamento: manza).

The wife steals a sock of the right foot of her newly wed husband, and buries this on the third Monday of the month, before midnight in front of the main entrance of the house on the right side. Then during the week before the month ends, he is administered five drops of Amanza Guapo in his cup of morning coffee.

External links[edit]

  • Aruba - Official site for Government of Aruba