Aruba, since 1986 a constituent country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is an island about 29 kilometres north of the Venezuelan peninsula of Paraguaná and 80 kilometres northwest of Curaçao. From its northwestern to its southeastern point, it is 32 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide at its widest point; its area is 179 km². The people, around 117,000, are, like those of the Netherlands, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, Dutch citizens.
Archaeological evidence indicates that the island was inhabited as early as 2000 BCE. Around 1000 CE, a group of Arawak Caquetío people landed here from Venezuela, and it seems there remained contact between these people and Amerindians from South America. In 1499 the explorers Amerigo Vespucci and Alonso de Ojeda visited Aruba and claimed it for Spain. They called the native people “giants” and described their houses built offshore in the sea. The Spanish began colonising the island, enslaving the Caquetíos, sending them to the island of Hispaniola (present Dominican Republic) to work in the copper mines. They didn’t establish plantations on Aruba because of its low rainfall.
In 1636, the Dutch West India Company seized the island from the Spanish and deported most of the small remaining Arawak and Spanish population to Venezuela. They allowed some surviving Arawaks to farm and grow livestock that the Dutch then exported as meat. Aruba and the other two islands became hubs of the slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean. There remained contact with coastal Venezuela, and Dutch wasn’t spoken much; until the late 18th century, students were taught predominantly in Spanish, as they were in Curaçao and Bonaire. Over the years, the Papiamento language developed, probably from a Portuguese-African pidgin (the Portuguese had been trading in the area since the 16th century), influenced by Spanish, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese and even Arawak. It continued during the Dutch colonisation, and in the 19th century, most material written was in Papiamento, influenced by Spanish: even Dutch settlers communicated better in Spanish than in Dutch.
In 1928, Royal Dutch Shell built its first oil refinery in Aruba, just west of Oranjestad. Another was built at the southeast end of the island in San Nicolas. These refineries processed crude oil from Venezuela, bringing greater prosperity. In 1954 the Netherlands Antilles united all Dutch colonies in the Caribbean, but many Arubans were unhappy about this, as they felt that Curaçao dominated it. Betty Croes, an Aruban politician, sought greater autonomy for Aruba, leading to independence and in 1976 adopted the flag and anthem. It culminated in the “Status Aparte” for Aruba, and on 1 January 1986, Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles, becoming a separate country.
The island is quite arid, and its landscape is typified by its many cactuses. But it is, with its beautiful beaches, a top-rated tourist destination, as all year they can expect clear sunny skies. The main town of Oranjestad has brightly coloured Dutch-style architecture, and there are many large resorts along the west coast. Its primary source of income is tourism; the oil refineries, aloe export and offshore banking provide other sources of income. Aruba has one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean.