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Aruba History

History of Aruba

If you want to learn about Aruba's history, my best advice is to pack your bags, board that plane, and go – just go!

There are many ways of studying Aruba's history and travelling is the ultimate eye-opener. You can live Aruba's history vicariously as well – through books and through conversations with people who have been there. We tried to look for a film about Aruba's history, but there is none so far. It would be nice if someone could come up with a historical documentary about this magnificent paradise of sun and sea.

If you do get a chance to visit Aruba, you'll be able to breathe its history in the Archeological Museum in Orajestad and at the Historical Museum of Aruba located at Fort Zoutman and the William III Tower. Early writings and cave drawings will give you a good idea of Aruba's early settlers – these can be viewed at the Fontein and Guadiriki caves at Arikok National Park.

Aruba's history is divided into four distinct periods:

Aruba's Pre-conquest period

There is only scanty evidence of Aruba's early history. What we do know is that Aruba's first inhabitants were the Caquetio Indians. They were descended from the Arawak tribe who were mostly concentrated on the South American mainland.

As with most early societies, the Caqueto Indians hunted, fished and gathered food and led a nomadic lifestyle. The sea was their main source of livelihood and they used stone tools to survive. Divided into small family groups, they fished along Aruba's coastline – just about where Malmok and Palm Beach are today.

Aruba's Spanish Period

It was 1499 when Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda set foot on Aruba. He claimed the island on behalf of Queen Isabella of Spain. When de Ojeda learned that the gold he was seeking did not exist, he considered Aruba a worthless conquest. The Spanish explorers abandoned Aruba not only because no gold was found but also because they thought the land and climate were not conducive for yielding lucrative crops.

Dutch Settlement

About 138 years after Alonso de Ojeda arrived, the Europeans became interested in Aruba. This interest was more pronounced among the Dutch who were looking for a place to colonize after the Spanish expelled them from St. Maartens.

In 1636, the Dutch took over the islands of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire from the Spanish who, based on historical records, did not resist the Dutch takeover. The very first structures built by the Dutch were the Fort Zoutman and William III tower, Aruba's oldest buildings.

The British invaded Aruba and its neighboring islands - an offshoot of the Napoleonic Wars – but the British didn't remain in Aruba very long, leaving complete control to the Dutch.

Discovery of Gold / Oil Exploration

Aruba had its own version of the Gold Rush which lasted until 1916.

Gold was discovered in 1824 in a place called Rooi Fluit on Aruba's north coast. Gold was mined manually until 1854 when the island started to import mining machinery. By 1872, Aruba's gold mining operations was set up in Bushiribana. Another site in Balashi was established 25 years later.

Unfortunately in 1916, Aruba had to stop gold mining operations because World War I made the supply of materials erratic.

Then in 1924, black gold –oil – came into the picture. It was at this time that Aruba was transformed into a country that had great reserves of oil, owning some of the world's largest refineries. This industry paved the way for economic boom in the island – San Nicholas became a beehive of commercial activity and was Aruba's second largest city.

In 1985, Aruba had to shut down its oil refineries because of petroleum faring poorly in the world economy. This led Aruba to focus on tourism instead. In fact, even when oil exploration was resumed in 1991, Aruba continued to invest heavily in tourism.

Aruba Today

Aruba's large investments into tourism paid off. It has become one of the most sought-after tourist destinations. People from Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia are attracted to Aruba's main attractions, not to mention its political stability, safe environment, and year-round idyllic weather.

A red star and two yellow stripes make up Aruba's flag. The star's four points symbolize the four corners of the world from which people come. The two stripes are a symbol of Aruba's position in the Netherlands and serves as a reminder of the history it shares with the Dutch. Aruba was granted autonomous status by Holland on March 18, 1948.

Amazon is selling a book you might be interested in: Aruba, Webster's Timeline History, 1499-2007 written by Icon Group International (publication date: 2009)