Published On: Fri, Jan 27th, 2023

Aruban Warriors claim damages from the Netherlands

ORANJESTAD — Helene Croes of the Aruban Caquetio is convinced: “We have nothing to do with slavery. Others have made that connection, we didn’t. So we don’t need apologies either.”

Croes is a jurist, interpreter and translator, she is teaching Spanish and she is the cacique, the chief of the Aruban Warriors. “We are descendants of native Indians,” she told Sharina Henriquez of Caribisch Netwerk.

“We, the Caquetio, are the original inhabitants. The colonists have acknowledged that when they came to Aruba, it appears from archives. We have never been slaves. That was not allowed at the time.”

Originally the Caquetio hail from Venezuela; they lived in the northern part of that country. Croes spoke with Henriquez about what she has learned from archives in Aruba, from the former Dutch and Spanish colonizers, and from oral history.

“You do not know what is completely true. Who says that the colonizers were right? This is why we need much more research.”

The Spanish were the first to colonize Aruba around 1500. They supposedly deported all inhabitants to Santo Domingo to work in the silver mines. Croes, who is 67, doubts this. “Aruba was densely forested at the time, so there were plenty of place to hide, also in caves. I know stories claiming that there have always been Indians here.”

When the Dutch conquered Aruba, they also encountered Coquetio. “They introduced slavery here. But they were not allowed to enslave Coquetio because they were considered as the native population.”

The Coquetio were allowed to have slaves, just like the Dutch colonizers. “Maria Helena Tromp was a very rich woman who had a lot of slaves,” Croes says. “And she was an Indian; it is so registered in the archives.”

The enslaved people on Aruba were called red slaves and they belonged to the Wayúu-tribe from Colombia and Venezuela. When the Netherlands offered apologies for the history of slavery on December 19 of last year, Aruban Prime Minister Wever-Croes indicated that the red slaves should not be forgotten.

Croes: “She is allowed to say that, if she wants to. For the Wayúu-indians, because they are also in the Aruban bloodline. And she can also say that they were enslaved by my ancestors, the Caquetio and by my ancestors from the Dutch side.”

The Caquetio mixed rather quickly with the Dutch colonizers. In 1715 the commander of Aruba noted that there were 393 indians on Aruba and that most of them were women. The colonizers were almost all men.

“This is why – very ironically – we take Dutch family names as criteria to establish whether you are allowed to become a member of our tribe. There were no Indian family names, only first names,” Croes says.

She explains why her tribe does not want to be associated with slavery. “You cannot describe what has been done to us as slavery. Slaves do not have such a connection with the country as we do. They do not have a bloodline that can be traced back to Aruba.”

Such a direct bloodline as the Coquetio claim to have is important, Croes says. You can use it as a basis for filing a claim against the Dutch state. We are the original inhabitants and we are the owners of this island.”

The Aruban Warriors have in the meantime done just that. On December 5 of last year they filed a claim against the Netherlands in their Declaration of Native Inhabitants of Aruba.”

‘For us it is not just about the stolen gold. That was taken out of context in news reports. The gold is just a part of fifteen other points.”

The Warriors want compensation for robbing the whole of Aruba, 180 square kilometers of land, €5,000 for every citizen who is a member of the tribe, healthcare insurance and compensation for the gold.

Searches for the gold have been ongoing until 1916. It is reportedly about 1,180 ton. “Even though the Netherlands gave concessions to countries like England and France, they stole it from us,” says Croes.

The Warriors-chief says that the Netherlands will have to compensate her tribe for billions of euros. The tribe intends to invest that money in more research into the history of the native population, in education, in grants for young tribe-members and in the conservation of nature.

Croes has a fair idea of who belongs to the Caquetio-tribe. “We have calculated it: at least 20,000.” This makes the tribe’s financial claim alone worth €100 million or $109 million at the current rate of exchange.

To be considered for tribe-membership, one’s ancestral father or mother must have been born in Aruba in the eighteenth or the nineteenth century. That information can be found in the national archives of Aruba.

Since the tribe submitted its Declaration to the office of the Dutch Representative, many people have registered as tribe-member. “It is quite an undertaking and we are not there yet. We have to verify everything and we have to speak with the tribe about every individual case.”

What happens if the Netherlands reject the tribe’s claim? Croes: “Then we will file a complaint with the permanent forum of the United Nations for native people. We have the support from other Indian tribes in the United States, Canada, South America and the Caribbean.”

Why did it take so long before the tribe filed its claim against the Netherlands? Croes: “The last revolt was in 1827. Later on the Indians became friends with the colonizers. The Catholic Church built schools here and they hammered home the notion that we were savages, that we did not have a soul. They frightened us and turned us into Catholics.”

The fight has started again now. “I have had a vision but I do not want to go into that now. We have a tribe-member in America who has experienced how the tribes over there began to file complaints. We started talking because somebody has to continue with the revolt. But now we are doing it on paper.”


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