Arubans - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Catholicism is the prevalent religion on Aruba. In 1991, 85 percent of the population claimed to be Catholic. Church attendance is much lower. The first chapel on Aruba was built in 1750. Protestantism, the religion of the traditional elite, is embraced by less than 3 percent of the population. The Protestant Church of Aruba was founded by Lutherans and Reformed in 1822, who both had been without ministers or churches until then; Lutheran and Reformed communities ceased to exist as separate entities. Although, officially, it has no specific denomination, its present identity can be described as "Calvinistic." Twentieth-century migration led to the appearance of other groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Methodists, and evangelical sects (one having emigrated from Suriname during the oil-boom years, another originating in the United States), each comprising 2 percent or less of the population; as well as small communities of Anglicans, Adventists, Jews, Muslims, and Confucianists. Nearly 3 percent of the population claims to have no religion. The number of and participation in new religious sects and movements is increasing.

Traditional popular assumptions about the supernatural are called brua. Although the term probably originates from the Spanish word bruja (witch), brua is not to be equated with witchcraft. It includes magic, fortune-telling, healing, and assumptions about both good and evil. Magic is conducted by a hacido di brua (practitioner of brua) and can be applied for both beneficently and maliciously. As a counterpoint to Christian belief, the evil spirit is called spirito malu. Belief in brua is often not confirmed because of the low social esteem attached to it.

Ceremonies. Traditional (semi-) religious ceremonies have a Catholic origin or orientation. On New Year's Eve, best wishes are delivered at homes by small bands singing a serenade called Dandé. Saint John's Day (24 June) is celebrated with bonfires and the ceremony of Dera Gai (the burying of the rooster). Traditionally, a rooster was buried, leaving its head under a calabash above the ground. At present the ceremony is carried out without the rooster. Blindfolded dancers from the audience try to hit the calabash with a stick while a small band plays and sings the traditional song of San Juan. Carnival was introduced on Aruba by Caribbean migrants but has become the preeminent festival of the entire population. Easter Monday is called Black Monday; at present people camp for up to a week at the beach in tents and shacks, but the custom originates from the yearly picnic held by Afro-Caribbean Methodists. Of special importance are the celebrations of an individual's fifteenth, fiftieth, and seventy-fifth birthdays.

Arts. Of the fine arts, music, poetry, singing, theater, dance, painting, and other visual arts are the most important. Aruban artistic production can be divided into two spheres, one noncommercial and the other directed at tourism and local recreation. Numerous artists are active in both. Many noncommercial artists are inspired by Aruba's history, tradition, and natural landscape, reworking these in a modern form. A lack of funds and clear governmental policy results in tension between the commercialization of art for the benefit of tourism and the professionalization of local talent for noncommercial purposes. Aruba hosts an annual jazz and Latin music festival and biennial dance and theater festivals.

Medicine. Most family doctors and specialists have been educated in the Netherlands, the United States, or South America. The Doctor Horacio Oduber Hospital has 350 beds. Traditional healing methods (Papiamento: remedi di tera ) make use of herbs, amulets, and so on, and are practiced by a curadó or curioso (healer), who often also acts as hacido di brua. Some of the methods are legally forbidden. Modern natural healing methods seem to be growing in popularity.

Death and Afterlife. Opinions on death and the afterlife are in accord with Christian doctrine. The traditional wake is called Ocho Dia—"eight days," the duration of the customary mourning period. In a carefully closed room, prayer and singing around a small altar continue for those eight days. The wake is concluded by a ceremony in which close kin and friends participate: at the last evening of mourning, the altar is taken apart, and chairs are turned upside down. The windows are opened to make sure the spirit of the deceased is able to leave the house. The ceremony ends with a meal and storytelling. The wake, which has a medieval Spanish origin, is losing popularity in the course of modernization.

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