This book offers a concise history of the province of Mainas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as a case study of a minor administrative unit within the Audiencia of Quito, dependent on the viceroyalties of Peru and Nueva Granada at different times within this period. Working with published sources and documents from four Quito archives, Porras brings a new approach to a region whose historiography has primarily been oriented to the juridical problems of territorial boundaries. Her institutional and political perspectives provide a more substantive framework to understand the colonial administration of the eastern region of Ecuador (the Oriente), a topic that has not received much scholarly attention.
Since its establishment, the administration of the governorship of Mainas was conditioned by the specific cultural characteristics of the different Indian tribal groups inhabiting this area of Amazonia. Their nomadic subsistence patterns and their periodic rebellions and flights into the jungle constituted a serious obstacle to the establishment of permanent Spanish settlements, and to the control of Indian labor in encomiendas. They were also an obstacle to the consolidation of the reducciones, and, finally, to the success of the Jesuit missions.
The core of Porras’s argument is given in chapter 3, where she examines the eighteenth-century period of the Jesuits’ spiritual and secular government of Mainas. Contrary to established views, Porras demonstrates that the decline of the governorship and the consequent territorial expansion by the Portuguese were not the direct results of the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, but had started several decades before. Faced with the indifference of the viceroys, the lack of military support, and the resistance of the Indians to changes in their way of life, the Jesuits failed to pacify, convert, or settle the indigenous population. Consequently, the area became vulnerable to the Portuguese incursions. Further development of the Spanish-Portuguese conflict resulted in the establishment of the Bishopric and Comandancia of Mainas in 1802. Although brief, this book provides some interesting comparative material on encomiendas and the Jesuit missions and an institutional framework for the complex ethnohistory of this area of Amazonia.