Aruba History, Language and Culture

History of Aruba

Alonzo de Ojeda discovered Aruba in 1499, claiming the island for Spain. He described an ‘island of giants’ having been struck by the stature of the population. However, the Spaniards did not consider the island worth colonising and left the original Arawak Indian inhabitants to live in virtual peace. Although Spain’s lack of interest resulted in the island becoming a haven for pirates and buccaneers, the Spanish hegemony continued unchallenged until 1636, by which time the war with Holland was well into its seventh decade. Dutch war interests then switched to the Caribbean and the Dutch fleet took over the neglected territory with little opposition. In 1643, the Dutch appointed a governor to take charge of Aruba and the rest of the Netherlands Antilles.

Except for a brief period in the early 19th century, when the British took possession during the Napoleonic Wars, Aruba has remained under peaceful Dutch jurisdiction ever since.

During World War 2 Aruba was administered by the Dutch government-in-exile in London and continued to supply oil to Britain and her allies.

On 1 January 1986, Aruba achieved internal autonomy, separating it administratively from the rest of the Netherlands Antilles, although it remains a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This was originally conceived as the first step towards independence, for which a 10-year transitional period was planned. In March 1994, however, after consultation with the Dutch government, this plan was shelved. Independence at some later date has not been completely ruled out but it will now require the consent of two-thirds of the population in a referendum.

The Dutch king Willem-Alexander is Aruba’s head of state and appoints the island’s governor on a six-year term. The prime minster and deputy prime minister are elected by the Aruban Parlamento, which is made up of 21 members elected by popular vote on four-year terms.

In recent years increasing US tourism has been reflected in the growing popularity of American celebrations such as Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Did you know?

• With low unemployment Aruba enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean.

• With Bonaire and Curaçao, Aruba forms a group known as the ABC Islands.

• The capital Oranjestad, often referred to as Playa, was built around Fort Zoutman in 1796 and was named after King William I in the 1820s. The artificial Renaissance Island is home to a population of flamingos and has Aruba’s only private beaches.

Aruba Culture


82% of the population are Roman Catholic. There are also Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Confucian and Jewish communities present.

Language in Aruba

The official language is Dutch. English and Spanish are also spoken. The islanders also speak Papiamento, which is a combination of Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, English and Indian languages.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.