History of Aruba

Pre-Columbian time

Little is known to date about the oldest inhabitants of Aruba. It is said that Aruba is inhabited since 2500 BC, however the first archaeological finds date to approx. 500-800 AD. At that time Aruba was inhabited by the Arawak, they had crossed the sea out of the north of South America. In the archaeological museum in Oranjestad excavations of this time period are on display. In the Arikok National Park near Santa Cruz you can also see several caves with rock paintings from that era. Around the year 1400, the Caribs conquered Aruba. They were the last indigenous people inhabiting Aruba before the first Spanish explorers set foot to shore.

  • Drawings of the Indians in the fontein cave in the arikok national park
  • Pots from the time of the Indians in the national archaeological museum in Oranjestad
  • The letterbox and cannon at Fort Zoutman in Oranjestad
  • The wreck of the s.s. Antilla on the bottom of the Caribbean Sea outside Palm Beach Aruba
f.l.t.r.: Fontein Cave - Arikok National Park | National Archelogisch Museum - Oranjestad | Fort Zoutman - Oranjestad | Antilla Wreck - Palm Beach .

Spanish explorers

It is widely believed that the Spaniard Alonso de Ojeda has discovered Aruba. This is not entirely sure however. Based on the maps of that time, Alonso de Ojeda did discover Bonaire and Curacao but not Aruba. In 1533 the Spaniards removed all the Indians from the island and took them to Hispaniola to work at the penal copper mines of Santa Dominga. Aruba was left behind uninhabited. In the following years small groups of Indians and Spaniards settled on Aruba. The island became a center for pirates and smugglers.

Dutch West India Company

Meanwhile the Dutch were looking for new sources of salt for the herring fishery. Due to the Eighty Years War with Spain, the Dutch could no longer deal with Spain. The salt plains were found in the Caribbean. To gain authority in the region Curaçao was conquered in 1634. To protect the island against raids Aruba and Bonaire were captured in 1636 . Aruba was developed as an agricultural colony by the West India Company, especially horses and goats were bred. The Indians were allowed to live freely in Aruba, unlike the Spaniards who used the Indians as slaves. The first African slaves came to Aruba not until 1770, making the Indian culture better preserved than on Curaçao and Bonaire. Unfortunately the last Indians died out on Aruba in 1862. In 1798 Fort Zoutman was constructed to protect Aruba, this sparked the start of the current capital Oranjestad. Between 1805-1816, during the Neapolitan wars, Aruba briefly fell into English hands. After this time the colonization of Aruba really took off.

Natural resources

In 1824 large amounts of gold were found in the northeast of Aruba for the first time. The gold mining was a loss-making enterprise for the Dutch government. In 1829 the plots were sold to individuals and private companies. This led to the construction of the Bushiribana gold smelter near Santa Cruz. In 1874 also phosphate was discovered in Aruba. The phosphate was extracted from guano in Ceru Colorado, near San Nicolas. Since 1800 also the Aloe plant is grown on Aruba. Because of the First World War the mining of gold and phosphate came to a complete standstill and Aruba fell in poverty. In 1924 an oil terminal and oil refinery was built by the Royal Dutch Shell. This brought new prosperity to Aruba.

The Second World War

Aruba has played a major role in the Second World War. The oil refinery made petrol for the fighter planes. When Germany invaded Netherlands in 1940, a German ship (SS Antilla) was boarded off the coast of Malmok and was sunk.


In the first years of the war Aruba was defended by French, English and Scottish troops. When the United States became involved in the war, the Americans took over the defense.

Recent history

After the Second World War a sense of independecy grew in Aruba. In 1978 the Dutch government refused to negotiate for a Status Aparte of Aruba. Subsequently the then prime minister of Aruba, Betico Croes, threatened with a unilateral declaration of independence. The Netherlands tacked and after negotiations Aruba got in 1986 a Status Aparte for 10 years after which it would gain complete independency. In 1991 this independency was canceled and since then Aruba is a country within the Dutch Kingdom.