Our awesome creole language, Papiamentu, is widely perceived as the primary means of communication among slaves and freed slaves from the second half of the seventeenth century on. Yet the oldest (1775) and third oldest found documents (1783) written in Papiamentu indicate that the language was also used among Portuguese-Jewish and Dutch settlers. It seems that writers were at liberty to apply their preferred orthography – typically most aligned with their first language.
Dutch settler Anna Elisabeth Schermer-Charje wrote a tender 80 word note – in Papiamentu – on behalf of her son, Jantje (likely born in Curaçao) to her husband, Jantje’s father, Dirk Schermer, a trader who was in Rotterdam in early 1783. See for yourselves.
1 Mi papa bieda die mi Courasson
‘My father, life of my heart’
2 bieni prees toe seeka bo joego doesje
‘come to your sweet son quickly’
3 mi mama ta warda boo, mie jora toer dieja pa mie papa
‘my mother awaits you, I cry all day for my father’
4 Coemda Mie groot mama pa mie ie mie tante nan toer
‘greet my grandmother and all my aunts for me’
5 papa doesje treese oen boenieta son breer pa boo jantje
‘dear father, bring a nice hat for your Jantje’
6 adjoos mie papa bieda die mi Courasson
‘goodbye my father, life of my heart’
7 djoos naa boo saloer pa mie i pa mie mama
‘may God give you health for me and for my mother’
8 mie groot mama ta manda koemenda boo moetje moetje
‘my grandmother sends you lots of greetings’
9 mie ta bo joego Doe[s]je toena mortoo
‘I am your sweet son until death do us part’
10 Dit heeft uw Jantje geschreeven, nogmals adjoos vart wel
‘Your Jantje has written this, goodbye once more [and] fare well.’
Although short, Creolist Bart Jacobs (Universiteit Konstanz) finds evidence of Anna Elisabeth’s good command of Papiamentu in the use of the reduplication moetje moetje (literally much-much, ‘very much’ #8), and the reduction of duna ‘give’ to naa (#7) typical of (rapidly) spoken Papiamentu.
Turns out Jantje’s letter wasn’t the only one written in Papiamentu by Dutch
settlers; a total of nine letters were found dated 1781 – 1783 by members of the Charje family. Three letters by Anna Elisabeth dating from January 1783 stand out for their affectionate Papiamentu words and phrases. In a letter to her mother-in-law in Rotterdam, Anna Elisabeth refers to her husband as myn (lieve) doesje (‘mijn lieve dushi’, ‘my sweetheart’). Unclear if mother-in-law Schermer understood Papiamentu, but she could probably guessed the meaning of ‘doesje’… Wouldn’t you?!
Anna Elisabeth’s January 6 1783 letter to her husband begins with Mie Alma dousje & Mi Courasson (‘my soul, darling & my heart’) and ends with Mi alma dousje die mi Courasson (‘my soul, darling of my heart’) and on January 8 1783, she writes Mi dousje, Mi bieda & Mi courasson (‘my darling, my life & my heart’). Two other instances of (mij) bieda lief (‘my beloved life’) and four instances of doesje occur alongside Dutch names of endearment such as mijn hartje lief (twice), mijn lief, mijn zieltje lief (twice), mijn tweede ziel, mijn (lieve) ziel(tje) (8 instances).
Dirk must’ve understood these words, just as he must’ve understood boon anja nobo (‘happy new year’).
This adorably loving Dutch-Curaçaoan couple must’ve really gotten off on Papiamentu!🙂