696. Curaçao’s Cultural Icon Elis Juliana

“Many say Elis Juliana embodies the heart of Curaçao. But to me, he represents much more than the heart: he’s Curaçao’s blood. He runs around all over the place (p’ariba p’abou): he meets with the homeless, he meets with academics. Like live blood, he collects, saves, documents and interprets Curaçao history, culture and life.”Dr. Jay Haviser (Archeologist)

"Elis Juliana" by Philip Rademaker.

“Elis Juliana” by Philip Rademaker.

Curaçao is currently mourning the loss and celebrating the life of our iconic anthropologist, visual artist and poet, Elis Juliana, who passed away at the age of 85. Less than a week before his death, on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Curaçao (UNA). Widely considered to have pioneered haikus in Papiamentu, our Ompi Elis (Uncle Elis) would’ve said,

Bela pagando

ta saka hopi huma

pa yama ayó.

A burnt out candle

emits a gust of smoke

to say farewell.

– Elis Juliana, Un mushi di haiku (1993), translated by Carolina Gomes-Casseres.

Nieuw Nederland.

Nieuw Nederland.

‘Elis’ with one ‘l’ because his mother couldn’t afford the other one was born on August 8, 1927 in Curaçao. Elis and his two brothers, three sisters and mother lived in a small kas di tabla in the colorful neighborhood of Nieuw Nederland surrounded  by Portuguese, English-speaking folks from all over the Caribbean: Haitians, Venezuelans, Dominicans, Dutch, Chinese, Surinamese immigrants seeking full-time or temporary employment at the (then, newly) established Shell refinery…  “We all lived in peaceful harmony because… well… there were no rich or poor people among us, we were all the same,” said Elis.

Elis was an avid researcher from a very young age, “our yard was my Disney World — it was a small yard, maybe 250 square feet. I really enjoyed spending time in nature, especially looking for small things. I would get so excited whenever I could use a magnifying glass… I’d study insects up close or maybe a nest of ants.”

Den mi kasita

mi no tin nodi buska

pa hanja mi mes.

In my small house

I don’t have to search

to find myself.

– Elis Juliana, Un mushi di haiku (1993), translated by Carolina Gomes-Casseres.

As Elis matured, his ‘Disney World’ expanded.

"Labadera" (Wash Lady) by Elis Juliana (1972).

“Labadera” (Wash Lady) by Elis Juliana (1972).

Fueled by voracious curiosity and a good partner (Father Paul Brenneker), Elis decided to turn his magnifying glass on “Curaçao”. He spent most of his life seeking information, listening deeply, examining carefully… and orchestrating his findings in small calculated dots and rhythmic words, forming patterns and creating poetry and tumbas that expose the fabric of our island and the texture of our people in a most insightful way.

Elis remained ‘in the service of the betterment of Curaçao’ throughout his life, but he didn’t always tell ‘Curaçao’ what it wanted to hear. His Dutch poetry translator, Fred de Haas, explains it best: “a gentleman first and foremost, Elis’ criticism was mild-mannered. He resembles a ‘mordé suplá’, a most deceptive insect, really… when he stings, he also blows [so as to lessen the blow / bite].



Awèl laga mi bisabo

bòn kla

pa bo ta na altura

ta ku kèn bo ta anda!!

Mi ta homber riba mi mes!

Por tin un of dos kisas

ku por bisti mi sapatu!!

ma di mi mes mi ta sigur

ku mi no tin keber ku nada!

Mi tin dos yu ku Mosa,

tres ku Bea, dos ku Rosa,

kuater ku Mimina,

i un ku Sarafina.

Na tur ta un dozein!

Sèis homber, sèis muhé.

Mi ta stima mi muhenan

t’é bo’i mi plant’i pia

i tur sa

ku den asunt’i kasamentu

mi no ta!!

Ma si un desgrasiado kere!

k’e por bin tofer ku mi


hisa bela bai sin kasa!

awel atami ta bisabo

i bo por marka mi palabra!

Promé ku solo sali

e t’un porko kapá!!

Let me tell you

in plain English

so you’re well-informed

as to who you’re dealing with!!

I stand on my own!

There might be one or two

who could fill my shoes!!

But I know for a fact

that I don’t give a damn!

I have two kids with Mosa,

three with Bea, two with Rosa,

four with Mimina,

and one with Sarafina.

Altogether a dozen!

Six boys, six girls.

I love my women

to the soles of my feet

and all know

that I’m against all that

marriage nonsense!!

But if an SOB thinks

he can mess around with

my daughters

sail away without getting married!

let me tell you

mark my words!

Before sunrise

he’ll be a castrated pig!!

by Elis Juliana, translated by Carolina Gomes-Casseres.

This poem is a pretty clear ‘mordé suplá’ in that Porko endears himself to us through funny, light language. We can’t help but shake our head at this hypocrite. Unfortunately, he’s also a cultural ‘icon’, but one we’re not necessarily proud of. We empathize with the mothers of his children and don’t run out to castrate him… and yet maybe we’d all be better off if we did…?!

My desk, this week.

My desk, this week.

About 1000awesomethingsaboutcuracao

I'm Carolina Gomes-Casseres, the creator of 1000 Awesome Things About Curaçao. I live in Manhattan but sometimes miss my first awesome island. Thanks for visiting!


  1. Willy Maal

    Very very fitting homage to one of the nicest, most well read, smartest and yet most down to earth , greatest men I had the pleasure of knowing. A veritable fountain of cultural and social information on Curacao, who will forever remind us of what is truly important in life……..

  2. Pingback: 694. Protégé Ariadne Faries’ Reflections on Curaçao’s Beloved Duo: Pater Paul Brenneker and Elis Juliana | 1000 Awesome Things About Curaçao

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