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Papiamentu – The Native Language of Bonaire

Historical roots of Papiamentu.

The native language of Bonaire is Papiamentu. There are several theories concerning the origin of the Papiamentu language. One simply states it is a mixture of the language of the early Spanish settlers and the indigenous Indian culture. The other theory is one of a more modern origin dating back to the importation of African slaves. The theory is that when the Dutch laid claim to the ABC islands in 1634 and with Curacao becoming a slave trading center, a common language was needed to communicate with the people who had come from so many different African tribes and European countries.

When Brazil became part of Spain, many Brazilians who spoke Portuguese came to Curacao. Combining the two origin theories forms the basis of the Papiamentu language: Arawak Indian, Spanish, Dutch, African Dialects, and Portuguese. Later, English and French words became part of the language. Today in listening to a conversation, it is possible to understand many words and get a fair idea of what is being said.

Where is Papiamentu spoken?

You will find the language widely spoken on the Islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. Those on St. Maarten, along with our sister islands, Saba and Statia, speak English, although many residents do speak Papiamentu as well.

With the development of the islands, the language began growing and kept on adding words. Being basically an oral tradition, Papiamentu was spoken in the homes and passed down from generation to generation. The result was a language spoken universally by all levels of society. The only thing missing was uniform spelling and grammar. There are lots of words that are different from island to island and even, for that matter, neighborhood to neighborhood. Papiamentu is now a recognized language and is still being refined and standardized.

One good example of the differences and cultural influences is the word for hitchhiking. On Bonaire, we ask for a “pidi left” or give one a lift. On our sister island of Curacao, we ask for “pidi kabes di boto,” which literally means a ride at the head of the boat. The phrase stems from the days when people had to travel from Punda to Otrobanda (the two areas of the city of Willemstad), and they had to cross a small bay in the center of town. Ferry service was provided for a small fee, but if the patron did have a few cents, he was allowed to ride at the bow or head of the boat and chances were he got wet in the process.

Learn these words and phrases for your next Bonaire visit.

When visiting, don’t be shy. Try a few of the following words or phrases. If nothing else, you are bound to get a smile in return for your efforts!

Good MorningBon Dia (said before noon)
Good AfternoonBon Tardi (said from noon until 6-ish)
Good EveningBon Nochi (6pm and later)
How are you?/HelloKon ta bai?
I am fine.Mi ta bon.
Good/WellBon, bon
Sweet or SweetheartDushi
Tastes goodHopi dushi
Good ByeAyo
one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, tenun, dos, tres, kuater, sinku, sies, shete, ocho, nuebe, dies

Nos ta warda-bo na Boneiru!

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