The Portuguese, West African and Brazilian Origins of Papiamentu


Abstract of presentation done at the 19th Biennial Conference of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics, Nassau, The Bahamas, 30 July – 3 August 2012

Source:  p. 58-9

The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill

The Portuguese, West African and Brazilian Origins of Papiamentu

The genesis of Papiamentu (PA) still is controversial and scholars explain it through different hypotheses. Amongst others, Maduro (1966) and Munteanu (1996) classify it as a Spanish creole, since the Spaniards were the first to colonise the ABC Islands, where PA is spoken today; Martinus (1996) and Jacobs (2009) defend the Afro-Portuguese roots of PA, which would be linked to the transatlantic slave trade, whereas Goodman (1987) claims that PA would trace back its origins to a Brazilian creole brought to the Caribbean by Sephardic Jews and their servants who immigrated from Dutch Brazil to Curaçao after the recapture of Pernambuco by the Portuguese.
Differently from previous studies, the aim of this paper is to show that both the Afro-Portuguese and the Brazilian
hypothesis are complementary and necessarily must be considered when investigating the origins of PA, namely the role of the Portuguese language in Africa and the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade, the historical links between the ABC Islands and West Africa, and between Curaçao and Brazil. After a century of unsystematic rule, the Spaniards abandoned the ABC Islands and declared them islas inútiles or useless islands. In 1634, the Dutch occupied Curaçao and expelled almost all Amerindians to Venezuela. Even if the handful remaining Caiquetíos would have spoken Spanish or a Spanish creole after the Spanish absence, this fact hardly could have been decisive in the formation of PA, given the high influx of people from West Africa and Dutch Brazil.
History alone obviously cannot be used as the only evidence to support the claim that PA can trace back its origins to Portuguese and the Portuguese Creoles spoken in Europe, West Africa and Brazil, but it certainly is a component that plays a vital role to understand its origins. In this context the historic links between West Africa, Brazil and the ABC Islands will be examined. Linguistic data is naturally the most reliable evidence.
The linguistic features that PA shares with Portuguese and creoles of Portuguese basis will be thoroughly analysed in a future paper. Shared linguistic features between Fá d’Ambô (Annobonese) and PA and Brazilian Vernacular Portuguese and PA will be the object of the study. Therefore, the historical component here investigated should only be considered the first pillar of a more extensive and complete study. Both components combined, however, certainly provide a broader and more comprehensive scenario as to why it may be possible to trace back the origins of Papiamentu to Portuguese and Creoles of Portuguese origin.
The evidence shows that the history of the formation of PA cannot be comprehensively analysed and understood if vital historical links to the Portuguese language, to West Africa and Portuguese Creoles spoken in Africa, and to the immigration of Sephardic Jews and their servants from Dutch Brazil to Curaçao are ignored. As result, this paper definitively refutes any hypothesis that excludes the fundamental role of Portuguese and Portuguese creoles in the formation of PA.