To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
This chapter begins with a discussion of concepts related to health and illness in West-Central African societies. It then focuses on the plurality of African healing specialists in the region. Some of the African healers treated everyday occurrences of illness with natural remedies and could be referred to as herbalists. Other healer-diviners focused on treating social ills or so-called diseases of men. Besides offering herbal remedies, their methods often included religious rituals and ceremonial practices. Such activities were often scrutinised and investigated by the Inquisitional commissioners in Luanda. The activities of herbalists, on the contrary, rarely led to denunciations to the Portuguese religious or secular authorities. In West-Central Africa, African herbalists, healers and diviners were the primary source of healing knowledge and power. The imagined powers of individual healers were made manifold by their mobility. Mobile healers offered the possibility of new cures, both spiritual and medicinal.
This chapter examines Portuguese discourses on health, environment and migration in the context of the colonisation of West-Central Africa. It points to ideas that people from certain parts of Portugal were seen as better suited to adapt to the Angolan disease environment, or rather environments, for certain regions in the colony of Angola were seen as healthier than others. Therefore, this chapter also addresses dangerous and healing environments within West-Central Africa, some of which gained a mythical status by the end of the eighteenth century. The history of migration in, to and from Angola would be incomplete without Brazil, which was intimately connected to discourses on health and environment in the Portuguese Atlantic, first as a potential source of immigrants to Angola, and second, as a temporary healing environment for Europeans stationed in West-Central Africa. By tracing the movements of people and ideas in time and space, this chapter demonstrates the interconnectedness of environment and health in the early modern southern Atlantic world.
This chapter documents and identifies the presence of several kinds of European medical practitioners in West-Central Africa. It shows that African healers were not the only ones whose practice could come under the scrutiny of ecclesiastical or secular authorities. The legitimacy of white healers was similarly discussed from time to time. In Luanda, ailing patients could theoretically go to a number of Portuguese practitioners, but in reality the number of physicians and surgeons was limited and concentrated on treating the colonial elites and soldiers serving in the military. A fair number of Africans were trained as and served as barbers in Angola and Kongo, pointing to the transfer of European medical technology to Africans. Medical pluralism reflected mostly local African practices and values, but global influences were also present in the form of the charitable brotherhoods, which ran hospitals in Luanda, Benguela and Massangano. It is also evident in the arrival of quina bark from Brazil as early as the 1720s.
This chapter focuses on remedies and the materiality of medicine in Angola. It discusses the exchange and transmission of medicinal knowledge between Africans and Europeans and the circulation of West-Central African medical ideas throughout the Atlantic world. This medical interaction started soon after Europeans made first contact with the Kingdom of Kongo, and the Portuguese eagerly began to learn healing methods from locals. Exchanging medical knowledge formed the basis for cultural contacts, as local rulers requested European healing specialists and offered valued African medicinals as gifts to be sent to Portuguese kings. Common to many European observations, some of them based on personally experimenting with African phytotherapies, was an appreciation for an African plant remedy. A shared trait in cross-cultural medical interaction during early modern European expansion was that local medicinals were regarded as the most suitable to cure diseases contracted in those places. However, West-Central African medical knowledge and medicinals also spread throughout the Atlantic world, especially to Brazil and Portugal, by the eighteenth century.
This chapter examines Africans as providers of plants and local medical knowledge in Sierra Leone by focusing on the documentation produced by Adam Afzelius and Thomas Winterbottom, an English physician. It shows that, in Sierra Leone, the indigenous knowledge collected by Europeans was completely provided by Africans. Two local men, Peter and Duffa, clearly stand out among African informants. They provided more than half of the plants studied by Afzelius, and a typical entry in the botanist’s journal usually began thus: ‘Peter and Duffa brought…’ Yet, the journal remains silent on who Peter and Duffa really were. Typical of scientific voyagers, Afzelius and Winterbottom rarely discussed the identities of their assistants and informants. Although they accepted and valued African botanical and medical knowledge, their informants remain almost anonymous and completely faceless. Yet, the African contribution was integral to early modern natural history and provided the basis for the scientific studies conducted by Afzelius and his students.
In this ambitious analysis of medical encounters in Central and West Africa during the era of the Atlantic slave trade, Kalle Kananoja focuses on African and European perceptions of health, disease and healing. Arguing that the period was characterised by continuous knowledge exchange, he shows that indigenous natural medicine was used by locals and non-Africans alike. The mobility and circulation of healing techniques and materials was an important feature of the early modern Black Atlantic world. African healing specialists not only crossed the Atlantic to the Americas, but also moved within and between African regions to offer their services. At times, patients, Europeans included, travelled relatively long distances in Africa to receive treatment. Highlighting cross-cultural medical exchanges, Kananoja shows that local African knowledge was central to shaping responses to illness, providing a fresh, global perspective on African medicine and vernacular science in the early modern world.
This chapter introduces the conceptual, theoretical and methodological framework of the book, with focus on cross-cultural medical encounters in Africa and the Atlantic world. It discusses health and healing in African settings, in which medicine and medical cultures have been configured spatially and temporally in different ways, with multiple nexuses between healing and political power. Bringing together histories of healing from the Black Atlantic world, the chapter highlights medical pluralism as a central concept to describe the context of healing in this in the early modern period. From the point of view of cross-cultural medical interaction, Europeans shared a number of assumptions about illness causation and therapeutic practice with Africans. This common ground led to widespread reliance on African healing and harming specialists. Not all medicines were beneficent, but accusations about the use of sorcery and poison occasionally emerged in European documentation.
This chapter closes the book by discussing the methodological limits and possibilities in the study of cross-cultural medical encounters in precolonial Africa and the early modern Atlantic world. Maintaining health and well-being was a central concern for peoples of Atlantic Africa and for outsiders who visited or settled in the region from the mid-fifteenth century onwards. From the very beginning, cross-cultural medical interaction was the norm, not the exception, as Africans and Europeans sought to tap different sources of healing knowledge. In general, locals and newcomers were open to experimenting with different curing methods and healing materials originating on different continents, viewing these encounters as opportunities for obtaining new techniques. The mobility of people, knowledge and materials came to characterise the world of healing in the Black Atlantic. The medical pluralism reigning in Atlantic Africa was both a precondition and a product of cross-cultural interaction in medicine. Atlantic African medical culture was open to innovative approaches and novel techniques even without the presence of Europeans, but their arrival only added to this plurality. The low number of European practitioners and their concentration in a few localities on the coast guaranteed that indigenous African medicines and therapies prevailed in the early modern period.
This chapter utilises data gleaned from botanical treatises, missionary accounts and official correspondence to approach diagnostic categories in early modern medicine in Angola. It also discusses early modern constructions of mental pathology. West-Central African history is exceptional in providing ample primary sources for discussing health and disease in Africa prior to the nineteenth century. The documentation abounds with contemporary social diagnoses of diseases in West-Central Africa occasionally written by physicians or surgeons, but almost as often uttered by colonial administrators, priests, naturalists and common people. Yet, they are often of little use in determining the modern biological diagnoses. Essentially, they point out that humoural theory was rarely a reference point when making social diagnoses. Instead, laypeople and doctors usually referred to very general symptoms and conditions. The Portuguese understanding of epidemic diseases remained extremely limited throughout the era of the slave trade.