My dear Kacvey,

This is in response to your students’query about the phrase “banana republic.”

Although google could generously address the question, the full paragraph below would provide a glimpse of the context where O.Henry coined it in Chapter 9: The Admiral of “Cabbages and Kings” [Book 5 of “The Complete Works of O.Henry”]

The paragraph goes as follows: “In the constitution of this small, maritime banana republic was a forgotten section that provided for the maintenance of a navy. This provision – with many other wiser ones – had lain inert since the establishment of the republic. Anchuria had no navy and had no use for one.  It was characteristic of Don Sabas – a man at once merry, learned, whimsical and audacious – that he should have disturbed the dust of this musty and sleeping statute to increase the humor of the world by so much as a smile from his indulgent colleagues.

O.Henry continued his story telling to Chapter 15: Masters of Arts where how he described the new ruler of the bananarepublic of Anchuria. The narrative goes as follows: “President Losada – many called him Dictator – was a man whose genius would have made him conspicuous even among Anglo-Saxons, had not that genius been intermixed with other traits that were petty and subversive. He had some of the lofty patriotism of Washington (the man he most admired), the force of Napoleon, and much of the wisdom the sages. These characteristics might have justified him in the assumption of the title of “The Illustrious Liberator,” had they not been accompanied by a stupendous and amazing vanity that kept him in the less worthy ranks of dictators.

 Yet he did his country great service. With a mighty grasp he shook it nearly free from the shackles of ignorance and sloth and the vermin that fed upon it, and all but made it a power in the council of nations. He established schools and hospitals, built roads, bridges, railroads and palaces, and bestowed generous subsidies upon the arts and sciences. He was the absolute despot and the idol of his people. The wealth of the country poured into his hands. Other presidents had been rapacious without reason. Losada amassed enormous wealth, but his people had their share of the benefits.

The joint in his armor was his insatiate passion for monuments and tokens commemorating his glory. In every town he caused to be erected statues of himself bearing legends in praise of his greatness. In the walls of every public edifice, tablets were fixed reciting his splendor and the gratitude of his subjects. His statuettes and portraits were scattered throughout the land in every house and hut. One of the sycophants in his court painted him as St. John, with a halo and a train of attendants in full uniform. Losada saw nothing incongruous in this picture, and had it hung in a church in the capital. He ordered from a French sculptor a marble group including himself with Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and one or two others whom he deemed worthy of the honor.

He ransacked Europe for decorations, employing policy, money and intrigue to cajole the orders he coveted from kings and rulers. On state occasions his breast was covered from shoulder to shoulder with crosses, stars, golden roses, medals and ribbons. It was said that the man who could contrive for him a new decoration, or invent some new method of extolling his greatness, might plunge a hand deep into the treasury.

In Chapter 17: Rouge et Noir,O.Henry told the story about the relationship between Losada and the people of Anchuria: “It has been indicated that disaffection followed the elevation of Losada to the presidency. The feeling continued to grow. Throughout the entire republic there seemed to be a spirit of silent, sullen discontent. Even the old Liberal party to which Goodwin, Zavalla and other patriots had lent their aid was disappointed. Losada had failed to become a popular idol. Fresh taxes, fresh import duties and, more than all, his tolerance of the outrageous oppression of citizens by the military had rendered him the most obnoxious president since the despicable Alforan. The majority of his own cabinet were out of sympathy with him. The army, which he had courted by giving it license to tyrannize, had been his main, and thus far adequate support.

This was the sate of affairs in Anchuria when the winter season opened at Coralio at the end of the second year of Losada’s administration. So, when the government and society made its annual exodus to the seashore it was evident that the presidential advent would not be celebrated by limited rejoicing. The tenth of November was the day set for the entrance into Coralio of the gay company from the capital…

Although the rainy season was over, the day seemed to hark back to reeking June. A fine drizzle of rain fell all during the forenoon. The procession entered Coralio amid a strange silence…President Losada was an elderly man… His carriage headed the procession, surrounded and guarded by Captain Cruz and his famous troop of one hundred light horse “El Ciento Huilando.”

The president’s sharp, beady eyes glanced about him for the expected demonstration of welcome; but he faced a stolid, indifferent array of citizens. Sightseers the Anchurains are by birth and habit, and they turned out to their last able-bodied unit to witness the scene; but they maintained an accusive silence. They crowded the streets to the very wheel ruts; they covered the red tile roofs to the eaves, but there was never a “viva” from them. No wreaths of palm and lemon branches or gorgeous strings of paper roses hung from the windows and balconies as was the custom. The was an apathy, a dull, dissenting disapprobation, that was the more ominous because it puzzled. No one feared an outburst, a revolt of the discontents, for they had no leader. The president and those loyal to him, had never been whispered a name among them capable of crystallizing the dissatisfaction into opposition. No, there could be no danger. The people always procured a new idol before they destroyed an old one.

Kacvey, so many resemblances with what’s going on in the City of Tonlé Buon Mouk!

*****

Nota bene: O.Henry is the pen name of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910). “Cabbages and Kings” was written in 1904.