Pablo F. Gómez
In the early modern Spanish Caribbean, ritual practitioners of African descent were essential providers of health care for Caribbean people of all origins. Arriving from West and West Central Africa, Europe, and other Caribbean and New World locales, black healers were some of the most important shapers of practices related to the human body in the region. They openly performed bodily rituals of African, European, and Native American inspiration. Theirs is not a history uniquely defined by resistance or attempts at cultural survival, but rather by the creation of political and social capital through healing practices. Such a project was only possible through their exploration of and engagement with early modern Caribbean human and natural landscapes.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
Yellow fever was one of the most dreaded diseases in the Caribbean region from its first appearance in the 1650s until the confirmation of its spread via the bites of infected mosquitos in 1900. Fear of the disease resulted from not just its high mortality rate, but also the horrifying manner in which it killed its victims: after several days of fever, chills, and body aches, the skin and eyes of those who were most seriously infected would turn yellow as their livers failed, they would bleed from the eyes and nose, and they would succumb to the vomiting of coagulated blood. Because the virus caused only mild symptoms in children and a single episode confers lifetime immunity, the disease did not heavily impact natives of the region. Instead, it was newcomers in the Caribbean who suffered the worst ravages.