Taste Our Culture
We the People
Considering its small size, Curaçao has a surprising ethnic and religious diversity. For a long time, the island had just three major groups: the African descendants, the Dutch and the Jews. After the refinery opened, immigrants from all over the world helped make Curaçao the multi-ethnic and diverse paradise it is now.
We believe it is because of this, that our island has a high tolerance and acceptance of all religions, cultures and sexual orientations. But most of all, this unique blend brings you a palette of food and music you won’t find anywhere!
Starting from January, Curaçao will be under the influence of Karnaval! Full-scale beauty contests for both the adult and the children’s marches, Prince & Pancho elections, the huge popular Tumba Festival to decide the road march anthem and of course let’s not forget the colorful Grand March. Locals build make-shift elevated stands for their families on the Carnival route and that’s a party in itself as they will show up every night to guard their precious lot and start the celebration in anticipation of the big day.
In bygone days, the seú was a festive march through the fields, as laborers took the fruits of the harvest to the warehouses. The women carried baskets with produce on their heads, while the men played drums and chapis and blew on hollowed out cow's horns to announce the celebrations. Everyone moved in graceful dance steps, called wapa, recalling the movements used in planting and harvesting, while singing work songs. Similar to Carnival, the modern-day Harvest Festival follows the same formula of beauty pageants, music festivals and parades. But, believe it or not, this cultural party is even bigger than karnaval because of the sheer number of participants. The different folkloric dances and costumes are something to behold and most definitely worth watching. The Seú festivities happen around Easter.
All That Jazz
Curaçao also has several respected jazz musicians and composers. They often play at local clubs and can admirably hold their own beside the international talents who appear at the island's major jazz festival, Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival, featuring the world’s biggest names in popular music.
Curaçao's musical heritage is a rich blend of mostly African, but undeniably also European, US, Latin American and Caribbean influences. Over the years traditional musical styles from these and other places have been blended and adapted, creating several unique local styles.
The tambú, also called the Curaçao blues, was at first used by the slaves to express their sorrow, their hardship and their frustration by means of songs. The basic instruments of the tambú are the tambú (drum), the kachu (cow's horn played by blowing through it), and the agan (a piece of iron or a plough- share) or the chapi (hoe). The dance style combines isolation of body parts with elaborate hip gyrations. In spite of its decidedly suggestive movements the tambú follows a strict etiquette of no physical touching, which adds to the erotic tension. It was this eroticism, along with the biting social critique of the lyrics that led to the tambú being persecuted for years. Today, public tambú parties are often held at roadside snack bars in December and January.
Not to be confused with the name of the Harvest Festival, the traditional rhythms of the music form seú, live on today only in the annual folklore parade that is held in Easter. Every year in the weeks before the march, folkloric groups gather to rehearse, often adding new creative elements of their own. For example, the conch shell, which sounds a bit like a foghorn when blown, comes from the harvest festival of neighboring Bonaire, the simadán.
One of the most important forms of Curaçao music is the tumba. This music is originally African and dates back to the 17th century. The tumba has developed further on the island so that its rhythm is no longer the same as the original one. No doubt, the tumba is the island's most popular dance tune, every bit as important to local people as salsa is to Latin Americans. The tumba in today's Carnival has taken on its own rhythm, with influences of the merengue and other Afro-Caribbean rhythms, as well as jazz harmonies. Visit the island during the weeks preceding the annual Carnival festivities and you will be bombarded on all sides with the catchy beat of the Carnival tumba. Whatever the exact beat, one thing is certain: even the most serious Curaçaoan is apt to begin swaying to the rhythm when the Carnival road march is played.
Curaçaoans are great fans of salsa and merengue, as well as the melodic guitars of Caribbean trios and the sentimental Mexican mariachi. You can expect to hear all these at local hotels and restaurants. Occasionally you may be surprised to find a marching drum band determinedly occupying the middle of a street. These bands, directed and staffed by youngsters, often take to the streets for walk-a-thons and other fund raising activities. No one would object if you join in.
Local food is heavy and hearty. Main dishes such as fried fish, stewed goat (kabritu), chicken and beef are served with peas and rice (aros moro), potatoes or funchi, a boiled cornmeal paste that resembles polenta. Mixed with beans and sugar, funchi becomes tutu. For the really adventuresome there is stewed iguana (yuana), with a taste remarkably like chicken. Green papaya, local cucumbers (kònkòmber) or cabbage are stewed with corned beef. Okra (yambo) and cactus (kadushi) are made into slimy soups, definitely an acquired taste.
To sample krioyo food at its best, lunch at the covered food market in Punda during the week. The atmosphere is crowded and noisy but you can't beat it for local color, price and portion size.
For late night takeout, local style, don't miss the roadside snack
trucks (truk'i pan) and snack bars.
Unlike the official language, which is Dutch, the Curaçao vernacular is Papiamentu. It is a Creole language taken from Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, Dutch and West African, that is believed to have originated to enable slaves from different regions in Africa and their masters, and the slaves among themselves to communicate with one another.
Because of the multicultural society on the island, besides Papiamento and Dutch, English and Spanish are also spoken. Unique among other Creole languages primarily spoken in lower classes of society in countries such as Surinam, Haiti, Jamaica and Barbados, Papiamento is the only Creole language that is widely spoken at all levels. It has become part of the identity.