Traditions and customs of Aruba

What traditions and customs are there in Aruba?

A general explanation of the customs and traditions of Aruba, a Caribbean country.


Food in daily life

The traditional menu is dominated by corn dishes (“funchi”, pan bati), goat meat, fish and stoba, local vegetable stews (peas, beans). Today, rice, chicken, beef and fish are the most consumed foods.

The number one snack is the pastechi, a small pastry filled with cheese or beef. International food chains and Chinese, Italian, and other ethnic restaurants have grown in popularity. Most of the food products are imported.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Food is an important ingredient in most secular celebrations. At children’s parties, a piñata full of sweets hangs from the ceiling. Blindfolded, the children try to hit the piñata with a stick. Bolo pretu (black cake) is offered on special occasions.


Etiquette, ceremony and protocol are enjoying increasing popularity on many occasions. Aruban etiquette is basically a variation on the classic European formal tradition, with a local Latin American color.


Religious beliefs

Eighty-six percent of the population is Roman Catholic, but church attendance is much lower. Dutch Reformed Lutheran Protestantism, the religion of the traditional elite, is adopted by less than 3 percent of the population.

20th century migration led to the emergence of smaller groups such as Methodists, Anglicans, Evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Muslims, and Confucianists. The number of sects and religious movements and participation in them are increasing.

Religious practitioners

Traditional folk assumptions about the supernatural are called brua. Although the term comes from the Spanish word witch (witch), brua is not equated with witchcraft. It includes magic, divination, healing, and assumptions about good and evil.

The magic is conducted by a hacido di brua (practitioner of brua) and can be applied both beneficially and maliciously. The belief in the witch is often not confirmed due to the low social esteem that is held for her.

Rituals and Holy Places

Aruba has eight Catholic parishes and churches and a growing number of chapels. The Alto Vista Chapel (founded in 1750) is the most famous. The Dutch Reformed Lutheran community has three churches; other Protestant denominations also have places of worship. The Jewish community (Ashkenazim) has a synagogue in Oranjestad.

Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish cemeteries are found in Oranjestad. A small freemason graveyard is located next to these. The public cemeteries are located in San Nicolás and Sabana Basora, in the center of the island.

Death and the afterlife

Opinions about death and life after death are in accordance with Christian doctrine. The traditional wake, called Ocho Día (eight days), is the duration of the usual period of mourning, in which family and close friends participate. On the last night of mourning, the altar is taken down and the chairs are turned upside down.

The windows are opened to ensure that the spirit of the deceased can leave the house. The stela, of medieval Spanish origin, is losing popularity.

Secular celebrations

Traditional ceremonies often have a Catholic origin or orientation. On New Year’s Eve, the small bands that sing a serenade called Dande… Saint John’s Day (June 24) is celebrated with traditional bonfires and the Dera Gai (burial of the rooster) ceremony.

Traditionally, a rooster was buried with its head under a gourd on the ground. Currently the ceremony is performed without the rooster. While a small band plays and sings the traditional San Juan song, blindfolded dancers from the audience try to hit the gourd with a stick.

Of special importance are the celebrations of the 15th, 50th and 75th birthdays. Carnival was introduced to Aruba in the 1930s by Caribbean immigrants, and has become the most popular festival for the entire population.

The national holidays are National Anthem and Flag Day on March 18 and Queen’s Day on April 30. The former highlights Aruba’s political autonomy, while the latter celebrates the association with the Dutch kingdom.

Aruba’s former political leader, Francois Gilberto ‘Betico’ Croes (1938-1986), is commemorated on his birthday, January 25. Croes is the personification of Aruba’s struggle for separation from the Netherlands Antilles. Croes was seriously injured in a car accident a few hours before the proclamation of Status Apart on New Year’s Eve 1985. He died in November 1986.

International Labor Day is celebrated on May 1. Many occupational and service organization groups have their own holidays.

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

Aruba’s artistic life can be divided into two spheres: one commercial and one geared towards tourism and local recreation. Numerous artists are active in both. The lack of funds and a clear government policy creates a tension between the commercialization of art for the benefit of tourism and the professionalization of local talent for non-commercial purposes.

Most of the exhibitions are held in benches and workshops. Plans are being discussed to create a national art museum. There has been a strong development and growing popularity of different disciplines and styles since about 1986.

Aruba’s history, tradition and natural landscape inspire many artists, who interpret them in a modern and universal way. In recent years, several artists have worked from a more individualistic perspective.

Training abroad, workshops and exchanges with foreign artists residing in Aruba, as well as participation in exhibitions abroad prevent the isolation of the artistic community.


Literature focuses on poetry and youth literature. In the 1980s, the Charuba publishing house published interesting novels, plays and poetry by Aruban writers. Little quality literary work is currently being published.

Most authors publish their own work. Efforts to revive Charuba have not yet been successful.

Graphic arts

Aruba’s landscape is a source of inspiration for many professional and leisure painters. Portrait painting is not widespread. The popularity of both traditional sculpture and interdisciplinary three-dimensional graphic arts is on the rise.

Following the economic recovery, the number of graphic arts studios has increased since 1988. Most of the artists in the studio work as commercial designers. As an art form, graphics remain unrecognized.

Performing arts

Aruba has several theater groups, of which Mascaruba is the oldest and most popular. The Fundación Arte pro Arte (FARPA) promotes local cultural and artistic projects, especially theater. The Aruba Dance Foundation organizes international festivals and workshops.

Several dance and/or ballet schools focus on youth. A theater, Cas di Cultura, is located in Oranjestad. Aruba is home to international dance and theater festivals held every two years.

The musicians make a living playing in the tourist industry and for local audiences. A new generation of Aruban musicians combines the traditional musical styles of Aruba and the Caribbean, with modern influences from hip-hop and reggae.

The Carnival celebration is the highlight of the year. The Aruba Music School offers instrumental music courses. There is a large number of choirs on the island.

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