Information about History, Development, Government of the Island of Aruba

Aruba's History | The Amerindians | Spanish Rule | Dutch Rule | Commercial Development | Aruba's Coat of Arms | Aruba's Flag | Government | Education | Aruba's Law and Government | Aruba Judicial System | Travel Guide to Aruba: Everything you need to know about the island | Aruba Photo Gallery | Buy Airfare & Hotel | Purchase Aruba Photos | Home Page

Aruba's History

Aruba's path to the present day is marked by the mystery of ochre-colored rock drawings left behind by island shamans, the enterprising spirit of European adventurers and settlers and the diverse experiences and traditions brought by the many nationalities that have since sought out the island as either a new home or temporary resting place. The look of the people, the languages they speak and the innate hospitality that manifests itself in the Aruban psyche is the result of a multi-cultural mix that reflects a rich past.

The Amerindians

The Caquetio Indians of the Arawak tribe from the South American mainland were Aruba's first inhabitants. During the Pre-ceramic Period of habitation (2500 BC – 1000 AD), they were fishers-hunters-gatherers who depended on the sea for survival and used tools of roughly flaked stones and shell. They lived in small family groups and fished along Aruba’s coast at locations now named Malmok and Palm Beach.

During the beginning of the Ceramic period (1000-1515 AD), five large Indian villages were founded on the best agricultural soil, producing corn and yucca. Indians buried their dead ceremoniously in different ways, indicating a hierarchical socio-political system. They made coarse pottery as well as finer well-crafted pieces.


Spanish Rule

When explorer Alonso de Ojeda discovered Aruba in 1499 and claimed it for the Spanish throne, he named it la isla de los gigantes (Spanish: 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.

Dutch Rule

Aruba’s strategic location was recognized by the Dutch who initially occupied the island in 1636 to protect their salt supply from the mainland and establish a naval base in the Caribbean during their 80-year war with Spain. Further economic development continued through the Dutch West India Company located on the neighboring island of Curaçao. Aruba remained in Dutch hands, except for a brief hiatus under English rule from 1805-1816, during the Napoleonic Wars.

Commercial Development

In 1824, gold was discovered in Rooi Fluit on the north coast. Mining was done by hand until machinery was imported in 1854. In 1872, a large smelting works was built in Bushiribana, followed by another site twenty-five years later in Balashi. When World War I broke out in 1916, the mining of gold ceased for lack of materials required to purify the ores.

The city of San Nicolas, named after Shon Nicolaas van der Biest, a former landowner there, came into existence with phosphate mining in 1879; until 1914, Aruba exported the raw material which ultimately was treated and used as an artificial fertilizer. Other commercial endeavors have included the breeding of cochineal, a cactus insect that when dried and ground produces a coloring agent; watapana tree pods which contained tannin; minor cultivations of silkworms, tobacco, cotton and peanuts; and most importantly, aloe and oil refining.

At the beginning of twentieth century, one-third of the island was covered with aloe plantations and the island’s economy was largely dependent on it. At first, the harvest of aloe vera was only for the export of the raw material for laxatives. With clay moisture-retentive soil yielding a product of superior quality, Aruba became the largest exporter of aloe in the world. At the end of the 1950’s, interest was redirected to the gel and its concentrates for use in cosmetic, hair and skin care products.

The Lago Oil and Transport Company Ltd. was established in 1924, due to Aruba’s favorable geographical position and peaceful political climate. Thousands of immigrants arrived from the British and Dutch islands. The population grew and other types of commercial enterprises attracted merchants from eastern Europe and the Near East. In a matter of about fifty years, the population of the island experienced a seven-fold increase, from about 9,000 in 1924 to about 60,000 in 1972. There were more than 8000 employees at its peak in 1949. With an end to Venezuela’s preferential pricing, decreased demand, and competition with modern technology, the refinery closed down in 1985. Valero Energy Corporation has since taken over the refinery and still operates it today.

Over the past two decades, Aruba has become one of the most sought-after vacation destinations in the world. A stable government, safe environment, good weather all year-round, location out of the hurricane belt, convenient airlift, magnificent beaches, and its multi-lingual, friendly, and service-oriented population, continue to attract hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.

Aruba's Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms has been in use since November 15, 1955. The design was created by "Atelier voor Heraldische Kunst," of Amsterdam, Holland, but it was later altered to reflect the symbols of Aruba. The following are the components of the Coat of Arms:

1. Aloe represents the first source of wealth for the island;

2. The outline of “Hooiberg” hill symbolizes Aruba arising out of the sea;

3. The handshake represents the friendly ties Aruba maintains with other nations and peoples;

4. The cog symbolizes industry as the island's main source of progress;

5. The cross in the center is the symbol of devotion and faith;

6. The lion atop of the Coat of Arms represents power and generosity;

7. The laurel leaves are symbols of peace and friendship.

Aruba's Flag

Aruba's national flag was officially adopted on March 18, 1976, along with the official anthem "Aruba Dushi Tera." The four colors each have significance. The blue represents the sea that surrounds Aruba; yellow is the color of abundance, representing the island's past and its industries of gold, aloe and oil; red is for the love each Aruban has for the country and the ancient industry of Brazilwood; and white symbolizes the snow-white beaches as well as the purity of the hearts of Aruba's people who strive for justice, order and liberty.

The symbols on the flag consist of a red star and two yellow stripes. The red star represents the four points of the compass, with the island having drawn people from around the world. The star also represents the island itself, surrounded by the beautiful blue sea. The horizontal yellow stripes denote the free and separate position Aruba enjoys in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Aruba celebrates all that the flag and anthem have come to signify with the national holiday of Flag and Anthem Day each March 18, the same day that in 1948, Holland accepted Aruba’s right to autonomous status in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.


Aruba is a safe, stable and friendly Caribbean island with Dutch roots. A former colony of the Netherlands, it later formed a part of the Netherland Antilles before gaining its autonomy in 1986; under status aparte, Aruba functions as an independent entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Aruba's government is founded on democratic principles.

Historically, Aruba was part of the Netherlands Antilles, a six-island federation which also included Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. This island grouping, in turn, formed the Caribbean component of the Dutch Kingdom, a constitutional monarchy with the Queen of the Netherlands having the dual role of head of state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as well as of the country of the Netherlands.

At a Round Table Conference (March 1983), all partners in the Kingdom (the Netherlands, the Central Government of the Netherlands Antilles, and the governments of the individual islands) agreed to grant Aruba a separate status within the Kingdom. On January 1, 1986 Aruba became a separate entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, an event of historic proportions. This does not represent full independence for the island, a step that may be taken only in the very distant future. Today the Kingdom consists of three partners: Holland, Aruba, and the five islands of the Netherlands Antilles.

As a result of this agreement, Aruban affairs, formerly under the jurisdiction of the Central Government of the Netherlands Antilles, (aviation, customs, immigration, communications, and other internal and external matters) are now handled autonomously by Aruba. The Kingdom retains responsibility for defense and foreign affairs. Aruba has its own constitution based on Western democratic principles and manages its own aviation, customs, immigration, and communications. Briefly stated, this political status is a form of commonwealth with Holland and sister islands, with which Aruba retains strong economic, cultural and political ties.

The Governor is appointed by the Queen of the Kingdom for a term of six years and acts as the sovereign's representative on the island. The Legislature consists of a 21-member parliament, elected by popular vote for a four-year term of office. The Council of Ministers, presided over by the Prime Minister, forms the executive power. Legal jurisdiction lies with a Common Court of Justice of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles and ultimately with a Supreme Court of Justice in the Netherlands.


Aruba has an excellent educational system, patterned after the Dutch system, provides for education at all levels. The Government finances the national education system. Private schools, such as the International School of Aruba, which finance their own activities. The percentage of monies earmarked for education is higher than the average for the Caribbean/Latin American region. Arubans benefit from a strong primary school education.

A segmented secondary school program includes vocational training (LTO), basic education (MAVO), college prep (HAVO) and advanced placement (VWO). Higher education goals can be pursued through the Professional Education program if EPI, the teachers college of IPA as well as through the University of Aruba (UA) that offers bachelors and masters programs in law, finance and economics and hospitality and tourism management.

Aruba's Law and Government

Aruba is a safe, stable and friendly Caribbean Island has Dutch roots and is founded on democratic principals. A former colony of the Netherlands, it later formed a part of the Netherland Antilles before gaining its autonomy in 1986. Under "Status Aparte," Aruba functions as an independent entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Aruba's judicial system remains unchanged from the Dutch model.

Systems of government, education, social welfare and medicine also remain similar to the Dutch standard. Aruba's Dutch foundations, combined with international influences, have contributed to a modern society with an advanced infrastructure.

Aruba Judicial System

Aruba's legal system is based on the civil law system, as in use throughout most of the world. The main difference between our system of law and the common law system is the fact that we do not have juries or grand juries. In Aruba, the investigation by the police and prosecutor is checked and balanced by a judge of the Court of First Instance. The investigating judge conducts all interrogations of witnesses during the investigation of the crime. The trial itself is conducted and decided (including sentencing) by another judge, and the final verdict can be appealed. The suspect can appeal decisions made by the judge through the Court of Appeals.


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Aruba's History | The Amerindians | Spanish Rule | Dutch Rule | Commercial Development | Aruba's Coat of Arms | Aruba's Flag | Government | Education | Aruba's Law and Government | Aruba Judicial System | Travel Guide to Aruba: Everything you need to know about the island | Aruba Photo Gallery | Buy Airfare & Hotel | Purchase Aruba Photos | Home Page