Caribbean Culture In The ABC Islands: Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao
Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao — otherwise known as “the ABC Caribbean islands” — rank among the most striking islands in the world. The beaches, multiple cultural influences, and daily celebrations make the trifecta of islands the ideal vacation spot. The sounds, flavors, and spectacular scenery contribute to making the islands a premier holiday experience for any traveler.
Aruba is well known for its lively spirit, which is often expressed musically and in dance. Bonaire is the choice of quieter, studious types because of a more remote, rural vibe. Curaçao is the largest of the ABC islands, and it’s known for its beautiful beaches. See also my post on the 12 Best Caribbean Beaches to visit. Many visitors don’t make a choice; they visit all three islands for an enriching, multicultural experience.
The ABC Melting Pot of Caribbean Culture
Nowhere in the Caribbean offers a greater amount of cultural diversity than the melting pot of the ABC islands. The area is home to more than 100 nationalities, ethnicities, languages, and colorful slang expressions, or patois. Aruba’s official languages are Dutch and Papiamento. Dutch is also the official language of Bonaire and Curacao, but most locals speak English and/or Spanish as an essential language for communicating within the hospitality industry, where most locals work in one aspect or another.
All three islands enjoy a culture of celebration, diversity, and tropical beauty. Although many groups call the islands home, the local culture is a true melting pot. However, key groups maintain certain cultural integrity that includes religion, belief systems, and cultural backgrounds. Some groups maintain a strict separation of family culture and neighborhood culture, but the level of amalgamation varies considerably throughout the islands.
For travelers, that’s great news for visitors who want to experience different cultures and those who want to observe how certain cultures maintain their cultural history. Local festivals, religious holidays, and important cultural dates ensure that there’s always something being celebrated or recognized.
Caribbean Cultural Highlights
The shared Caribbean culture of the ABC islands includes African religions, Creole voodoo, Western religions, colonialism, tropical storms and hurricanes, slavery, and imperialism. Oddly enough, the negative aspects of the region’s cultural history have had a salutary effect on its modern-day expression. The people are warm, inclusive, and friendly to the tourists who drive the islands’ tourist economies.
The shared culture of the islands includes brilliant art, vital and compelling literature, creative poetry, and an incredible range of music. You can find influences of South American, European, Caribbean, and African music — from Polish mazurka to Austrian waltzes. Popular music includes Bohemian polkas, Afro-Caribbean beats, tipicos string bands, and Cuban music.
The Arts and Humanities
Support for arts and humanities among the ABC islands is strong and includes commercial tourism and local recreation. There are plenty of formal museums and commercialized art, but tourists can find spectacular expositions in neighborhood festivals, graffiti, and casual showings.
Portraiture is less common than more abstract and expressionist works. Recently, many younger residents have embraced graphic design as a medium of choice. Literature consists mostly of self-published work, and these can be arresting and even disquieting works.
Caribbean residents tend to enjoy artistic expression in a joyful extroverted style. The Foundation Arte pro Arte sponsors shows, festivals, theater projects, and cultural events. The Aruba Dance Foundation hosts international dance festivals and workshops, and musicians delight audiences with reggae, Calypso, hip-hop, Aruban and Caribbean music. Many street musicians make an adequate living by plying their trade in the tourist areas. The Carnival celebration is one of the biggest celebrations of the year on all three islands, and music, parades, costumes, and dance are all critical elements of the festivities.
The islands all have a long history of oral storytelling against the spectacular background of beach fires and the Caribbean coast. Tales of pirates are certainly popular, and local literature relates heavily to the oral short story passed down generation to generation.
The oral tradition of stories told under the mango tree color Caribbean music, poetry, performances, literature, and theater. It’s one of the area’s most universal cultural underpinnings. Many of these stories, poems and dialogs have been brought to the world of cinema, and the ABC islands
Have developed a strong film industry, based on the area’s spectacular beaches and gorgeous weather.
The region produces many talented performers, dancers, singers, musicians, composers, and artists. Talented actors perform experimental theater, classics, and even Shakespeare with a Caribbean lilt. The American film industry dominated the islands for years, but the ABC islands are coming into their own recently, and there are many actors, directors, producers, and technicians from the ABC islands. Local films have won awards, been featured in international film festivals, and drawn big box office audiences.
Caribbean Culinary Culture
The culinary food culture includes some of the spicy dishes that most people associate with Caribbean cuisine, but the extensive cultural influences include lots of fish and shellfish, Dutch stews, international cuisines, European foods, and Creole/African dishes. Don’t be surprised to find the following favorites on local menus:
• Curacaoan Stewed Plantains
• Beef Stew with Green Papaya
• Bonaire Goat Stew
• Keshi Yená, hollowed and stuffed Edam cheese
• Caribbean Jerk
• Indonesian foods
• Cracked Conch
Street Food of the ABC islands
You’ll find European-style street foods and snacks on all the ABC islands. Most people eat the big meal of the day at lunch, and snacks and street food fill the void. South American, Dutch, Indonesian foods, and fried foods vie for supremacy. Many people enjoy salads and fruit, which are imported from Venezuela.
Enjoying a Cultural Grand Finale
A trip to one or all three ABC islands has definite cultural implications for any traveler. Caribbean culture includes cuisine, art, music, literature, entertainment, and quieter activities that define any group of people with shared interests. The ABC islands just have more cultural influences than most countries because of the islands’ overwhelming appeal and diverse settlers. Where else can you find elements of French, Dutch, Spanish, Caribbean, European, Indonesian, and African influence? Multiculturalism is the norm in the islands, and as Auntie Mame might say, “Most poor SOBs are starving to death for a little culture.”