Memory of the World

 First Cathocism in the Papiamentu Language


Photo National Archives

“Papiamentu is widely spoken by almost a quarter million people in the Dutch Caribbean islands today, across social class, race and ethnicity. This language is also spoken by a growing Antillean Diaspora community in the Netherlands.”1

The word Papiamentu comes from the verb “papia”, which means to speak. “-mentu” is the suffix that forms the noun, denoting: “the way that something is done.” Papiamentu translates into “the way of speaking”. But more than a way of speaking the Papiamentu-language is a way of life. It is the backbone of the community and identity on the ABC-islands of the Netherlands Antilles located off the coast of Venezuela.

Papiamentu is an Afro-Portuguese-based Creole developed by the enslaved who lived on the ABC islands of the Netherlands Antilles from the 17th till the mid 19th century. The importation of African enslaved people to the Netherlands Antilles started after the conquest by the Dutch of Portuguese strongholds in Angola in 1641. For the evangelization of these enslaved, through the years, many foreign missionaries were sent to these islands. This was also the case with Mgr. Martinus Joannes Niewindt, a Dutch Catholic priest, who arrived at Curaçao in 1824. The translations of the Roman Catholic catechism into Papiamentu in 1826 and 1837 by Mgr. Niewindt have had great impact on the history of the ABC-islands because they represent the genesis of writing in Papiamentu. The Catechism is the oldest surviving document where Papiamentu appears in a full book-form printed publication. It is one of the few remaining examples from the early 19th century Catholic press on the Netherlands Antilles, when Papiamentu began appearing in print for the first time in its linguistic history.

These publications mark a turning point in the process of recognition of Papiamentu. This Creole language evolved from an informally popular spoken tongue to the official language of the people of the ABC-islands. This recognition took place in 2007.