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Aruban History 101

The first Arubans came from Venezuela by boat about 4,500 years ago. Living in small nomadic groups, they fished, hunted small animals, and collected fruit. They also fashioned crude tools from shells and stones and buried their dead in well-organized family groups. About 3,500 years later, the Caiquetios arrived, also from Venezuela and also by boat. Cultivating maize and manioc, this peaceful, more advanced group established villages near freshwater gullies.

In 1499, Alonso de Ojeda, a cohort of Christopher Columbus, became the first European to set foot on the island. Finding nothing of immediate value, the Spanish ignored Aruba until 1515, when they forcibly moved the entire Caiquetio population to Santo Domingo (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) to work as slaves. Amerindians returned to Aruba in 1526, when Spain set up ranches on the island.

The Spanish left in 1636, when the Dutch gained control, but the first Dutch settlers arrived more than 100 years later, in 1754. For brief stints in the early 19th century, the English occupied the land, but Dutch sovereignty prevailed. Aruba remained a largely ranch economy with Amerindians and Dutch landowners herding horses and goats and cultivating millet, coconut, mango, and aloe.

In 1824, gold was discovered on the north coast, and a small gold rush ensued. Very little of the metal was actually found, though, and the industry petered out as the first shots of World War I rang out. Production of phosphate waned at about the same time.

The island entered the modern era in 1924, when Standard Oil of New Jersey built an oil refinery at San Nicolas. To supplement Aruba's labor force, thousands of workers arrived from North America, Europe, and other islands of the Caribbean, bringing the first people of African descent to the island. In 1942, U.S. troops landed to protect the highly valuable refinery, which was instrumental in fueling Allied war efforts. The complex closed in 1985, temporarily devastating the economy but prodding Aruba to develop its now successful tourism industry. (The refinery has since reopened.)

Although the island gained independence from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986, it remains an autonomous unit of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Today, Aruba's multicultural population boasts more than 60 nationalities.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.