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Discover Tambú

In the 17th century, a unique music form emerged on Curaçao among the enslaved: tambú. After 200 years of condemnation, tolerance, and prohibition, tambú became legal in 1952. In 2015, tambú was placed on the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Netherlands at the initiative of the SPLIKA Foundation.

The foundation of tambú is a mix of cultures from West Africa. Intertwined closely with religion and life, the music serves as a rhythmic outlet for all emotions. The dull beats of the drum (tambú), accompanied by the sharp sound of the ‘heru’ (iron, usually a metal object played with an iron rod), the jubilant singing, and the, especially in Western eyes, provocative hip movements, deemed tambú immoral and uncivilized by the authorities.


The singing, in Papiamento*, a language that emerged during the same period from African languages and Portuguese with a touch of Spanish, English, and Dutch, is incomprehensible to Dutch dignitaries. Uncertainty grows among ecclesiastical and civil authorities. After increasing condemnation and repression, a total tambú ban follows in 1936. This is lifted in 1952. A consequence of the self-government introduced in the Dutch colonies in the years following the Second World War. However, even thereafter, tambú encounters resistance from the authorities. Tambú still provokes resistance among some Afro-Curaçaoans. The influence of the school and the Catholic Church is seen as a cause of this alienation from the ‘own’. Teachers and clergy claimed that African elements should be considered uncivilized.

However, tambú has a rich history and holds an important place in people’s lives. Music can connect people, and that is certainly the intention of tambú. Curaçaoan tambú expert René Rosalia says: “Tambú is not just dance, nor is it just singing and music. Tambú is life itself. It is part of the African faith that permeated throughout the entire Caribbean during slavery. The foundation of African religion is life itself and therefore cannot be separated from the economic, cultural, and social aspects. Tambú music offers the opportunity for emotional expression, enjoyment, entertainment, communication, physical response, social control, preservation of social institutions, and adherence to religious rites. The fact that tambú music fulfills these functions means that it contributes to the continuity and stability of culture and the integration of the community.”

In 2016, at the initiative of the SPLIKA Foundation, tambú was placed on the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Netherlands.

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to the protection of our culture.

Kaha di òrgel (barrel organ) – listed in the inventory since November 2016.