Netherlands Antilles

Culture Name

Netherlands Antillean; Antiyas Hulandes (Papiamentu)


Identification. The Netherlands Antilles consists of the islands CuraƧao ("Korsow") and Bonaire; the "SSS" islands, Sint Eustatius ("Statia"), Saba, and the Dutch part of Saint Martin (Sint Maarten); and the uninhabited Little CuraƧao and Little Bonaire. The Netherlands Antilles is an autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. From a geographic, historical, linguistic, and cultural point of view, Aruba, which seceded in 1986, is part of this group.

Location and Geography. CuraƧao and Bonaire, together with Aruba, form the Dutch Leeward, or ABC, islands. CuraƧao lies just off the Venezuelan coast at the southwestern end of the Caribbean archipelago. CuraƧao and Bonaire are arid. Sint Maarten, Saba, and Sint Eustatius form the Dutch Windward islands, 500 miles (800 kilometers) north of CuraƧao. CuraƧao encompasses 171 square miles (444 square kilometers); Bonaire, 111 square miles (288 square kilometers); Sint Maarten, 17 square miles (43 square kilometers); Sint Eustatius, 8 square miles (21 square kilometers), and Saban, 5 square miles (13 square kilometers).

Demography. CuraƧao, the largest and most populated of the islands, had a population of 153,664 in 1997. Bonaire had 14,539 inhabitants. For Sint Maarten, Sint Eustatius, and Saba the population figures were 38,876, 2,237, and 1,531 respectively. As a result of industrialization, tourism, and migration, CuraƧao, Bonaire, and Sint Maarten are multicultural societies. On Sint Maarten, migrants outnumber the indigenous island population. Economic recession has caused a growing migration to the Netherlands; the number of Antilleans living there is close to 100,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Papiamentu is the local language of CuraƧao and Bonaire. Caribbean English is the language of the SSS islands. The official language is Dutch, which is spoken little in daily life.

The origins of Papiamentu are much debated, with two views prevalent. According to the monogenetic theory, Papiamentu, like other Caribbean Creole languages, originated from a single Afro-Portuguese proto-creole, that developed as a lingua franca in western Africa in the days of the slave trade. The polygenetic theory maintains that Papiamentu developed in CuraƧao on a Spanish base.

Symbolism. On 15 December 1954, the islands obtained autonomy within the Dutch kingdom, and this is the day the Antilles commemorates the unity of the Dutch Kingdom. The Dutch royal family was an important point of reference to the Antillean nation before and directly after World War II.

The Antillean flag and anthem express the unity of the island group; the islands have their own flags, anthems, and coats of arms. Insular festive days are more popular than national festivities.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Before 1492, CuraƧao, Bonaire, and Aruba were part of the Caquetio chiefdom of coastal Venezuela. Caquetios were a ceramic group engaged in fishing, agriculture, hunting, gathering, and trade with the mainland. Their language belonged to the Arowak family.

Christopher Columbus probably discovered Sint Maarten in 1493 on his second voyage, and CuraƧao and Bonaire were discovered in 1499. Because of the absence of precious metals, the Spanish declared the islands Islas Inutiles ("useless islands"). In 1515, the inhabitants were deported to Hispaniola to work in mines. After an unsuccessful

Netherlands Antilles
Netherlands Antilles
attempt to colonize CuraƧao and Aruba, those islands were used to breed goats, horses, and cattle.

In 1630, the Dutch seized Sint Maarten to make use of its large salt deposits. After the Spanish reconquered the island, the Dutch West India Company (WIC) took possession of CuraƧao in 1634. Bonaire and Aruba were taken over by the Dutch in 1636. The WIC colonized and governed the Leeward Islands until 1791. The English occupied CuraƧao between 1801 and 1803 and 1807 and 1816. After 1648, CuraƧao and Sint Eustatius became centers for smuggling, privateering, and the slave trade. CuraƧao and Bonaire never developed plantations because of the arid climate. Dutch merchants and Sephardic Jewish merchants on CuraƧao sold trade goods and slaves from Africa to the plantation colonies and the Spanish mainland. On Bonaire, the salt was exploited and cattle were bred for trade and food on CuraƧao. Colonization on Bonaire did not take place until 1870.

Dutch administrators and merchants formed the white elite. Sephardim were the commercial elite. Poor whites and free blacks formed the nucleus of the small Creole middle class. Slaves were the lowest class. Because of the absence of commercial, labor-intensive plantation agriculture, slavery was less cruel when compared to plantation colonies like Surinam or Jamaica. The Roman Catholic Church played an important role in the repression of African culture, the legitimization of slavery, and preparations for emancipation. Slave rebellions occurred in 1750 and 1795 on CuraƧao. Slavery was abolished in 1863. An independent peasantry did not arise because blacks remained economically dependent on their former owners.

The Dutch took possession of the Windward Islands in the 1630s, but colonists from other European countries also settled there. Sint Eustatius was a trade center until 1781, when it was punished for trading with the North American independents. Its economy never recovered. On Saba, colonists and their slaves worked small plots of land. On Sint Maarten, the salt pans were exploited and a few small plantations were established. The abolition of slavery on the French part of Sint Maarten in 1848 resulted in the abolition of slavery on the Dutch side and a slave rebellion on Sint Eustatius. On Saba and Statia, slaves were emancipated in 1863.

The establishment of oil refineries on CuraƧao and Aruba marked the beginning of industrialization. The lack of local labor resulted in the migration of thousands of workers. Industrial laborers from the Caribbean, Latin America, Madeira, and Asia came to the islands, along with civil servants and teachers from the Netherlands and Surinam. Lebanese, Ashkenazim, Portuguese, and Chinese became important in local trade.

Industrialization ended colonial race relations. The Protestant and Sephardim elites on CuraƧao maintained their positions in commerce, civil service, and politics, but the black masses were no longer dependent on them for employment or land. The introduction of general suffrage in 1949 resulted in the formation of nonreligious political parties, and the Catholic Church lost much of its influence. Despite tensions between Afro-CuraƧaoans and Afro-Caribbean migrants, the process of integration proceeded.

In 1969, a trade union conflict at the CuraƧao refinery angered thousands of black laborers. On 30 May a protest march to the government seat ended in the burning of parts of Willemstad. After a request for intervention by the Antillean government, Dutch marines helped to restore law and order. Newly founded Afro-CuraƧaoan parties changed the political order, which still was dominated by white Creoles. Within the state bureaucracy and the educational system, Antilleans replaced Dutch expatriates. Afro-Antillean cultural traditions were revalued, racial ideology was changed, and Papiamentu became recognized as the national language on CuraƧao and Bonaire.

After 1985, the oil industry has declined and in the 1990s, the economy was in recession. The government is now the largest employer, and civil servants take up 95 percent of the national budget. In 2000, a series of agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concerning the restructuring of the government expenses and a new economic policy have paved the way for renewed Dutch financial aid and economic recovery.

National Identity. In 1845, the Windward and Leeward Islands (including Aruba) became a separate colony. The governor, appointed by the Dutch, was the central authority. Between 1948 and 1955, the islands became autonomous within the Dutch kingdom. Requests from Aruba to become a separate partner were refused. General suffrage was introduced in 1949.

On Sint Maarten, political leaders preferred separation from the Antilles. On CuraƧao, the major political parties also opted for that status. In 1990, the Netherlands suggested a breakup of the colony into autonomous Windward and Leeward (CuraƧao and Bonaire) countries. However, in a referendum in 1993 and 1994, a majority voted for the continuation of the existing ties. Support for an autonomous status was largest on Sint Maarten and CuraƧao. Insularism and economic competition constantly threaten national unity. Despite economic setbacks, in 2000 the Island Council of Sint Maarten expressed the desire to separate from the Antilles within four years.

Ethnic Relations. The Afro-Antillean past is a source of identity for most black Antilleans, but

Women's participation in the labor market has increased since the 1950s.
Women's participation in the labor market has increased since the 1950s.
different linguistic, historical, social, cultural, and racial backgrounds have strengthened insularism. To many people "yui di Korsow" (Child from CuraƧao) refers only to Afro-CuraƧaoans. White Creoles and Jewish CuraƧaoans are symbolically excluded from the core population of CuraƧao.

Urbanism,Architecture, and the Use of Space

CuraƧao and Sint Maarten are the most densely populated and urbanized islands. Punda, the old center of Willemstad on CuraƧao, has been on the United Nations World Heritage List since 1998. Plantation houses from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries are spread over the island, next to the traditional cunucu houses in which poor whites, free blacks, and slaves used to live. Sint Maarten has residential areas on and between the many hillsides. The Bonairean cunucu house differs from the ones on Aruba and CuraƧao in its ground plan. The cunucu house is built on a wooden frame and filled in with clay and grass. The roof is made of several layers of palm leaves. It consists minimally of one living room ( sala ), two bedrooms ( kamber ), and a kitchen, which is always situated downwind. The picturesque Saban cottage has style elements of traditional English cottages.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Traditional food customs differ between the islands, but all of them are variations of Caribbean Creole cuisine. Typical traditional foods are funchi, a maize porridge, and pan bati, a pancake made of maize flour. Funchi and pan bati combined with carni stoba (a goat stew) form the basis of the traditional meal. Bolo pretu (black cake) is prepared only for special occasions. Fast food and international cuisine have become more popular since the establishment of tourism.

Basic Economy. The economy centers on oil refining, ship repair, tourism, financial services, and the transit trade. CuraƧao was a major center of offshore business but lost many clients after the United States and the Netherlands signed tax treaties in the 1980s. Efforts to stimulate tourism on CuraƧao have been only partly successful. Market protection has resulted in the establishment of local industries for the production of soap and beer, but the effects have been limited to CuraƧao. On Sint Maarten, tourism developed in the 1960s. Saba and Sint Eustatius depend on tourists from Sint Maarten. Bonairean tourism doubled between 1986 and 1995, and that island also has oil transshipment facilities. Underemployment climbed to 15 percent on CuraƧao and 17 percent on Sint Maarten during the 1990s. Emigration by unemployed persons from the lower classes has caused social problems in the Netherlands.

Land Tenure and Property. There are three types of land tenure: regular landed property, hereditary tenure or long lease, and the renting of government land. For economic purposes, especially in the oil and tourism industries, government lands are rented in long renewable leases.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. In all the islands, racial, ethnic, and economic stratification are intertwined. On Saba, the relationship between black and white inhabitants is comfortable. On CuraƧao, racial and economic stratification are more obvious. Unemployment is high among the Afro-CuraƧaoan population. Trade minorities of Jewish, Arabian, and Indian descent and foreign investors have their own positions in the socioeconomic structure. CuraƧao, Sint Maarten, and Bonaire have many immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, who hold the lowest positions in the tourism and construction sectors.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Luxury goods such as cars and houses express social status. In traditional celebrations of important life events such as birthdays and First Communion, conspicuous consumption takes place. The middle classes aspire to upper-class consumption patterns, which often puts pressure on a family's budget.

Political Life

Government. There are three levels of government: the kingdom, which consists of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles, and Aruba; the Netherlands Antilles; and the territories of each of the five islands. The council of ministers consists of the complete Dutch cabinet and two ministers plenipotentiary representing the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. It is in charge of foreign policy, defense, and the safeguarding of fundamental rights and freedoms. Since 1985, CuraƧao has had fourteen seats in the national parliament, known as the Staten. Bonaire and Sint Maarten each have three, and Sint Eustatius and Saba have one each. The central government is dependent on coalitions of parties from CuraƧao and the other islands.

Political autonomy in regard to internal affairs is almost complete. The governor is the representative of the Dutch monarch and the head of the government. The island parliament is called the Island Council. Representatives to each are elected for a four-year term. Political parties are island-oriented. A lack of synchronization of national and island policies, machine-style politics, and conflicts of interests between the islands are not conducive to efficient government.

Military Activity. Military camps on CuraƧao and Aruba protect the islands and their territorial waters. The Coast Guard of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba became operative in 1995 to protect the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba and their territorial waters from drug trafficking.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

There is a social welfare plan called the Social Safety Net on CuraƧao, to which the Netherlands contributes financially. The results have been meager and the exodus of young unemployed Antilleans to the Netherlands has increased.

A man cutting a wahoo. CuraƧao, Netherlands Antilles.
A man cutting a wahoo. CuraƧao, Netherlands Antilles.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

OKSNA (Body for Cultural Cooperation Netherlands Antilles) is a nongovernmental advisory board that advises the minister of culture on the allocation of subsidies from the Dutch development aid program for cultural and scientific projects. Centro pa Desaroyo di Antiyas (CEDE Antiyas) allocates funds to social and educational projects. OKSNA and CEDE Antiyas receive funds from the Dutch development aid program. Welfare organizations focus on areas ranging from day care centers to the care of the elderly. The government supports many of these activities.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Women's participation in the labor market has increased since the 1950s, but men still hold the most important positions throughout the economy. Women work mostly in sales and as nurses, teachers, and civil servants. Unemployment is higher for women than for men. Since the 1980s, the Antilles has had two female prime ministers and several female ministers. Women from the Caribbean and Latin America work in the tourism sector and as live-in maids.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Until the 1920s, the upper strata of society, especially on CuraƧao, had a highly patriarchal family system in which men had social and sexual freedom and women were subordinate to their spouses and fathers. In the Afro-Antillean population sexual relations between men and women were not enduring and marriage was the exception. Many households had a female head, who often was the chief provider for herself and her children. Men, as fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, and lovers, often made material contributions to more than one household.

Mothers and grandmothers enjoy high prestige. The central role of the mother is keeping the family together, and the strong bond between mother and child is expressed in songs, proverbs, sayings, and expression.

Marriage,Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Couples often marry at an older age because of the matrifocal family type, and the number of illegitimate children is high. Visiting relationships and extramarital relationships are prevalent, and the number of divorces is growing.

Domestic Unit. Marriage and the nuclear family have become the most common relationships in the middle economic strata. Salaried employment in the oil industry has enabled men to fulfill their roles as husbands and fathers. Women's roles changed after agriculture and domestic industry lost economic importance. Raising children and taking care of the household became their primary tasks. Monogamy and the nuclear family are still not as predominant as in the United States and Europe, however.

Inheritance. Inheritance rules vary on each island and between ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

Kin Groups. In the upper and middle classes, kinship rules are bilateral. In the matrifocal household type, kinship rules stress matrilinear descent.


Infant Care. The mother takes care of the children. Grandmothers and older children assist in the care of younger children.

Child Rearing and Education. The educational system is based on the Dutch educational reforms of the 1960s. At age four, children attend kindergarten and, after age six, primary school. After age twelve, they enroll in secondary or vocational schools. Many students go to Holland for further studies.

The picturesque Saban cottage has style elements of traditional English cottages.
The picturesque Saban cottage has style elements of traditional English cottages.
Although Dutch is the language of only a small percentage of the population, it is the official language of instruction in most schools.

Higher Education. The CuraƧao Teacher Training College and the University of the Netherlands Antilles, which has departments of law and technology, provide higher education. The university is located on CuraƧao and Sint Maarten.


Formal etiquette is adapted from European etiquette. The small scale of the island societies influences everyday interaction patterns. To outside observers, communication styles lack openness and goal orientation. Respect for authority structures and gender and age roles are important. Refusing a request is considered impolite.


Religious Beliefs. Roman Catholicism is the prevalent religion on CuraƧao (81 percent) and Bonaire (82 percent). Dutch Reformed Protestantism is the religion of the traditional white elite and recent Dutch migrants who are less than 3 percent of the population. Jewish colonists who came to CuraƧao in the sixteenth century account for less than 1 percent. On the Windward Islands Dutch Protestantism and Catholicism have had less influence, but Catholicism has become the religion of 56 percent of Sabans and 41 percent of the inhabitants of Sint Maarten. Methodism, Anglicanism, and Adventism are widespread on Statia. Fourteen percent of Sabans are Anglican. Conservative sects and the New Age movement are becoming more popular on all the islands.

Religious Practitioners. Brua holds a position similar to that of Obeah on Trinidad. Originating from the word "witch," brua is a mixture of non-Christian spiritual practices. Practitioners use amulets, magic waters, and fortune-telling. Montamentu is an ecstatic Afro-Caribbean religion that was introduced by migrants from Santo Domingo in the 1950s. Roman Catholic and African deities are revered.

Death and Afterlife. Opinions on death and afterlife are in accordance with Christian doctrine. Afro-Caribbean religions mix Christian and African beliefs.

Medicine and Health Care

All the islands have general hospitals and/or medical centers, at least one geriatric home, and a pharmacy. Many people use medical services in the United States, Venezuela, Columbia, and the Netherlands. Specialists and surgeons from the Netherlands visit the Elisabeth Hospital on CuraƧao on a regular basis.

Secular Celebrations

The traditional harvest celebration is called seĆŗ (CuraƧao) or simadan (Bonaire). A crowd of people carrying harvest products parade through the streets accompanied by music on traditional instruments. The fifth, fifteenth, and fiftieth birthdays are celebrated with ceremony and gifts. The Dutch queen's birthday is celebrated on 30 April, and Emancipation Day on 1 July. The Antillean national festival day occurs on 21 October. The French and Dutch sides of Sint Maarten celebrate the feast day of Saint Martin on 12 November.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Since 1969, the Papiamentu and Afro-Antillean cultural expressions have influenced art forms. The white Creole elite on CuraƧao leans toward European cultural traditions. Slavery and the pre-industrial rural life are points of reference. Few artists, with the exception of musicians, make a living from their art.

Literature. Each island has a literary tradition. On CuraƧao, authors publish in Papiamentu or Dutch. In the Windward Islands, Sint Maarten is the literary center.

Graphic Arts. The natural landscape is a source of inspiration to many graphic artists. Sculpture often expresses the African past and African physical types. Professional artists exhibit locally and abroad. Tourism provides a market for nonprofessional artists.

Performance Arts. Oratory and music are the historical foundations of the performance arts. Since 1969, this tradition has inspired many musicians and dance and theater companies. TambĆŗ and tumba, which have African roots, are to CuraƧao what calypso is to Trinidad. Slavery and the slave rebellion of 1795 are sources of inspiration.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The Caribbean Maritime Biological Institute has done research in marine biology since 1955. Since 1980, scientific progress has been strongest in the fields of history and archeology, the study of Dutch and Papiamentu literature, linguistics, and architecture. The University of the Netherlands Antilles has incorporated the Archeological Anthropological Institute of the Netherlands Antilles. The Jacob Dekker Instituut was founded in the late 1990s. It focuses on African history and culture and the African heritage on the Antilles. Because of a lack of local funds, scientific research relies on Dutch finances and scholars. The fact that both the Dutch and Papiamentu languages have a limited public hampers contacts with scientists from the Caribbean region.


Broek, A. G. PaSaka Kara: Historia di Literatura na Papiamentu , 1998.

Brugman, F. H. The Monuments of Saba: The Island of Saba, a Caribbean Example , 1995.

Central Bureau of Statistics. Statistical Yearbook of the Netherlands Antilles , 1998.

Dalhuisen, L. et al., eds. Geschiedenis van de Antillen, 1997.

DeHaan, T. J. Antilliaanse Instituties: De Economische Ontwikkelingen van de Nederlandse Antillen en Aruba, 1969ā€“1995 , 1998.

Goslinga, C. C. The Dutch in the Caribbean and in Surinam, 1791ā€“1942 . 1990.

Havisser, J. The First Bonaireans , 1991.

Martinus, F. E. "The Kiss of a Slave: Papiamentu's West African Connection." Ph.D. dissertation. University of Amsterdam, 1996.

Oostindie, G. and P. Verton. "KiSorto di Reino/What Kind of Kingdom? Antillean and Aruban Views and Expectations on the Kingdom of the Netherlands." West Indian Guide 72 (1 and 2): 43ā€“75, 1998.

Paula, A. F. "Vrije" Slaven: En Sociaal-Historische Studie over de Dualistische Slavenemancipatie op Nederlands Sint Maarten, 1816ā€“1863 , 1993.



Also read article about Netherlands Antilles from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

roland fisher
exelent source of information for my school project keep up the good work and dont stop with the information because i need a ton more and your site doesnt have enough
thank-you ever so much this is helping so much with my project
Who knows more informations from Aruba 1946-1950.
From de KLM?I am intrested to know ,becouse my father was staying there.
thanks a lot for this short but complete description, im actualy trying to do a research on a cultural center for a minority in Saint Martin (better the french side beacause of my english level) but i had no idea of the reality here...
if you have contact with this kind of places (association, museum...)it could be so helpfull for me!
As for the moment 2011- Curacao and St. Maarten are autonomous islands - still colony of Holland: Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius are BES islands, mean they're pertinence to Holland. ( like Provence of Holland. It all changed at 10-10-2010.
I am doing a report and would like to know what are the attitudes about touching in the Netherlands Antilles? Also, how are people greeted along with if there are required clothing for special occasions?

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: