The plant of immortality
Aloe Vera has been revered throughout history for its medicinal value. Christopher Columbus touted the plant for its curative properties. Alexander the Great conquered the island of Socotra for its Aloe to fortify his troops. Aloe was also used to enhance beauty, favored by Queen Nefertiti of Egypt and Cleopatra.
Introduction of Aloe Vera to Aruba
Aloe vera was introduced in Aruba around 1840. During those days, most people living on the island were poor farmers. Several Caribbean islands (including Barbados) had already imported Aloe plants from Africa for cultivation, harvesting the Aloe latex to produce Aloe hard gum (also called Aloe resin), from which a substance called aloin was extracted to produce pharmaceutical laxatives.
Where the Aloes in Aruba originally came from was disputed for some time, with some claiming they were imported from the botanical gardens at the University in Leiden, Holland, and others insisting that the plants came from South Africa. We know that the Aloes were introduced in Aruba by the Dutch governor van Raders around 1840. How many plants were first introduced is not known, but records make it clear that in 1845, there were only 9 hectares (22 acres) of Aloe fields in total, and the decision was taken in that year to extend the total to 20 hectares (49 acres).
Not only did Aloe flourish in Aruba, but also the amount of aloin that could be extracted from the Aloe hard gum produced in Aruba was 22% or more—much higher than the 15% that other suppliers around the world extracted from their hard gum. Consequently, the Aruban Aloes were very popular.
the Aloe Hard Gum
The process of making the Aloe hard gum began with cutting the leaves from the Aloe plants and placing as many of them as possible, with the cut edge downwards, in an inclined trough made of wood or sheet metal, called a cabishi. The latex would then be collected in wooden barrels, called halifats, to be transported to the Aloe cooking stations by donkeys.
The latex was then cooked in large copper kettles (200-600 liters) in cooking stations made of mud and clay, heated by burning dried cactuses or dry weeds. The cooking process of one drum of 200 liters of latex would take up to 12 hours, with workers stirring the latex all day or night. Finally, the cooked hot latex would be poured into wooden boxes (molds), forming a hard dark-colored resin upon cooling, called the Aloe hard gum or Aloe resin, its volume at 20-30% of its original volume before cooking. One of these wooden boxes could hold 57.5 kilograms of Aloe hard gum.
Becoming the largest exporter in the world of the Aloe Hard Gum
Aruba The Island of Aloes
In later years, the number of Aloe fields grew steadily, and at a certain point, around 1920, two-thirds of Aruba was covered with Aloe fields! In those days, Aruba earned the nickname “The Island of Aloes.” Many houses were decorated with pictures of Aloe plants, and the plants could be found in every garden and household. In the years after that until today, many Aruban stamp series have featured Aruba’s Aloes, and in 1955, the Aloe plant found its way onto Aruba’s coat of arms, symbolizing the island’s first source of prosperity.