08 September 2010

Cultural Impacts of Bonaire 'Integration' with Netherlands

Social Change Studied as Bonaire, Holland Move Closer


Source: University of Alabama Huntsville

Change is coming to the tiny Caribbean island of Bonaire, and some of the approximately 14,000 people who live there are worried about what that change might bring. How will the largely Roman Catholic population cope with becoming part of Holland, with its liberal Dutch laws and attitudes?

"It's going to be weird," says Dr. Sandra Carpenter, a psychology professor at The University of Alabama in Huntsville who is studying the evolving self-image and social attitudes of Bonaire residents as the island becomes more Dutch. "I want to see which parts of their culture they hang onto and which will fall by the wayside as other things are adopted."

Bonaire's change starts Oct. 10 when the largely autonomous Dutch Antilles dissolve and both of the Antilles' more populous islands, Curacao and the Dutch half of St. Martin (Sint Maarten), join Aruba as independent nation members of the Kingdom of Holland (the Netherlands).

With less than 20,000 residents between Bonaire and two smaller islands, voters there decided that rather than try to stand alone they would seek closer ties with the Netherlands. On 10/10/10 the three islands become special municipalities of Holland (the Netherlands), although the details of how that will work are still being negotiated.

While political, legal and economic details of the transition are being negotiated, Carpenter's interest is the residents' attitudes and beliefs, and how those change as the Dutch presence on the island grows. She spent 13 weeks in 2009 surveying Bonaire residents to establish a research baseline.

"How do people think about things now?" she said. "They have very traditional types of values, very conservative. Historically they have been more collective and communal in their attitudes, although there are signs that they are becoming more individualistic. Some of the elders said the worst thing that has happened to Bonaire was cable TV."

She also surveyed 186 children in Bonaire schools, ages 10 to 17, giving them the "20 statements test." Each student completes the statement "I am ..." 20 times.

"A student might say, 'I am a brother, I am a son, I am a Christian' and so forth, so they can talk about relationships," Carpenter said. "It tells us about self-concept and priorities. As the island becomes more Dutch, the value systems will likely change across time and the things that have importance will change.

"I will go back next year to follow up," she said. "I plan to go back every couple of years to see if self-concept in the children has changed. This is a long-term study, so I can track across several years. I suspect that 10 years will be enough time to see some movement, at least in some aspects of what's going on there."

Some of the local attitudes might hinder Bonaire residents' attempts to benefit from the growing tourism industry: "The people there don't want to take 'slave jobs' in industry, such as housekeeping, which leaves fewer options," Carpenter said. "Some people refuse to do those jobs because of the historical perspective of slavery on the island."

Editor's Note: This is an interesting issue. Some clarifications are in order. Political change in Bonaire's constitutional status is in relation to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, not with Holland which is one of the three countries of the Kingdom at present. In October, there will be four countries in the Kingdom, namely Holland, Aruba, Sint Maarten and Curacao. OTR does not understand the reference to "slave jobs"  which would be considered offensive in most quarters...

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