Crossing the Atlantic: An African woman searching for Black heritage on Curaçao

Westpunt beach (photo Sanza)

It's usually the other way around. African-Americans and Caribbeans going on a pilgrimage to Africa. But this time it's an African woman from Belgium crossing the Atlantic. 

This August Congolese-Belgian guest blogger Sanza traveled to Curaçao to find the African heritage. She tasted the food, met interesting people, but also felt the colonialism. Eventually she  found the connection and saw her desitiny written on a wall. 

Invited by Afro-Europe, she wrote a travel story and connected Africa and the Caribbean.

"Generally people were friendly, surprised and happy to learn I was from Congo.

Food was great and actually similar to West and Central African food. We also eat beans and rice, cornmeal (what they call fungi), cassava and plantains as well. I tasted Iguana soup in Jonchies restaurant near Westpunt and it was just good. Nothing special about it.

Tula Museum

But there is something very colonial in the air. Black people are at the bottom of the society and the key functions are handled by whites. Even the labour unions from what I saw on TV. It's a very colonial society. 

It feels like they want to make it an island for the well being of the 'makambas' [a pejorative in Papiamentu for Dutch white people] and whites in general. Even the local music is not played in the cafés and pubs in town!!! 

I don't think i'm paranoid when I say the racism and the attempt to make the local black culture silent or disappear is very subtle. That's what makes me sometimes amazed and so sad at the same time about our people, we can be so proud of our survival and on the other hand we are still not free - even in many parts of Africa.

I had the chance to visit the Tula museum of slave revolt leader Tula and the garden of herbal woman Dinah Veeris. It was also very emotional because those women were literally happy to see someone from the motherland being interested in the survival of African culture. I think I made strong connection with them. By the way, the Tula museum and the Tula statue are mentioned nowhere in the city, or in the tourist books. Unfortunately I missed the unofficial ceremony in memory of Tula on the 18th of August. I got lost when I looked for the place.

Museum Tula (photo Sanza)

Fortunately Jeanne Henriquez, the manager of the museum, showed me the place and also made me notice the picture of a black slave on the famous Penha building.

The Penha building in Punda with the symbol meaning that the family got wealthy thanks to slavery (photo Sanza)

I also met the owner of Landhuis Habaai, an art gallery. I learned Tambù time is in December.

Landhuis Habaai

I also met the owner of a Surinamese restaurant (Ruytters cafe I think) in Punda and he treated me like a princess when he found out I was from the motherland!

I felt home amongst the people in Curaçao, only the language was a barrier. Everybody assumed I was from there until I started to speak. I'm telling you, we are definitely one in spite of all the differences we may have.

A writing on the wall near Punda over the bonds between Africa and Curaçao. And that writing mentioning Congo!!!  I had to go to there, it was part of my destiny indeed (photo Sanza)

8 days were definitely too short because I was just starting to meet afrocentric/ afroconscious people.

I personally think that blacks like me who are directely from the motherland should travel and meet the diaspora much more than we are doing now. I think you'll see more Caribbeans or Afro-americans considering going or going to Africa, than the reverse. I can still feel the benefits for me and the people I met."


  1. This was beautiful! Thank you, Sanza and Afro-Europe, for sharing this with us!

    There is an eye-opening film about the Dutch white minority on the island of Curacao that continues to practice their racist exclusivism at this late date, with the eponymous title "Curacao". The film was made by the Dutch filmmakers Sander Snoep and Sandra Vos Limn. The incidents in the film could easily be exchanged for everyday Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and any Spanish-speaking country in the Americas with African-descended populations.

    Thanks again, Sanza and Afro-Europe, for enlightening and entertaining us with this travel experience!

    1. John, I know the documentary Curacao, I actually had planned to post it and had the translation ready, but I didn't post it because it wasn't relevant at that time.

  2. Hey there!
    Thank you for you positive feedback! And thank you Afro-europe for the collaboration :)
    I noticed you kept my pictures' comments exactly as I sent them to you LOL

    I hope this will encourage ourselves to meet each other's communities more.

    I look forward to go back to Curaçao and to visit other countries with African heritage.

  3. Hey loved the article. I feel the same way more black people should visit the diaspora and that's a dream of mine.

  4. John thanks, but I just posted the story. And Sanza, thanks again for writing this piece, I love it!

  5. I'm 1st-generation American, raised in Curacao. I didn't know about the black slave on the Penha building. How often do you go downtown, and how often do you look up and really pay attention to the place you live, eh? *big smile*

    There was a movement to remove the statue of a Dutch queen---I don't remember which one---and replace it with Tula. I giggled when I heard it because I didn't think it would happen. Bizarre, eh? Yes, Tula is hidden out of site in a place where vicious invisible insects sting you and make things really uncomfortable after a few minutes.

    I've made a documentary about a type of music and dance of Curacao that was banned by the Catholic church and illegal. There're still restrictions today. There's a 3-minute version and a 17-minute version. I didn't know if it would appropriate to post links. Let me know!

    Loved this article. Thanks for posting.

    1. Hello Elizeth, I'm glad you appreciate my story and proud you learned something from it. I will definitely visit Curaçao again soon as I got the chance cause I feel like they are many more things to learn, beyond the appearances.
      I have recently watched a documentary on youtube about the Tambù dance and I liked it.Maybe it was yours?
      Unfortunately for me, they dance Tambù only in the end of the year. Please share your link.

  6. I just got an excellent book that details how African-Curacaoan dance is spearheading the growing Black Pride movement on the island:"Tambu: Curacao's African-Caribbean Ritual and the Politics of Memory", by Nanette de Jong. 2012. Those interested in the African Consciousness movement there should definitely check this out.

  7. google sephardi jews and curacao. you should get a clearer understanding of what has happened. one might have to jingle jangle thru various texts but hopefully the reasons to why things are the way you observed might become more clearer to you.

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form