Aruba is known as a beautiful vacation spot, but few know about its rich history. Ochre-colored rock drawings left behind by island shamans are still visible today. European adventurers and settlers brought many traditions, experiences, and nationalities to the island. Some came to the island as temporary settlers, while others came to make a permanent new home. The people and their variety of languages mixed with the innate hospitality make up the multi-cultural Aruban spirituality and ambiance that reflect a rich past.
The first inhabitants on Aruba were the Caquetio Indians of the Arawak tribe from the South American mainland. They were fishers, hunters, and gatherers of the pre-ceramic period of habitation. This was between 2500 BCE and 1000 CE. The Caquetio Indians depended on the ocean for survival, and fished off the shores of what is now called Malmok and Palm Beach. They lived in small family groups in these areas.
Throughout the beginning of this time period, there were five large Indian villages that were settled on the best agricultural soil for corn and yucca. We have now figured out they had a hierarchical socio-political system based on the way the dead was buried. There are remains of pottery that the Indians created, some of which were coarse pottery, others were fine well-crafted ceramics.
Next came the Spanish rule. The island was discovered by Alonso de Ojeda in 1499, and was then claimed as a Spanish territory. The island was then named it la isla de los gigantes (the island of the giants), because the first indian settlers decendents were very tall. After around a decade, the island acquired the nick name isla inutil (a useless island), because no treasures were found on the island.
The entire Indian population, the original settlers, was enslaved in 1513. They were taken to Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic and Haiti) to work. Some Indians returned in 1515 during the Indian Historic Period, and some new Indians from the mainland settled on the northern part of the island in small villages.
The Spanish returned, and the Indians were used as laborers for horse and cattle breeding. From 1600 and on, most Indians came from the South American mainland. At the beginning of the 1800s, Indians were one third of the islands population of 1700, but in 1862, it is said that Aruba’s last Indian died.
The Dutch saw that Aruba had a very strategic location, and the island was occupied by the Dutch in 1636. This was to establish a naval base in the Caribbean during their 80 year war with Spain. It was also strategic to protect their salt supply from the South American mainland. The neighboring island Curacao hosted Dutch West India Company, which led to further economic development. Today, Aruba is still in Dutch hands, although the English had a short period of rule during the Napoleonic Wars from 1805-1816.
Now there are myriads of Aruba Resorts and Aruba All Inclusive vacations you can take to visit this island with a rich past, and culturally varied background.