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In the 16th century most of this fertile low-lying coastal region was farmed and inhabited by local people. Once the Spanish arrived and took over in 1719, huge tracts of land were turned into massive sugarcane plantations and captured natives were forced to provide the necessary labor, although they resisted mightily. Unable to keep many of their farmhands from melting into the nearby mountains, plantation owners began shipping in African workers, and sometimes stole them from other Caribbean islands. Most of the 30, 000 residents living in the municipality today are freed descendants of these Yoruba slaves. The region is justifiably proud of its Afro-Caribbean heritage: Loíza Aldea is named after Luisa, a powerful Taíno cacique (chief) who ruled the area before the Spanish conquest.