Aruba and the region in the 18th century

The “authentic” roots of our current Aruba: The 1700’s or 18th century

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”.

West-Indisch_Huis Amsterdam
WIC headquarters in Amsterdam. Aruba fell under its rule.

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.

De Verovering van Curacao

Aruba, outpost & farm for the Dutch WIC (1634 – 1700)

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.

Octrooi WIC 1621
Octrooi WIC 1621 – The Patent for the WIC in 1621

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
  • Tobago
  • New Amsterdam (what is now New York)
  • St Croix
  • St. Maarten
  • St. Eustatius
  • Saba

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.

Het beleg van Recife te Pernambuco
Dutch WIC siege outside of Olinda, Recife in Pernambuco state.

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

(featured image source: Nationaal Archief Curaçao)


Aruba Arawak

Aruba’s first encounter with Europeans in 1499

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

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


Juan de 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.

Coro and Paraguana Peninsula 1885


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.