Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Contested Rule in the Internal Colony: Indians, Elites, Missionaries, and the State in Ecuadorian Amazonia

This study traces the transformation of the Ecuadorian Amazon (the Oriente) from a relatively isolated outpost with only a skeletal state infrastructure to the heart of the national economy and a theater of a massive state-guided internal colonial project. I examine how global flows of people, commodities, and ideas converged on and transformed the Oriente from the 1895 Liberal Revolution to the 1970s, when a powerful indigenous social movement emerged to resist frontier expansion. My analysis attends to the dynamics between global forces, state internal colonial designs, and the competing interests of the local landed elite, foreign missionaries, and the indigenous population. I show that the failure to attract large amounts of settlers sedimented the dependence of the state and local elites on the indigenous population. This dependence created a paradox in the frontier project. While elites professed a desire to modernize and culturally de-Indianize the so-called "backward" region, they remained materially invested in the maintenance of a racially marked social hierarchy. In other words, indigenous people were simultaneously the most valuable and coveted population, and the most despised. Thus, I show how demand for racially marked labor shaped the contours of state formation and how the initiatives and ideas of state makers were distilled through various idioms of race-thinking. While the state sought to harness global economic booms (notably rubber) and use foreign actors—capitalists and missionaries alike—to end this dependent situation, only the 1967 discovery of oil by Texaco-Gulf provided an opportunity to funnel the benefits of an extractive commodity into a nationalist colonizing project which brought masses of settlers. However, while elites saw this as the most successful thrust of a long and faltering colonial project, it gave rise to one of the most powerful indigenous social movements in the world, which contained and shaped the colonizing process.