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Saba History, Language and Culture

History of Saba

Saba was sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493, by Sir Francis Drake in 1595 and by two Dutch expeditions in the 1620s. In 1632, a party of Englishmen was shipwrecked on the tiny island and found it uninhabited, although there were traces of Carib occupation. Permanent settlement by Europeans did not occur until the second half of the 17th century, when the Dutch were consolidating their Caribbean empire, based on Curaçao. The settlers founded an agricultural economy with sugar and indigo as the key crops. The decline in these markets forced the population to maintain their modest prosperity through fishing and embroidery which, together with low-key tourism, remain the major sources of income.

The island changed hands 12 times between 1632 and 1816, when it was finally confirmed as a Dutch possession. As part of the Netherlands Antilles, Saba gained partial independence from The Netherlands in 1954. The issue of the Antilles' constitutional status never left the political agenda, however, and was the subject of a referendum on the three Windward Islands in 1994. All three voted to remain within the Antilles but Saba registered the largest majority of 91 per cent.

The socialist Frente Obrero Liberashon (Workers' Liberation Front) won the largest number of seats in the 2002 general election, but was excluded from office by a four-party centre-right coalition led by the Partido Antia Restruktura (PAR, Party for the Restructured Antilles). The PAR, based on the island of Curaçao, dominated Antilles' politics since its formation a decade ago.

After the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, Saba became a special municipality of The Netherlands and is under the direct administration of the European country. Saba adopted the U.S. dollar as its currency on 1 January 2011, replacing the Netherlands Antillian Guilder.

Saba Culture

Religion in Saba

Roman Catholic majority; also Anglican and Wesleyan.

Social Conventions in Saba

Dutch customs are still important throughout the former Netherlands Antilles, but tourism on neighbouring St Maarten has brought some US influence to Saba (several businesses are US-owned). Dress is casual and lightweight cottons are advised.

Language in Saba

Dutch is the official language. Papiamento (a mixture of Portuguese, African, Spanish, Dutch and English) is the commonly used lingua franca. English and Spanish are also widely spoken.