History of Aruba

Arawak tribe of Caquetios Indians

The history of Aruba begins about 1,000 A.D. with fragments of the earliest known Indian settlements. Aruba's first inhabitants were the Arawak tribe of Caquetios Indians. They fled from Venezuela to escape Attacks by the Caribs who, skilled in war and boat building, dominated much of the Caribbean basin. Aruba lies just over 15 miles north of Venezuela, but, strong ocean currents made canoe travel difficult to more distant Caribbean Islands.

History of Aruba Shaped by its Desert Landscape

Aruba was discovered and claimed for Spain in 1499 by the Spanish explorer, Alonso de Ojeda. Deterred by its desert landscape, only a very small colony was established, and unlike many other Caribbean islands, no plantation society ever really evolved on Aruba. Instead, the Spanish sent many Caquetios to Hispaniola, the second-largest island of the Antilles, (between Cuba and Puerto Rico) where they were enslaved in the mines.

The Spanish and Dutch fought from 1568 to 1648 in what is now known as the Eighty Years War. In 1633, the Dutch, having lost the island of St. Maarten to the Spanish, retaliated by attacking Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, now called the ABC Islands.

Local Ghost Story

The early history of Aruba is not well documented, but some local legends passed down through the generations.

Sometime in the early 17th century French pirates invaded the island. The invading French pirates were confronted by Indians in a narrow passage above Spanish Lagoon at what is now known as the “Rooi Frances” or “Frenchmen’s Pass”.

When the battle turned in favor of the pirates, the Indians fled to a nearby cave. The Frenchmen, couldn’t get to them, so they decided to smoke them out. Instead of coming out, the Indians died from smoke inhalation.

Today, local residents near the pass claim to hear Indians crying in the evening. Some say the ghosts of the Indians are haunting the area known as Spanish Lagoon. 

The red color of the four-pointed star on the Aruba Flag represents the blood of the Indians who lost their lives in this battle.

Modern Day Aruba

In 1805, during the Napoleonic wars, the British took control over the island, but it was returned to Dutch control in 1816.

In the early 19th century, Aruba’s economy was sparked by a gold rush, and then by the oil industry which included a crude oil transshipment facility in 1924, and 2 refineries. The smaller Royal Dutch Shell, Eagle refinery closed shortly after WWII, but the “Baby Beach” refinery, is still in operation. It was originally owned by Lago Oil & Transport Co., was bought by Coastal Petroleum in 1975 and eventually sold to El Paso Natural Gas.

In the 1980’s, the tourism became Aruba's primary industry, with the construction of several luxury hotels and the sudden increase of the Time Share business in the Caribbean.

In 1986, Aruba broke away from the Netherlands Antilles and became a separate, self-governing member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, under the Dutch crown. In 1990, Aruba chose to halt the movement toward full independence.

The history of Aruba may seem to follow similar patterns as that of other Caribbean islands, especially the neighboring islands of Bonaire and Curacao. But the location and unique climate of Aruba caused its history to be truly one of a kind.

A more in-depth look at how Aruba's unique past has shaped its current economy and culture can be found at Aruba-Guide - Past & Present.

Aruba People and their annual celebrations and traditions are as unique as their history. Living in a tropical paradise, is it any wonder why Aruba is "One Happy Island".

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