When explorer Alonso de Ojeda discovered Aruba in 1499 and claimed it for the Spanish throne, he named it la isla de los gigantes (English: the island of giants), the tall Indians descended from Aruba’s very first settlers. After a decade, Aruba’s moniker was changed to isla inutíl, a useless island, as no gold or treasures were found.
In 1513, the entire Indian population was enslaved and taken to work on the Spanish estates in Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. At the beginning of the Indian Historic Period in 1515, some Indians returned while others arrived from the mainland and lived in small villages in the northern part of the island.
With the return of the Spanish, the Indians were recruited as laborers for cattle and horse breeding. From the 17th century on, the majority of Indians migrated from the South American mainland. Indian preachers were Aruba’s Catholic spiritual leaders well into the 18th century. At the beginning of the 19th century, Indians made up about one-third of the island’s 1700 inhabitants, but in 1862, historians believe that Aruba’s last Indian died.