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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 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.
By concentrating on the interaction between indigenous informants and European settlers, this chapter highlights African botanical expertise and medical knowledge on the Gold Coast. Just like in Angola and Kongo, local medical knowledge emerged as a viable healing alternative for European settlers, who were confined to West African coastal enclaves and could not always count upon a steady supply of imported European medicines. Cultural go-betweens, many of them women, provided everyday healthcare and facilitated Europeans’ access to local healers when necessary. This can be detected in English, Dutch and Danish sources on the Gold Coast, which are examined in this chapter. Europeans who settled in West Africa experimented with local medicinals and sought to tap the sources of indigenous healing knowledge by consulting with their African companions and slaves and by seeking access to specialist healers. Some of them accumulated knowledge that allowed them to act as their own doctors with a mixed bag of medicines.
This chapter starts with a discussion of the pervasiveness of adversity, the universality of healing practices, and the thesis that the impulse to heal and care is deeply rooted in human nature. It reviews the historical, anthropological, and contemporary literature on the concepts of “wounded healers” and “creative illnesses.” The chapter briefly describes the structure of the book, and the biographies included. This is followed by a discussion of potential negative effects of traumatic life experiences on therapists and the need for cognizance, as well as resilience and support in transforming vulnerability into empathy and strength. It is proposed that theories and practices of different schools of psychology evolved as ways for their founders and practitioners to solve challenges in their own lives and thus could best be understood and appreciated when seen in that context. This is one of the reasons we should pay attention to these founders’ life stories, providing us with nuances, helping us to avoid simplistic and rigid interpretation of abstract thoughts distilled from real-life experiences.
Paula de Eguiluz, the daughter of African slaves in Puerto Rico in the 1590s, achieved her freedom from slavery by age thirty. However, from the 1620s to the end of the 1630s, she fought a contentious, ongoing battle with the inquisitors working out of the Cartagena de Indias tribunal of the Spanish Holy Office. Eguiluz gave numerous testimonies to the inquisitors, which hostile and friendly witnesses filled in from their own experiences with her. This extensive documentation offers a biographical narrative overflowing with details that have intrigued historians since the nineteenth century including: her infamous powers of seduction, her bold and elegant appearance, her healing skills, her ability to fly, and her frightening arsenal of incantations and potions. Eguiluz’s fortunes rose and fell in the first half of the seventeenth century, but what is most noteworthy is her dedication to the struggle for freedom. Through analysis of her detailed autobiography presented to the inquisitors and the supporting biographic details provided by her acquaintances and rivals, Eguiluz emerges as a complicated heroine with documented emotional subjectivity and moral ambiguity.