Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Panama, Ngöbe, Political Geography, Coastal Geography, State Developmement, Latin America

Major Advisor

Cyrus Zirakzadeh

Associate Advisor

Shareen Hertel

Associate Advisor

Michael Morrell

Associate Advisor

Jane Gordon

Associate Advisor

Charles Venator

Field of Study

Political science


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Campus Access


The Ngöbe people of Panama have had contact with various states since the time of the Spanish conquest. However, the Ngöbe who maintained their identity as non-Latino did so only in remote and inaccessible locations. In these places, the presence of the state was minimal until quite recently. James Scott argues that people like the Ngöbe, who avoided state-making, develop distinct social, economic, and political practices. These practices allow marginalized people to keep the state at bay, until certain technologies make state evasion impossible. These technologies include all- weather roads, radios, helicopters, etc. This dissertation argues that Scott's theory holds true in part for the Ngöbe, but that it misses important differences between mountain and coastal communities. Along the coast, open water facilitates long-range transport while coastal waters complicate local transport. This means that the coastal Ngöbe relate to the outside world differently, even with the introduction of modern technology. These differences are illustrated by reference to the written histories of the Ngöbe and my own field research. In addition, the dissertation explores the relationship between culture, territorial control, and the idea of “civilization.”