Human activity on Aruba dates back at least 4,000 years. Colonization by the Caquetio people, originating in Venezuela, was established by 1000 AD. After Europeans arrived at the end of the 15th century, the island was held by Spain, then came under Dutch rule in 1636 as part of the Netherlands Antilles. Aruba claimed autonomy in 1986 and is now a separate entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Today Aruba is home to an ethnic rainbow, nearly 107,000 people of 96 nationalities from the Americas, Europe and Asia, along with native Arubans who claim Dutch, African, Spanish and Caquetio ancestry.
Aruba’s history is reflected in its tongues. Official languages are the native Papiamento, which, despite being used for 300 years, was not recognized as an official language until 2003. Dutch, English and Spanish are also widely spoken.
The story of Papiamento (the name literally means “to talk”) helps to define the island and its inhabitants. Spoken only in the ABC islands or the Lesser Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao), Papiamento has its roots in an Afro-Portuguese creole, a pidgin language born in the slave trade so people of different nationalities could communicate. Most words are variations of Portuguese and Spanish, with borrowings from Dutch, English and other languages.
The influence of these cultures is reflected in Aruba’s folk traditions and arts. Community celebrations, like the Feast of Saint John, Carnival and New Year’s, are a time of merriment with traditional music, dance and food that continues to evolve.
Music is influenced by Latin America and the Caribbean. Christmas season reverberates with Venezuelan-style Gaita Zuliana and Aguinaldo sounds. Carnival jumps to calypso, steel pan, brass band and tumba music.
The island’s old architecture also tells a tale. Social status was revealed by the style of one’s home; farmers in the utilitarian Cunucu or countryside house, the upper classes in the European-style manor house. This you can still see downtown Oranjestad; City Hall and the National Archeological Museum are fine examples.
It should be no surprise that Aruban cuisine is spiked with international influences. Seafood is the staple, with catch of the day jokingly referred to as the “national dish.” Barracuda, grouper and snapper are fished year-round, with jack, wahoo, mahi mahi, tuna and kingfish caught on seasonal runs.
Traditional dishes include keri-keri (shredded fish sautéed with chopped vegetables, spices and herbs), balchi di pisca (fish cakes) or Arubans’ favourite, fish with savoury Creole sauce. Meals are accompanied by rice, pan bati (corn bread pancake) or funchi (polenta), along with ice-cold local Balashi or new Balashi Chill beer.
Get a taste of Aruba’s culture at the weekly Bon Bini and Carubbian festivals.