In the Spotlight: 205 – Curaçao

Post 850

It became a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on October 10th, 2010, although it has been under Dutch rule since 1815. Here, locals make a distinction between ‘dressed’ buildings and ‘naked’ buildings, naked when the original stones are visible and dressed if the stones are painted or plastered over. The locals refer to salt inside the coral stones affecting the paint or plaster as ‘wall sickness.’ Aww… Common names include Arivienne, Beffelie, Churinaiska, Ruthviella and Sharundèngè. It’s where you’ll find the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the Americas, with the inside floor entirely covered in sand, so that, in the olden days, ‘[people’s] footsteps would be muffled and the suspicion of potential denouncers would not be aroused.’ It also looks pretty gnarly. I’d like sand on my living room floor instead of the carpet. Anywho… Traditional houses here often have white polka dots on red walls. It’s not a peculiar design feature, but used to repel flies and mosquitoes, as they absolutely detest them. Extremely clever, huh? And whilst today one can cross Emma Bridge as much as one likes, until 1934, those crossing on foot that were wearing shoes had to pay a toll of 2 cents. The wealthy took off their shoes because they didn’t want to spend their cash, whereas the poor often borrowed a pair from the rich and paid the 2 cents to maintain a sense of pride. Thankfully, nowadays, the only people who pay a toll are the idiots who wear socks with sandals… Today, we’re visiting the Island of Love and Happiness, Curaçao.

Curaçao is an island country in the Southern Caribbean Sea, a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, its nearest neighbours Aruba, Bonaire and Venezuela, just 40 miles south. It is the 181st largest country on Earth at just 171 square miles, between the Seychelles and Antigua and Barbuda, with the 177th largest population with 158,987 people, between Guam and Kiribati. The motto of Curaçao is the rather wonderful, ‘We have it all; it is just a matter of finding what you are looking for.’ For that, you’ll need Google…

During the 16th and 17th centuries, sailors on long voyages would often get scurvy from the lack of vitamin C. Portuguese sailors who were ill were left at the island now known as Curaçao to recover, likely cured after eating vitamin C on an island rich with fruit. During these times, the Portuguese started referring to the island as Ilha da Curação, the island of healing. And for the love of God, don’t ask me how it’s pronounced. It’s a touchy subject, let’s say. I’m going for Kur-uh-’sow, rhyming with ‘cow,’ but don’t quote me on it. Pretty please.

The country’s flag features blue, which, as you’d expect, symbolises the sky and the ocean, with the yellow stroke representing the ‘bright sun which bathes the island.’ The two stars represent Curaçao and Klein Curaçao, a small uninhabited island southeast of Curaçao. Like, half a square mile small. Each of the five points on both these stars symbolise the five continents from which Curaçao’s people are from. It was designed in 1984 by Martin den Dulk, after the council received over two thousand designs. They decided to design a flag after Aruba, at the time, another Netherlands Antilles country, got one. “Well, if they have one, we want one!” And they’re not at all similar. Ahem…

More than anywhere else, Curaçao is a melting pot, embracing more than 50 nationalities from around the world in this tiny paradise. Influences from Dutch, English, French and Spanish colonists remain strong, and, along with Portuguese Jews and the slaves brought from Africa, blended with the indigenous Arawaks over the centuries to shape a colourful and fascinating country, one rich in cultural heritage. However, Afro-Caribbean descendants make up the majority of the island’s population, a culture often said to beat like a proud and festive heart. Rising up through the tragic history of the slave trade, the Curaçaoan people have established rich traditions, from the Papiamentu language, to cuisine, to religion and spirituality, to Tambú, used to express outrage and sorrow at slavery through song, music and dance. The entire society, in fact, has strong ties to its African memories, through language, music and dance. Each culture and every tradition here contributes greatly to the eclectic heritage, remarkable diversity and thriving culture.

Papiamentu is hugely important to the Curaçaoans, a mixture of African languages, Dutch, English, Portuguese, Spanish and some influence from Amerindian languages, with grammar basic in structure. West African slaves brought tales of the Anansi, forming the basis of much of the Papiamentu literature. Throughout the history of that Curaçaoan literature, narrative techniques and metaphors best described as magic realism dominate, with novelists and poets from this country, such as Cola Debrot, Guillermo Rosario and Pierre Lauffer, contributing impressively to both Caribbean and Dutch literature. Any visitor here will often hear the Papiamentu word ‘dushi,’ used to mean ‘sweet’ or ‘sweetheart,’ so popular the word was turned into a giant sculpture, with any visit to Curaçao often described as a dushi experience…

Today, anywhere you go, you will see cultural festivals and carnivals across the land, along with folklore performances, festivities of joy and dance. Instruments such as the bastel, the benta, the chapi, the karko and the zumbi are prevalent during these events, instruments Curaçao has made its own, but all with roots from Africa. The zumbi does indeed refer to the zombie, referring to the aspect of Curaçao culture rooted in the archaic, spirit based religions that remain common here. Drink is enjoyed here too, usually purified sea water. The locals often ask for ‘awa di lamaunchi,’ water with lime and sugar, a Curaçao classic. Food is also well loved, with krioyo, the local food, boasting a blend of flavours and techniques comparable to Caribbean and Latin American cuisine. A particular love here is iguana, yes, actual iguana, often stoba yoana or stewed iguana, which, as you may expect, is said to taste of chicken. I’m no rush to find out for myself, though.

As you’d imagine, Curaçaoans are as dushi and as warm as you’d expect from a Caribbean gem, remarkably friendly and more than willing to offer help or assistance if you need it. They are well-known for being extremely welcoming, an intelligent and lovely people, who enjoy sharing their culture and way of life with visitors. One thing is for sure, you’ll never be without a smile on Curaçao…

This is your typical sunny Caribbean paradise, with turquoise waters lapping serene golden beaches adorned with those famous palm trees. In general, it’s an arid, flat and long land, but there is hilly terrain to be found here. Dozens of bays and inlets cover the southern coast, whilst a few salt marshes can be found along the edges of coastal limestone formations, often craggy bluffs. Coral reefs are enjoyed by many, as are the fierce waves. Curaçao is also famed for a large number of caves scattered across the island, first used by the Arawaks 1,500 years ago. Most people, however, spend their time in this wonderful country chilling out on a perfect beach on a typically perfect day. And to be frank, why wouldn’t you? Curaçao is sumptuous

There are sights to see such as the crisp and superlative clear blue waters and white sand of Mambo Beach in the capital city of Willemstad, and the secluded and captivating Playa Lagun, near the small village of Lagoon. This remote spot is sumptuous and divine, hidden away and utterly beautiful. Your ideal tropical paradise, striking and splendiferous.

And then there’s the bonny and bonére jewel that is Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad, the aforementioned gem with a sand covered floor. Completed in 1674, this enchanting yellow building looks as resplendent as the day it was built, a handsome and praiseworthy structure, part of a rich tapestry of colourful buildings, not unlike the rainbow of people and stories gathered on this tiny island.

Then there’s Christoffelpark, covering nearly 5000 acres, an exemplary green oasis of supreme grandeur and Caribbean charisma. This breathtaking blanket of green belies the majesty of the culture, history and animals nestled amongst its flawless form, a beginningless and awesome vista from the dawn of time, treated with the reverence it deserved, untouched and preserved for all to enjoy.

But my favourite sight of Curaçao is the gorgeous and effervescent historic waterfront of Willemstad. Many would have a hard time believing they were not in the Netherlands, such is the strong architectural influence. The enchanting and handcrafted little buildings look ravishing in a thousand colours, speaking of a sweet and graceful joy indicative of this entire country. This grand and glorious waterfront is sublime, majestic and ethereal, beautiful and marvellous, dushi and delightful. The perfect metaphor for a perfect place.

Curaçao. The country of dushi, rich culture and iguana soup.

Ciao :)(:


Images (Click on Them to Enlarge)
1) The flag of Curaçao
(credit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Curaçao)

2) The historic waterfront of Willemstad
(credit: usatoday.com/image_sitemap_experience_caribbean.xml)

3) Christoffelpark
(credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MT._CHRISTOFFEL_IN_CHRISTOFFEL_PARK.jpg)


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