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.

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

aruba-political-map

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
Manaure
Manaure

 

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.

Paraguana
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.

 

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

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)

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