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About Bonaire::: Culture

I've always had a thing with the word culture. On one hand, individual people and whole societies have strived to embody the (one of many) definition(s) of culture: “acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills,” i.e., knowing that Picasso's Blue Period came before his Rose yet failing to understand the inner workings of a toilet or the medicinal uses of aloe vera.

On the other hand, culture is the essence of a community, regardless of how high-brow or of the earth. It is the art and social traditions, the rhythms of the day and language, the music and folklore.

I've ironed out these two seemingly paradoxical definitions in order to demonstrate the social and cultural assumptions and implications of the term culture. So now, with our awareness having reached new heights, let us be radical in our thirst for knowledge, wander forth with open eyes, open ears, and a taste for goat soup.

BonaireArt brings islanders and outsiders alike the art and culture of Bonaire. In it's on-line existence, it has listings of current exhibits and events, galleries as well as information about local artists and their work.

Kaminda di Arte, (Path to Art) is an art project started in 2010 by a group of Bonairian and Dutch artists. As part of their participation in Kaminda di Arte, each of the involved artist offers a monthly showing at their galleries or homes on the third Sunday of each month from 11:00am until 5:00pm.

The work of one such artist, Henk Roozendaalcan, can be seen and admired on the outside walls of Cultimara. He is known for his 'stylized realism' and use of 100% saturated colors.

The Bonaire Jazz Foundation began in 2005 “to promote jazz music on our island”. This objective is seen in their efforts to make jazz more accessible to the general public. They support young musicians with lessons and other facilities and every year donate a percentage of their proceeds to music educational projects and social centers on the island. They also want to provide "Jazz lovers" with information on where to find good jazz on the island.

One particular social tradition that very much directs the rhythm of the day is the 5 o'clock Bonaire Happy Hour Happy Hour. For both native Bonairians and Dutch island dwellers when 5 o'clock rolls around, work ceases and the social scene commences. Many agree this is the liveliest part of the day, with the sun reflecting oranges and pinks off the several rounds of Polar that have accumulated towards the center of the table. Divers have crawled out of the ocean for the two-for-one deals or half-price specials and island folk are migrating towards their favorite Snack Bar.

One doesn't think of France without French, or Italy without Italian, but what does one think of in relation to Bonaire? Does the Dutch language immediately come to mind? Or is it the local Caribbean dialect, Papiamentu? Papiamentu is a form of Portuguese derived Creole indigenous to the Dutch Antilles. Its roots are traced back to Guene, the private language of Antillian slaves in the 1600s. For a long time, anthropologists and linguists alike disregarded Guene because it wasn't discernibly linked to a major language (the enlightened anthropologist, Martinus Arion, describes this tendency as “the chauvinism of European national languages toward regional idioms”). The study of Guene gained ground when historians began finding more and more Guene words in the oraliture, the written and verbal acts of art that flowed out of the Dutch Antilles.

For celebration, an example is Bonaire's Simadan festival. This festival began in the days of slavery on the island and celebrates the growing season’s harvest (typically March/April). Typical foods during Simadan include Funchi (cooked cornmeal), and Repa (pancakes made of Sorghummeal), served plain or with goat stew, goat soup, Giambo (okra soup, similar to gumbo), and Boontji Kunuku (local beans).

The Simadan festival is also notable for the use of the becu, an aerophone made from the stalk of a sorghum plant, and the kinkon, made from a conch shell and known elsewhere as the carco. Folk song forms range from the harvest seu, simadan and wapa. Other songs were imported beginning in the 19th century, including the South American joropo and pasillo, Spanish Caribbean merengue and other new songs, dances and instruments. This diverse mixture was the origin of the Dutch Antilles' most distinctive and long-standing popular tradition, the tumba.

Needless to say, Bonairian culture can not be encapsulated in a web resource write-up, but I have attempted, in earnest, to bring you the essence, and to leave you curious for more.

Author S.J Rendall - Travel writer.

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