This brief work, the author’s master’s thesis from Catholic University in Quito, traces the socioeconomic history of the province of Manabí in central coastal Ecuador during the nineteenth century. Manabí, a rather isolated backwater, is mostly remembered as the birthplace of liberal caudillo Eloy Alfaro and as home to the misnamed “Panama” hats. Yet sometimes this region found itself at the center of national events, serving as a starting place for insurrections against the government. Dueñas, a graduate student at the University of Florida, seeks to explain Manabi’s apparent propensity for insurgency.
To build her argument, Dueñas examines in successive chapters the geographical setting, historical context, land tenure arrangements, exports, relations of production, and boom-bust economic swings before returning to the theme of insurrection. Her view, it turns out, is that independent-minded Manabians could act together if oppressive central governments threatened cherished local sovereignty. As a study of the origins of insurrection, this essay remains incomplete; Dueñas’ treatment is largely narrative and descriptive, not analytic.
Yet there is much of great value in this book. Even though Ecuador is a nation of the most profound regional differences, historians long tended to train their attention on Quito and national politics. By conducting regionally based empirical research into the economy and society, Dueñas’ study (like the best of the essays in Enrique Ayala Mora’s path-breaking Nueva historia del Ecuador) uncovers much that is new and overturns many old assumptions. Therein lies Dueñas’ contribution, albeit one of interest to Ecuadorian specialists only.