By combining my passions for history, adventure, discovery and honesty I invite you to join me into the “real” history of a small Island they call: ARUBA
The content of the following chapters are based on information I have gathered, and new information that I will consume such as history books, websites, Documentaries and anything I can get my hands on providing some sort of insight into what actually happened back then.
As I go along I might update the chapters with new found material. (so keep coming back)
Aruba is just one small Island in the Caribbean, and part of a large story that unfolded after Christopher Columbus stubbed upon these parts of the world. Currently approximatly 87% of the Aruban economy relies on tourism. One big part of the current tourism marketing strategies is story telling. This stems from the trend of people (tourists, visitors and travellers) looking for authentic experiences. But not only them, also the local population is looking for identity which often lies embedded deep into our history and roots. As a result we can find many stories, about culture, history and what makes Aruba authentic compared to the rest of the world. Although most of these stories are true, they often lack perspective and cover large amount of time in a summarised way. In my opinion this creates a distorted view of our history and roots. Therefore this blog. And after 6 chapters, we are now getting into the nitty gritty of the real roots of current Aruba.
As described in the previous chapters the main take aways are that Aruba played a small role in the vibrant Caribbean history. However, this depends on perspective. For the indigenous population of the Arawak and Caiquetios from mainland Venezuela and Colombia, Aruba was extremely important as it provided a safe haven and allowed them to live free from (religious) persecution. For the Dutch, who came later, Curacao was the most important Island based on its strategic position in the Caribbean and the Americas. Nevertheless, Aruba was a necessary island they had to posses in order to keep control over Curacao and Bonaire. And with this, control over the routes the Spanish took when shipping wealth back to Spain.
From 1499 up to the late 1600’s, the cultural and social development of Aruba was relatively simple. As both the Spanish nor the Dutch allowed European colonisation. And therefore the main population, besides the handful of Dutch WIC men, was comprised of the Arawak who converted to Roman Catholicism. But other than that, they did not adopt too much to European culture.
The first continuity that Aruba has experienced was when it was property of the WIC around 1639. The first chapter of the WIC went bankrupt and a second chapter was immediately founded in September 1674. Remember, that Aruba was still not officially part of the country “The Netherlands”.
So what did affect Aruba in such a way, that we are now a big melting pot of nationalities, people, religions and culture? Why is Aruba an island where standard of living is high compared to the region? Has it always been this way? My research taught me that Aruba has known some hard & difficult years. These included famine, poverty and economic stagnation. However, the people who lived and worked on Aruba from the late 1600’s onwards, were, in my opinion, the first (authentic) roots of what we now know to be Aruba.
In the next chapters I will do my best to dig up as much as possible on the period between 1639 and 1791, when it was property of the WIC. Because it wasn’t until December 31st in 1791, that Aruba became part of “The Netherlands” as a colony.
In the era that Aruba was property of the WIC, from a history timeline perspective, it was quite unremarkable. That does not mean that nothing noteworthy happened. There is not much documentation to be found on these “forgotten” years. Nevertheless, here are some chapters in Aruba’s history worth telling. Even though one tends to forget, it is interesting to realise that during this Period The Dutch were at war with the Spanish, till 1648, the Portuguese and with the English. The latter was called the Anglo-Dutch wars of 1652-1654 and 1665-1667. In the end it resulted in the Dutch losing New Amsterdam (New York) to the English (but getting Surinam in return).
The first economic activity on Aruba – Export to New Amsterdam
Of the 3 islands, Curacao was the most important one. And Aruba was always under the shadow of its larger sister Island. Nevertheless, the Dutch WIC started breeding horses on Aruba, that they would export. Remarkably the first export of Aruban horses was to New Amsterdam, current New York. I say this, because for the past decades from the late 1980’s up to now, New York is still the number 1 source market for Aruba’s tourism industry.
The export endeavour was not successful though. There is not much of this history to be found. There is a report however, of a ship called “De Eyckenboom” that transported 20 slaves from Curacao and 50 horses from Aruba to New Amsterdam. Unfortunately half of the horses perished during the journey and the rest arrived to weak to even stand on their own feet. The original documentation, a letter from the Governor Peter Stuyvesant dated June 25 1660, mentioning this can be found HERE. Four years after the journey of “De Eyckenboom” the British captured New Amsterdam from the Dutch, and changed the name to New York.
Pirates of The Caribbean…..on Aruba
The Dutch were engaged in various wars, such as the Franco Dutch war and the 4 Anglo Dutch wars. During these periods there were many privateers or buccaneers, also known as pirates, roaming the sees between the Caribbean islands. These were seamen and sailors who would attack military and merchant vessels of a specific country with the blessing of another one (privateering). Jan Erasmus Reining, a Dutch buccaneer was one of them. He even served under the more famous Henry Morgan & Rock Brasiliano. Reyning’s visit to Aruba is documented. See it HERE on page 237. He landed on Aruba in 1677, fleeing from St. Maarten after being defeated by French Admiral Duc d’Estrées. His fame stems from the book: The Devils Anarchy; The very remarkable travels of Jan Erasmus Reyning, Buccaneer. Or as the book is called in Dutch: “Zeer aanmerkelijke reysen gedaan door Jan Erasmus Reyning”.
These visits from pirates have also found their way into Aruba’s folklore. I remember my grandmother telling me stories about fishermen seeing ghosts at night. These fishermen would tie up and hide their boats between mangroves or other vegetation on and near the beaches. Legend has it that there have been pirates who buried treasure on Aruba, and cut off the head of one of their crew and buried the body and head with the treasure to guard it. I don’t know if it is true, but I hope that someday someone does find treasure dating back to these years.
Aruba is still Spanish property…..or is it Dutch?
During the 80 years war with Spain, the Dutch captured Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire for their salt pans and strategic positions off the coast of the mainland. This happened without fierce battles or dramatic events. It happened so swiftly and quiet that the Spaniards did not realise they lost the Islands. Proof of this is the fact that it was not until almost 100 years later, that the then Spanish ambassador to the Dutch Republic, Vizconde de Herreria, asked an official status of specifically Aruba. The Dutch replied that they did not understand the fuss. Aruba has been theirs for a long time already. The original letter still exists in the archives of Simancas, Spain.
So the take-away on our Aruba roots here are:
Aruba was property of the WIC and not really part of the Dutch “7 province republic”
The population consisted of Arawak Indians that emigrated from the mainland & a few Europeans employed by the WIC
Aruba was an “experimental” ranch for breeding goats and horses
Aruba was spared much of the violence and battles of the many wars waging in that period
The history of Aruba goes a bit dark after the WIC conquered it from the Spanish. There is not a lot of documentation. Curacao was the main Island housing the senior leadership, Not much happened on Aruba, and I think that it is for this reason, plus the fact that there were no note worthy leaders/commanders on the Island, that not much has been documented. It isn’t till around the 1700’s that we get to find out more again on what actually happened on Aruba. The following is what I have managed to find out. I will update in case I find out more.
Populated by the Caiquetios of the mainland Arawak tribe, deported by the Spaniards and then safe-haven for freed Arawaks from both Hispaniola and the mainland. The evolution of the Aruban population has been turbulent to say the least. At least we know that our first roots are based on the coastal region of what are now Estado Falcon in Venezuela and La Guajira in Colombia. The initial Spanish contacts do not seem to have had a significant impact on the DNA of the early Arubans. They did, however, have a profound cultural influence by introducing Catholicism to them. This will reveal itself to be of some importance later on in the history of Aruba.
In the previous chapter we learned that the arrival of the Dutch was more out of necessity than desire to conquer the Islands from the Spain. And Aruba in this case was less important than the sister Islands of Curacao and Bonaire. Aruba lacked a safe harbour like in Curacao. And it lacked saltpans like in Bonaire. Nevertheless, Aruba was pat of the package, and therefore fought over between the 2 countries.
As part of the 80 year war between Spain and The Netherlands, the WIC was founded. Its main purposes being:
Breaking the monopoly that Spain and Portugal had in the colonisation of the Americas
Colonising part of the Americas for the 7 provinces of The Netherlands
“Piracy” against Spanish merchant vessels to disrupt the supply of wealth to Spain
Disrupt the colonial income to Spain in order to sabotage their war efforts (80 year war)
It was founded in 1621 but started operations in 1623 (remember the 80 year war would go on till 1648). It was not until 1634 that the WIC decided to make a serious attempt to conquer Curacao from the Spaniards. Aruba soon followed in 1636. This was al led by Johannes van Walbeeck. Contrary to popular belief, the Islands became property of the WIC and not colonies of the Netherlands. The WIC even prohibited colonisation by individuals. The Islands became sort of “farms” for the WIC. The local Arawaks were “persuaded” to work while small garrisons of WIC officers and soldiers defended the islands. It was not even allowed for their wives to join them on the Islands. This debunks an important assumption in Aruban history that the Dutch colonised us and that our Dutch Caribbean development or heritage, if you will, started here. Initially the presence of the WIC did not influence the population and cultural much on Aruba. Other that according to some researchers, many Arawaks fled the islands to the mainland due to a preference for Spanish rule.
During all of this the WIC and the 7 provinces of The Netherlands were active elsewhere in the Americas (amongst others):
Recife in Pernambuco, Brazil
New Amsterdam (what is now New York)
Aruba in that time fell under Curacao supervision which in turn fell under Supervision of Recife. The highest ranking officer on Aruba was called the Commander. Together with some cavaliers, he had to manage small scale goat farming, which was used to supply Curacao with additional food. It seems that right after being conquered, it took some years before an official Commander has been appointed to Aruba. Apparently the first Commander, Hendrik Martens, was appointed in 1660. Without disrespecting Aruba, it was clear that it had a marginal role at the time.
After the fall of Recife (pernambuco) in 1654 Aruba and its sister islands fell under “New Netherlands” and New Amsterdam (currently NY city). After the British conquest of New Amsterdam, the 3 islands formed a unit of themselves. With Curacao being the lead Island with a Director and Aruba & Bonaire with a commander each.
The take-away on these facts for our history are:
Aruban Arawaks were a mix of original and mainland immigrants
The Spanish had a bigger cultural impact compared to the Dutch on Aruba
Aruba was more an Arawak reservation than a Colony
Aruba was property of the WIC and not of the country of The Netherlands
Last time we checked Aruba was part of Spain, the biggest superpower in the world at that point in time. Besides some possible pirate and buccaneer attacks, nothing very remarkable happened. According to most documentation Aruba became part of The Netherlands somewhere around 1636. But before we rush through, let’s go back and find out what has led to this development.
The Netherlands as we know it now, did not exist back in the 1600’s. In that period they were part of the Spanish kingdom in Europe. I use “they” because The Netherlands were a group of regions (nowadays provinces): Holland, Friesland, Groningen, Utrecht, Zeeland, Gelderland and Overijsel. These regions started a rebellion around 1568 which started the “80 years war”. The war ended in 1648, with the birth of a new nation: The Republic of the Netherlands. Important to note is that the Dutch Kingdom did not yet exist. This would come later. It was during the war however, that in The Netherlands a company was founded, which would change the course of Aruba’s history. The “Verenigde West-Indische Compagnie”, or WIC in short. One of the purposes of the WIC was to wage war and piracy against Spain, in an attempt to weaken its economy and therefore means to wage war. Another purpose was to engage in maritime commerce and get a piece of the pie in the Americas. One of their first engagements was in Brazil. However, they expanded to more regions, which included the lesser Antilles, and …Aruba.
One of the main endeavours of the WIC men was looking for salt. This was a key ingredient for their haring (fish) exports, which was big business. Around 1590, the Dutch from the regions Holland and Zeeland wandered the Caribbean looking for the white gold. A major location for this was the coastal area of Punta de Araya. This large area was not well guarded by the Spanish, so the Dutch could harvest salt for a long time without any problems. The Spaniards fought back and in 1623 the Dutch were expelled from Punta Araya. Till this day, you can visit the Spanish fort built for just this purpose.
If you scroll and zoom out on the following map, you can see how vast the salt-pans were and still are.
This forced the Dutch to look for alternative locations to harvest salt. This is when they started considering the Islands of Curacao, Bonaire, St. Maarten and Aruba. Besides salt, the Islands were also of strategic importance for a couple of reasons:
they were excellent bases for piracy against Spanish merchant ships (especially laden with gold and silver)
the Dutch wanted a piece of the Caribbean pie, which was being dominated by the British and the French
We have to remember, the 7 Dutch regions were still at war with Spain, as part of the 80 year war. The Kingdom of The Netherlands still did not exist.
The take-away here is that Aruba became Dutch because of:
the need for salt,
the prestige race of colonising the Caribbean Islands
The war with Spain
Nederlanders overzee; Leonard Blusse & Jaap de Moor; ISBN 90 6135 361 0
First Forts: Essays on the Archaeology of Proto-colonial Fortifications; edited by Eric Klingelhofer; ISBN 978 90 04 18754 2
Aruba was now a firm part of the Spanish empire. Even though not a lot of attention was given, it did pay an interesting role in the region. With Coro now an established city and capital of the new world (modern day Venezuela), there was quite some movement. In order to understand the situation we have to move away from the region and take a wider view to get some perspective.
Since discovery by Alonso de Ojeda Aruba was property of the following Spanish monarchs (House of Trastámara):
The following period in Spanish monarchy is that of the House of Habsburg. Due to strategic marriages with Austrian royals, the Spanish King as of 1556 was also King of:
The Netherlands (including what is now Belgium)
Naples (modern day Southern Italy)
And of course everything Spain conquered in the Americas including Aruba
The most important King is Philip the II. Who would reign from 1556 to 1598. His reign is important to Aruba because the war he was waging against the Dutch protestant rebellion would set things in motion that will impact Aruba later on.
But let’s not jump too far ahead, and go back to Coro around 1528 – 1546. Due to the many wars in Europe the Spanish crown under owed a debt to the German banking family of the Welsers. In exchange for this debt, they got to rule what is now Venezuela from 1528 – 1546. Although their presence did not produce any remarkable activities for Aruba, it did end the agreements between the Spaniards and the local indigenous people. These were agreements made between Juan de Ampies, Cacique Manaure and Father De las Casas. The local indigenous population had to fight again to defend themselves and their right to be there. Aruba being relatively safe due to its location participated in defending the coast north of Coro from invasion and pirates. The people from Aruba even founded a village north east of Coro called Carrizal.
In the cathedral of Coro, there is still a document that gives thanks to the people of Aruba for founding the village of Carrizal (not to be mistaken with the current municipality of Carrizal in current Venezuela). It is a bit unclear wether they founded it pro-actively as a defence or as a result of having to flee to the mainland to escape attacks from pirates a.o. It is also a bit unclear when all of this happened. Some information gives the impression that this happened at the end of the 16th century and other documentation mentions this happening around 1723. Although I could not find any images to provide more clarity on the timeline of this, there is a documentary (in Dutch) that mentions and shows this (you can see it at minute 6:27). And this is the church that was built around 1750 and still stands today:
The take-away from this part of history of Aruba?
We were part of the largest empire in the world of the time
Managed by Germans
We were of little consequence due to not having any valuable assets to support the royal coffers.
The local population remained heavily native Caiquetios living together with some Spanish colonisers.
The most exiting occurrences of the time were raids by, sometimes famous, pirates.
(The map used as featured image on top can is made by Diego Gutierrez and Hieronymus Cock in 1562 and can be found here)
Without a doubt the first inhabitants of Aruba have been the Caiquetio Indians, of the Arawak tribe that came from the mainland, and settled on the Island. Excavations and archaeological research has shown that they have been on the Island of Aruba since about 16.000 years ago. There they lived concentrated in a couple of mayor settlements. The most important ones at what we now know as: Tanki Flip, Malmok, Santa Cruz and Savaneta
However, as indicated in the introduction of this site, I am more interested in the history of Aruba starting in 1499. Because that was when the status quo was shattered. The world would never be the same anymore after Columbus stumbled upon the Americas.
Aruba’s first European visitor was a Spaniard by the name of Alonso de Ojeda (1466 Cuenca, Spain – 1515 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic). He was part of Columbus’ second journey to the Americas. But it was after a dispute he had with Columbus, that Alonso de Ojeda got a new sponsorship from the Bishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca to go on the journey that would make him famous. He discovered the whole coast of what are now Venezuela and Colombia. It was during this trip that he encountered the Island of Aruba, around September 1499. Because he did not find any proof of gold, he categorised Aruba (Together with Curaçao and Bonaire) as “Isla inútil” which is Spanish for worthless Island.
Alonso de Ojeda was an interesting character. He embodied, the good, the bad and the ugly of early European exploration in the Americas. But for the Continuing history on Arubaroots, after the discovery, he was actually not so relevant anymore. The question I have is: “what happened to Aruba after 1499?”
Automatically Aruba became part of Spain, and was now part of “Nueva Andalusia”, the region that was now governed by Alonso de Ojeda. It was not until around 1513 that the local population was enslaved and deported to Hispaniola (what is now The Dominican Republic), to work in copper mines. The man responsible for this was Diego de Salazar. He took a total of about 2000 Caiquetios from all 3 islands and probably some from the mainland as well. Leaving the Island without any inhabitants. So there was a period where Aruba had no human presence. Imagine how that must have been. Almost 6 years later around 1519, they were allowed to go back. This was made possible by a man called Juan Martínez Ampiés. He was impressed by the intelligence shown by the Caiquetios, whom he called “Guatiaos”, and had them declared protected from Slavery in exchange for converting them to Cristians. He (or his son; this is being disputed) was the founder of the city of Santa Ana de Coro in Venezuela in 1527. He was able to do this with the help of local Cacique Manaure. Together they coordinated the re-population the Islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. This was the start of the new status quo on Aruba.
Unfortunately Juan Ampies lost control over the region due to disputes and money problems. The then King of Spain, Chalres I (Charles V of Germany), conceded the rights of exploitation of the Venezuelan coastal area to his German Sponsors the Welsers. Juan Ampies died a poor man around 1533. After a while the Islands remained under Spanish control, but were “forgotten”. This enabled the local Caiquetio population to pretty much rule themselves.
The post 1499 era of Aruba was heavily influenced by Juan Ampies’ doing. He made sure that Caiquetios (both original and new ones from the mainland) would re-populate the Island and taught them to start breeding European animals such as goats, pigs and horses. He also introduced many Fruit seeds for planting.
So the take-away on our Aruba roots here are:
We originally decent from Caiquetios having lived there for more than 16.000 years.
We have been colonised and annexed by Spain
We were deported to the Dominican Republic
Freed again in exchange for becoming Christians
Expanding again as a people in combination with the Caiquetios or Arawaks of the main-land under the leadership of Manaure and Juan Ampies
One of my main conclusions based on this first chapter is the proof after having done quite some research is that the as of 1499 the Aruban population is a mix of original Caiquetio inhabitants, Indigenous people from the mainland (Santa Ana de Coro) and Spaniards. The second one is that these are the roots of Aruba being heavily Catholic. Looking at the geographical distances (126 KM) it makes much sense.
In the next chapter I will investigate the period between 1533 and approximatly 1600. What happened, and what contributions to our roots can be found.
To confirm the above, check out a.o:
A Short History of the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam; By Cornelis C. Goslinga
P.s. The Kingdom of the Netherlands still does not exist at this point. the provinces Holland, Friesland, Zeeland and Utrecht are enrolled in a rebellion against Spain called: The 80 year war.
Being passionate about history and my roots, I started working on a private book collection of Aruba. Everything I can find on Aruba will be added to this collection. It now consists of 20 odd books. The oldest being a couple decades old. These books spurred a dormant interest of mine which is my genealogy. The combination of these 2 activities opened the doors to the past of my birthplace, the island we call Aruba.
A lot of the history that I have been taught seems to be incorrect or incomplete. Culture is very important for Aruba, and I know we are struggling to determine ours and define our identity. By going through the history of Aruba and comparing stories, texts and other material, I can make some pretty safe assumptions and conclusions on what really happened. A lot of details surface, which help explain some of the things we now consider our roots, history and culture. My goal with this site is to increase the knowledge and understanding of what has made us what we are today.
As I go along, researching and learning, I will revisit the chapters from time to time and make updates.
Feel free to share any material you have, correct me if I am wrong (please always provide proof) and help me discover our Arubaroots.