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ANTILLES

A large percentage of the Netherlands Antilleans descended from European colonists and African slaves who were brought here from the 17th to the 19th centuries. The rest of the population originated from other Caribbean islands as well as Latin America, East Asia and elsewhere in the world. The language Papiamentu was predominant on Curaçao and Bonaire (as well as the neighboring island of Aruba). This creole descended from Portuguese and West African languages with a strong admixture of Dutch, plus subsequent lexical contributions from Spanish and English. An English-based creole dialect, formally known as Netherlands Antilles Creole, was the native dialect of the inhabitants of Sint Eustatius, Saba and Sint Maarten. After a decades-long debate, English and Papiamentu were made official languages alongside Dutch in early March 2007. Legislation was produced in Dutch but parliamentary debate was in Papiamentu or English, depending on the island. Due to a massive influx of immigrants from Spanish speaking territories such as the Dominican Republic in the Windward Islands, and increased tourism from Venezuela in the Leeward Islands, Spanish had also become increasingly used. The majority of the population were followers of the Christian faith, with a Protestant majority in Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten, and a Roman Catholic majority in Bonaire, Curaçao and Saba. Curaçao also hosted groups of followers of the Jewish faith, descendants of a Portuguese group of Sephardic Jews that arrived from Amsterdam and Brazil from 1654. Most Netherlands Antilleans were Dutch citizens and this status permitted and encouraged the young and university educated to emigrate to the Netherlands. This exodus was considered to be to the islands’ detriment, as it created a brain drain. On the other hand, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Anglophone Caribbean and Colombia had increased their presence on these islands in later years.

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