- The Autobiography of Antoine J. MaduroThe Year in Curaçao
This is an essay about an autobiography published in 2015 on the island of Curaçao. This island lies just to the north of Venezuela and, together with Aruba and Bonaire, they are called the Dutch Leeward islands or the ABC islands.1 The literary scene in Curaçao has known several biographies during the past ten years. Most of the time, these biographies are much more about men than about women. As women have been confined to the household, they have not been expected to have lived a life worth writing about. Historically, women have internalized this belief. Fortunately, women have slowly stopped silencing themselves in that particular way.
Nevertheless, despite this welcome progress in the production of women's biographies on the island, in this article we also address another trend in the autobiographies of Curaçao, that of non-upper-class life portraits, as exemplified by an autobiography published in late 2015 by Antoine J. Maduro (1909–1997). As it reconstructs the social environment of his life, from his youth until his death, Maduro's autobiography also gives an insight into twentieth-century Curaçaoan society.
Antoine J. Maduro initiated his own autobiography with a clear goal in mind. On the day of his eightieth birthday in 1989, Maduro reflected on the autobiographical notes that he had written throughout the years and wrote a letter to a former librarian named Daphne M. van Schendel-Labega. He stated that these notes might be of use to teach the younger generation how to deal with matters they face in life. He sustained his thought by using a Dutch proverb, "Wie niet hoort naar goede raad, beklaagt het te laat" [they who do not listen to good advice will complain when it is too late]. A few years before, in 1985, the librarian had suggested that Maduro start writing his autobiography (van Schendel-Labega 6). Perhaps this question had been occupying Maduro's mind when, in a letter dated January 29, 1986, he wrote back to [End Page 574] van Schendel-Labega that he did not wish to be the author of his own biography but that he would send her on a regular basis some notes about himself that she could transform into a historical novel (Maduro, Letter 7). Until August 1994, three years before his death, he would faithfully send her the notes. Van Schendel-Labega found his notes so unique, so well chosen, and the use of the local creole language Papiamentu so colorful that she decided not to rewrite them but to use his texts almost verbatim as the basis for the publication. Her task then became that of editor and ghostwriter. Unfortunately, after a long illness, van Schendel-Labega died in 2012 and could not complete her task. Thus, the Fundashon Instituto Raúl Römer, a foundation aimed at researching the language Papiamentu, took over the project. Through the effort of its president, Sidney Joubert, this autobiography was finally published as a book under the title Bida, remordementu, konfeshon i krítika. As this book is based on Maduro's own texts, it is considered an autobiography and not a biography.
It was the intention to write this book in the Dutch language, but later it was decided to write it in Papiamentu. This was a sensible thing to do. The book consists of three hundred pages written in excellent Papiamentu and is therefore a considerable asset to well-written publications in Papiamentu at an academic level. Another reason that justifies this autobiography in Papiamentu is the fact that Maduro was a strong advocate of the recognition of the Papiamentu language in its own right and of its proper use, next to that of Dutch, the colonial and official language of Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire.2 In his life time, he had to compete against negative ideas and attitudes about this matter and sometimes his struggle seemed to be similar to that of Don Quijote, the ingenious nobleman. The cover of Maduro's book reflects this struggle and is based on a drawing of...