While I’ve never been a fan of the tourist phrasebook — perhaps because I have yet to find myself at a stranger’s dinner party where inquisitive locals want to know how many siblings I have — I do believe that learning key phrases enhances your travel experience.
Before arriving at my destination, I try to memorize a few key phrases, in addition to the four essentials of hello, good-bye, please, and thank you. And preparing for my trip to Aruba was no different. I was pleased to see that English and Spanish were widely spoken (check and check), but the official languages of Aruba are Dutch (hallo!) and Papiamento (*crickets*), one I was not familiar with.
Bon Bini to Papiamento
Like every curious traveler, I scoured books and online resources for more about Papiamento, which, by the way, is also spoken in Bonaire, Curaçao and Saint Eustatius. There are several theories as to origins of Papiamento. The majority of scholars say it was born from the Cape Verdean language that arrived to the Caribbean as a result of the slave trade. The vernacular expanded to include Portuguese words, including the name Papiamento itself, which is derived from the Portuguese word “papear” (to chat). It later expanded to include words and phrases from other languages and cultures, including the Arawak Indians, to weave a beautiful identity of its own.
The language became widespread and adopted by the Portuguese and Spanish occupiers, until the arrival of the Dutch. In 1815, Papiamento, the language of the majority, became a forbidden language and Dutch became the only language of instruction that was permitted in the schools.
It took almost 200 years for Papiamento to gain the status of official language in the Islands. Aruba came first. In May 2003, the Aruban government declared Papiamento an official language. Curaçao was the second country, turning Papiamento into an official language in 2007.
The Dushi Experience
To the ear, it sounds like Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and African Creole – and I could not get enough of listening to it on the island. This combination of languages conspired to create a word that admittedly at first made me giggle, but then continuously charmed me: Dushi.
Dushi is a Papiamento word that is sort of a catch-all, much like “aloha” is in Hawaiian. It literally means sweet. I was called Mi dushi, a few times as a term of endearment, similar to sweetheart or darling. And if there was ever a word to describe the sugary architecture and delightful locals of Oranjestad, it’s that word.
Watch the reaction of shop attendants when you say, “bon dia!” the daytime greeting in Papiamento, or when you thank the café staff by saying, “masha danki.” This seemingly small gesture goes a long way for an Aruban.
Ban Goza (Let’s Enjoy) Aruba
Papiamento has a rhythm of its own, so it’s important to put the emphasis on the right syllable. But, don’t worry, you’ll be able to pick it up quite quickly. Whether it’s Papiamento or any other language, the effort of speaking to locals in their language adds a new layer to your journey.
Papiamento Pocket Guide:
Welcome Bon bini
How are you? Con ta bai?
Fine, thank you Bon, danki
Thank you very much Masha danki
You’re welcome Na bo ordo
See you later Te aworo
Very good Hopi bon
My darling/sweetheart Mi dushi
A Kiss Un sunchi
Have a nice day Pasa un bon dia
Good morning Bon dia
Good afternoon Bon tardi
Good night Bon nochi