Aruba’s rich and multicultural past is reflected in our food, our architecture, our art, our traditions and our warm and friendly people. What began as a fishing port for the Amerindians has changed hands between Spain and the Netherlands over the centuries, and is now a country that is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The first known inhabitants of the island of Aruba were the Caiquetio Indians of the Arawak tribe of Venezuela. During the Preceramic period, 2500 BC – 1000 AD, this semi-nomadic tribe fished, hunted, and gathered food, depending mostly on the sea to survive. They made tools from stone and shells that were nailed, and they lived in small family groups in the coastal areas now known as Malmok and Palm Beach.
At the beginning of the pottery period, between 1000 and 1515, these Indians established five large villages and began producing maize and yucca. In the Archaeological Museum of Aruba you can see versions of two of these villages, as well as a representation of a house of the Indians. The museum also houses the remains of ceramic urns, crude ceramics, and jewelry made by the Caquetios, with some of the artifact fragments dating to 1000 AD.
Rock drawings and engravings created by the Caquetians have withstood the test of time, and can be seen in Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park and the Ayo Rock Formation. These paintings indicate that the Caquetio Indians may have arrived on the island after fleeing the incursions of the Carib Indians, who are native to the northern part of South America. The Caquetio Indians were still on the island when Spanish explorers discovered it.
In 1499, Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda discovered Aruba, thus beginning the Spanish colonization of the island. Due to the relatively little rainfall on the island, the colonists did not believe that Aruba was a good place for plantations or growing crops. In 1513, the Spanish enslaved many of the Caquetio indigenous people and sent them to Hispaniola to work in the plantations and mines. Some Indians returned to Aruba in 1515 and were recruited as laborers to raise cattle and horses. Approximately nine years after Alonso de Ojeda arrived in Aruba, the Spanish Crown appointed him as the first governor of the island. Aruba remained under Spanish control for 137 years.
Because of Aruba’s strategic situation, the Dutch occupied the island in 1636 to protect their supply of supplies from the South American continent and also to secure a naval base in the Caribbean during their Eight Years’ War with Spain. The Dutch recruited the Caquetioans to work and raise cattle to sell their meat and send it to other islands. During the Napoleonic Wars, the British invaded Aruba and took control of it, but the Dutch recaptured Aruba in 1816. Aruba officially became part of the Netherlands Antilles in 1845.
Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986, a victory for which political activist and local hero Betico Croes fought. In the process of the Status Aparte, Aruba was granted a separate status as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Originally, the plan was for Aruba to become completely independent. However, in 1990, Aruba decided to postpone this plan indefinitely, and in 1995, the demand for full independence was completely repealed.
Today Aruba remains a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Aruba’s foreign affairs and national defense are controlled by the Kingdom, but all internal affairs, including laws, politics and currency, are in the hands of the government of Aruba. Aruba is a neighborhood in which there are more than 112,000 inhabitants of more than 100 nationalities. Part of this diversity can be seen in the number of languages that the average Aruban can speak, usually including Dutch, the native language of Papiamento, English and Spanish. The people of Aruba enjoy a healthy economy, and thanks to the tourism industry and an excellent education system, Aruba enjoys a very low unemployment rate.