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)