Aruba — History and Culture
Aruba is Dutch-looking with a multicultural layout and Caribbean heart. An autonomous member of the Netherlands, it has a different history and set up than the the other ABC islands and is richer, as well. Reminders of the past are strewn around the island, including the original pirate fort which still stands in the capital.
History on Aruba began with the Arawak Indians, namely the Caquetios tribe. The Spanish claimed the island in the latter stages of the 1400’s, after Columbus discovered the New World. They didn’t do much for Aruba and left it soon after.
The Dutch arrived in the region in the 1630’s looking to colonize and develop the ABC islands. The norm in the Caribbean of this period was to set up plantations to harvest sugar, coffee, maize, and other commodities, although this was not so on Aruba due to its dry climate and tough soil. Aloe was the exception.
The Arawaks were thus left to tend to their cattle and the meat was used to supply Dutch interests elsewhere. However, Aruba was slow to develop and it wasn’t until the 1800’s when gold was discovered that things began to look up for the economy. Folks flooded in from nearby Venezuela and Europe, though this, too, was short-lived.
Fort Zoutman was built in the latter part of the 1700’s to ward off threats from other power houses and from pirates, who were endemic in the Caribbean. The capital city of Oranjestad was built around the fort and it remains today as Aruba’s oldest building. The British had ongoing interests in the region, taking control of Aruba during the Napoleonic Wars. It was handed back to the Dutch after the Treaty of Paris in 1815. The island also became a British—and then an American—protectorate during WWII.
Aruba was used as a base for refining oil after vast fields were discovered in Venezuela in the 1900’s. The island was granted autonomy from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986, although they deferred full independence, preferring Dutch control of defense and foreign affairs.
Tourism became all important following the slowing down of the oil refineries in the 1990’s and the country now has an enviable infrastructure, including three cruise ship terminals, a modern international airport, and thousands of hotel resorts.
Other popular historic landmarks include the California Lighthouse (1914) in the north and the nearby Antilla Ship Wreck from WWII. The Aruba Museum in Fort Zoutman is the go-to place to learn more about Aruba’s history, along with the Archaeological Museum and the Numismatic Museum.
There is a more prominent Arawak presence on Aruba than on the other ABC islands, although full-blooded aboriginals are not apparent. The island is multicultural, with a very definite Caribbean slant, as evidenced by the Afro-Caribbean-centric festivals and steel-drum playing.
Locals are polite and patriotic—lots of anthem singing and celebrations for anything having to do with Aruba and it’s vigor. They are typically well dressed and frown upon badly attired visitors; namely the wearing of bathing suits away from the beach. The best Aruban culture happens every Tuesday night at Fort Zoutman, with music, dance, costumes, and arts and crafts, but Carnival, in February, is the big event of the year.