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Archaeological Museum in Aruba

Throwback Thursdays: History of Aruba

In the Fontein cave situated in the Arikok National Park and at the Ayo Rock Formation you can see the Arawak drawings and carvings.

The ruins that resemble a crumbled castle off in the distance are those of the Bushiribana Gold Mill.   Aruba experienced a gold rush during the 19th century, with the discovery of gold on the Island first documented in 1824.  In 1874, an English mining company built the Bushiribana Gold Mill on Aruba's north coast in order to process the gold ore extracted from the hills nearby.  A team of local masons was hired to assemble the old-fashioned mill using primitive cranes of wooden beams to lift the massive rocks into place.  Today, locals and island guests can enjoy exploring inside the Bushiribana Ruins, which provide an excellent vantage point to quietly observe the surrounding rugged terrain and the stunning Caribbean Sea.

First Inhabitants

The first known inhabitants of the island of Aruba were the Caquetio Indians of the Arawak tribe from Venezuela. During the Pre-ceramic period, 2500 BC – 1000 AD, this seminomadic tribe fished, hunted and gathered alimentation whilst being the most dependent on the sea for survival. They created tool out of roughly flaked stones and shells and were living in small family groups along the coast of villages now named Malmok and Palm Beach.

At the beginning of the Ceramic period, 1000-1515 AD, these Indians founded five large villages and started producing corn and yucca. Two of those Amerindian villages can be seen in scaled-down versions (Ayo) and an Amerindian dwelling (Tanki Flip) at the Archeological Museum of Aruba.  The Caiquetios buried their dead ceremoniously in ceramic urns, which remains can still be seen at the museum as well along with coarse pottery, jewelry, as well as finer well-crafted pieces they made. Some of the artifacts fragments date back to 1000 A.D

In the Fontein cave situated in the Arikok National Park and at the Ayo Rock Formation you can also see their Arawak drawings and carvings. These paintings suggest that the Caquetios Indians may have come to the island after fleeing attacks from the Caribs, also known as the Kalian people, who are indigenous to the northern part of South America. The Caquetios Indians were still on the island when it was discovered by Spanish explorers.

Indian cave drawings in Fontein Cave

The Spanish  

In 1499 Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda discovered Aruba upon which following Aruba was colonized by the Spanish. Due to the relatively low rainfall on the island, the colonizers did not believe that Aruba was a good place for plantations or crop growing.  In 1513, many of the Caquetio Indians were enslaved and sent to Hispaniola to work on plantations and in the mines. Some Indians returned in 1515 and were recruited as laborers for cattle and horse breeding.  Approximately nine years after Alonso de Ojeda landed on Aruba, the Spanish crown appointed him as the first governor of the island.  Aruba stayed under Spanish control for 137 years. 

The Dutch

Because of Aruba’s strategic location, the Dutch occupied Aruba in 1636 in order to protect their salt supply from the mainland whilst also ensuring a naval base in the Caribbean during their 80-year war with Spain. The Dutch used the Caquetio people to build farms and raise cattle for meat that would be sold and shipped to the other islands.  During the Napoleonic wars, Aruba was invaded and put in control of the British but was given back to the Netherlands in 1816.  Aruba officially became part of the Netherlands Antilles in 1845 and is still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands today.

Dutch Colonial Style houses in downtown Oranjestad


Aruba seceded from the federation of the Antilles in 1986, a victory much fought for by political activist and local hero Betico Croes. Initially, the plan for Aruba was to become its own independent member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. However, in 1990 Aruba decided to postpone indefinitely becoming a fully independent state. Then, in 1995 the petition for independence was completely repealed. Foreign affairs, as well as national defense, for Aruba, are still controlled by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but all internal affairs – including laws, policies, and currency – are controlled by the Aruban government.

Flag of Aruba gently waving in the wind.

Aruba's National Flag

Aruba Today

Today, Aruba is still officially a member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and has two official languages: Dutch and the native language of Papiamento. It has a greatly diversified culture, with over 90 nationalities represented in a densely populated island that is a permanent home to over 100,000 people.  Some of the diversity in Aruban culture can be seen in the number of languages that the average Aruban can speak.  Beyond the two official languages of Aruba, most of the islanders speak at least two other languages, including English and Spanish. The Aruban people enjoy a healthy economy. This is partly due to the tourism industry and partly to an excellent education system. Aruba has a very low unemployment rate.


Aruba Facts, History

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