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date: 23 April 2017

Early Modern Afro-Caribbean Healers

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Spanish-Caribbean, healers, African diaspora, medicine, African, religion, health care, early modern, black, ritual practitioners

Early Modern Caribbean Landscapes

Early modern Spanish Caribbean locales were centers of trade, profanation, and human encounters. These places were defined by the fluidity of their societies. The Caribbean of the 17th and 18th centuries was far from being the paradigmatic center of rigid, hierarchical plantation-based economies and societies more familiar to historians of the north Atlantic. Not until the last decades of the 17th century did large-scale sugar, coffee, cacao, tobacco, and indigo plantations come to dominate the economic, social, and political fortunes of an important portion of Caribbean inhabitants.1

Caribbean urban spaces were unlike cities such as Mexico City and Lima because they lacked the large Amerindian populations on which Spaniards had built the viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru. Caribbean cities were predominantly black spaces where Africans and their descendants from around the Atlantic world—free, freed, and enslaved—made up more than three-quarters of the population. The largest Caribbean cities during the early modern period: Cartagena de Indias, Havana, Veracruz, Santo Domingo, and San Juan de Puerto Rico, were populated by women and men hailing from all corners of the known world and were veritable nodes for the exchange of information about human bodies.2 Healers, germs, and bodies from all over the Atlantic converged in these ports, but black practitioners made up the majority of the healing personnel in these spaces.3 Afro-Caribbean healers hailed not only from Africa, but also from places like Lisbon, London, Seville, and Madeira, and from locales all over the Americas.4

Caribbean cities and towns of the 17th-century grew around a vast, interlocking, and mutually dependent network of intercontinental and local commercial circuits. The most important of these networks linked Caribbean cities with Europe, Atlantic islands, and West and West Central Africa. The two largest ports, Havana and Cartagena, functioned not only as recipients of cargo from transatlantic commercial networks but also as redistributors of goods, biota, and ideas to other places in the Indies, as well as New Spain and Peru.5 Smaller intra-Caribbean commercial networks traded slaves; foodstuffs; pearls; hides; textiles; minerals such as copper, gold, and silver; and, crucially, medicines. In addition to doing business through authorized networks, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Flemish, French, and English merchants illegally traded medicinal products from all around the globe. These smugglers were a common sight in places like Rio de la Hacha in the viceroyalty of New Granada, Caracas in Venezuela, and Bayamo and Puerto Príncipe in Cuba, throughout the early modern era.6 Caribbean healers of African descent, even in “backwater” towns, like Tolú, south of Cartagena de Indias, were highly connected with these networks and used products coming from such places as Seville, New Spain, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, and Santa Fe de Bogotá.7

In addition to Cartagena and Havana, a set of settlements and cities grew steadily throughout the early modern era in the Caribbean in conjunction with the expansion of legal and illegal commerce in the region. Throughout the 17th century, groups of black healers slowly colonized Caribbean spaces of healing, spaces that were also occupied by Amerindian communities and by European misfits and missionaries. This increasingly free, Creole population of black Caribbean peasants was in constant contact with actors and ideas from manifold Atlantic locales—interactions that were especially common in eastern Cuba, the province of La Guajira in the northern viceroyalty of New Granada, New Andalucia, and in the northern part of Hispaniola. The countryside in the northern viceroyalty of New Granada, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica (among others) was also peppered by maroon settlements known as palenques. These palenques became so powerful that the Spanish Crown recognized them as independent polities (black republics, or republicas de negros) at various points in the 17th century.8

Instead of revolving around large plantations, most 17th-century Caribbean settlements grew around mining enterprises or as breadbaskets for Caribbean ports. With the waning of mining during the first decades of the 17th century, many of these towns declined, and their black populations increasingly undertook work with small, self-sustaining agricultural operations that provided sustenance for larger cities involved in transatlantic commerce. It was only with the rise of sugar, tobacco, and coffee cultivation, later in the 17th century (particularly in Barbados), that plantations would come to dominate life in some parts of the Caribbean. The rise of large-scale plantations, and the changes in bodily cultures associated with concomitant arrival of large numbers of black bozales [un-acculturated African immigrants] occurred, thus, in a space where a culture of body and disease treatment had been brewing for more than a century and where racial boundaries were quite different from those of British and French Caribbean plantocracies.9

From the 16th century onward, healers of African descent in various Caribbean locales found themselves increasingly immersed in a veritable tower of Babel. In these locales caribeños came together to exchange ideas about bodies and the natural world. They held conversations in languages that included Castilian and Portuguese; dozens of Upper Guinean, Twi, Ewe/Gbe/Fon, and Bantu languages; Língua Geral; German, Arabic, French, Dutch, English, and Bavarian.10

The plurality of languages and cultures in the Caribbean was fueled not only by economic opportunities, but also by what has been dubbed a century of crisis. The long 17th century was punctuated by climate-driven demographic catastrophes, epidemics, imperial wars, shifting alliances, and shifting imperial borders around the globe; the Caribbean was no exception.11 Unsurprisingly, the Caribbean was a place in which disease and death were markers of the rhythms of life and the fate of armies and empires. As a consequence, healers became some of the most crucial cultural brokers of early modern Caribbean communities.

Black Caribbean ritual practitioners, far from being consigned to the fringes of society, were some of the most successful healers in the region during the early modern era. They treated bishops, archbishops, governors, and military commanders. Women and men coming from all over the Atlantic world relied on their services. Some of these black practitioners became so rich as to arouse the envy of licensed physicians, who saw them as competition and denounced them, in the absence of an established protomedicato office, to the Inquisition. Ironically, the Inquisition office and governmental officials did little to assuage licensed physicians’ concerns. Most black practitioners plied their trade for decades without restriction. Even if they were convicted by the Inquisition, their sentences were often laxly enforced, if at all.12

Extant sources, mostly coming from records produced by inquisition and judicial courts, give historians small glimpses about the belief systems and the rich social worlds that black communities forged in the Caribbean. The details of the events these records register are certainly filtered through the particular worldviews of the institutions producing them and modeled around particular hierarchical systems of representation of social and cultural realities. And yet, even in the blurry picture they allow historians to draw, it is clear that early modern Caribbean residents understood health and illness in a social context, one that intermingled claims of power over bodies, social groups, nature, and the spiritual world. Especially in 18th-century spaces defined by the life of plantations, black Caribbean healers used numerous forces to confront and resist emergent capitalist and racial models that put them at the bottom of social, economic, and cultural orders. However, resistance was not the primary, nor the sole, motivation for their actions. The Caribbean was a place of fluid and seemingly unending migrations—a place of transit, but also a place for ferocious re-imagining of the natural world and corporeality.13

Afro-Caribbean Healers

Multiple waves of African healers came to the Caribbean during from the 16th to the 18th centuries. They arrived from a variety of places in West and West Central Africa. There are records attesting to the healing practices of Upper Guineans, whom slave traders labeled Bolongo, Zape, Mandinga, Mitombo, Yolofo [Jolofo], Bañon, Biafara, Bioho, Bran, Cocolí, and Folupo. From areas around the Bight of Benin and Biafra came Arará, Mina, Carabalí, Lucumí, São Tomé, Terranova, and Zemba healers. The largest contingent of healers came from West Central Africa. Among them were individuals who were Congo, Axiolo, Manicongo, Anzico, Enchico, Mosanga, Motembo, Benguela, Matamba, Malemba, Ndala, and Angola.14 Although fewer in number, some East and North African healers, such as the Mozambique and the Berbesi, arrived in Caribbean spaces along with slaves captured in Mediterranean conflicts, along with those who grew up in European cities such as Lisbon, Seville, and Cadiz, or in Atlantic locales such as Madeira and Cape Verde. French, Dutch, and English traders also brought Akán/Twi healers from the Gold Coast starting in the late 17th century.15

African ritual specialists brought with them myriad notions about healing on which they modeled their practices in the Americas. These practices differed in important manners due to their close relationship to specific cultural, religious, and social circumstances. Not surprisingly, there were struggles over the efficacy and appropriateness of specific ritual practices among members of communities of African descent themselves. Some African healers came to the Caribbean after living in cities that had been in close contact with western Europeans since at least the 15th century. Places such as Benguela, São Salvador, and Cacheu were animated by hybrid cultures of their own, in which Euro-Africans such as Portuguese tangoamos were ubiquitous, as in São Jorge da Mina or later in Danish slave factories of Christiansburg, local elite families actively looked for alliances for commercial interest with Europeans factors.16 Other healers came from places with little to no contact with European cultures. Some practitioners came from politically decentralized societies such as those around the Senegambia delta. Others were trained in rigid traditions, where priesthood and political power were closely associated, such as Dahomey, Allada, Matamba, or the Catholic Kingdom of Kongo. Most African ritual practitioners had not been in contact with Muslim, Jewish, or Catholic cultures before arriving in the New World. In contrast, healers of Wolof and Biafada origin, and especially those of Mande descent, like the Mande bexerines—who traveled all around Upper Guinea selling wares and cures—had had close contact with Muslim culture through trans-Saharan commercial routes, particularly after the expansion of the Mande Kingdom. Congo baganga lived under the rule of a Catholic dynasty during the 17th century.17 The diverse cultures of healing brought by Africans to the Caribbean consequently were, themselves, a direct result of the multiple social and political transformations of the early modern Atlantic. This exchange increased in slave-trading Atlantic locales such as São Tomé, Cabo Verde, Loanda, and Benguela, and had a significant impact on the characteristics of ritual practices over the ensuing centuries.

Practical Engagements

Defining the origins of early modern Afro-Caribbean healing practices is a particularly challenging exercise—not least because the migrations of African healers did not end with their arrival in the New World. Some healers, such as those who lived in Cuba or Jamaica in the 18th century, lived their lives confined to plantations and their immediate surroundings. However, more often than not, black Caribbean healers and the people they treated frequently moved across early modern Caribbean landscapes, exchanging information about health, disease, and death. Some of the most famous Caribbean healers traveled dozens of miles after being hired by missionaries or slave owners to heal slaves, Indians, and Spanish in towns, mines, and haciendas in the Caribbean hinterlands. Other Afro-Caribbean healers traveled all around the Atlantic world, sometimes as free men, before ending up in the Caribbean.18

In their journeys, these healers actively sought to learn from practitioners in the locales they visited—an interest that only became heightened in the Caribbean. Black Caribbean health practitioners, instead of being invested in promoting a particular notion of healing that resonated uniquely with mores from their cultures of origin, were very open about their interest in sharing their knowledge and learning from other healers. They learned from European as well as Native American healers who, contrary to a persistent trope in Caribbean history, did not disappear from the Caribbean landscape, even though their populations were decimated in the demographic catastrophes of the 16th century. Many black healers spent their days traveling in the forest in search of plants and Amerindian knowledge and consequently became respected healers in Native American communities in the early modern Caribbean countryside.19

They used techniques and beliefs about the body that resonated not only with what today one would consider indigenous West and West Central African beliefs, but also with the beliefs of early modern European and Native American cultures. Black healers, many of them African bozales, treated patients that included bishops, archbishops, priests, lawyers, rulers, merchants, and fellow slaves in Caribbean cities, towns, and remote villages, from the vast savannahs of Venezuela to the mountains of Hispaniola and eastern Cuba.20 Black healers occupied a multiplicity of positions in the cultural economy of healing in the Caribbean, positions that morphed over time and place. Caribbean health marketplaces were not under the strict control of ecclesiastical or governmental authorities.

Early modern Caribbean denizens thought that the maintenance of health was closely associated with the regulation of food, physical and sexual activity, and more generally, a balance of energies and physical matters with the natural world (including the celestial spheres and invisible energies). Caribbean people of African descent were prominently involved in activities related to the regulation of this corporeal balance. In particular, women of African descent, many of them free, provided food to Caribbean people of all social classes and visitors alike, especially in Cartagena and Havana. They also offered paid sexual services in cities where female blacks outnumbered males.21 Black women were, indeed, a crucial part of the cultural economy of health in Caribbean locales; they worked as midwives and as health practitioners for a multiplicity of ailments. Caribbean folk did not see them simply as brujas—providers of spells and love recipes—a fact that is clear in extant records were black women like Paula de Eguiluz are described as some of the most important health practitioners in cities like Cartagena de Indias and Havana. Moreover, the seemingly basic corporeal care, in the form of food and sex, provided mostly by women in Caribbean locales, may have seemed prosaic when compared to more visible rites that pointed to Old World epistemes (of African or European origin) but, in reality, this care was considered by early modern Caribbean people the most important aspect of their health maintenance.

Blacks were also employed as slaves in virtually all hospitals and convents where health practices took place in the Caribbean. Ironically, they were sometimes serving sentences imposed by Inquisition or local courts as punishment for their activities as healers. They were in charge of the administering medicines and enemas, and of bathing and cleaning patients. They dressed ulcers and wounds, and disposed of the vomit, bodily secretions, and blood of patients and employees of these institutions dedicated to the care of the destitute. Only the very poor would go to hospitals. Early modern hospitals (and not only in the Caribbean) were closer to what today would be considered hospices. Black healers were also attending practitioners, and not mere menial workers, in these spaces in Havana, Panama, and Cartagena. Healers of African descent were barber-surgeons and fully licensed surgeons who performed procedures such as bloodletting, cupping, enemas, cautery, drainage of hemorrhoids and abscesses, and application of laxatives and purges, among many other activities.22 They also provided healthcare and administered medicines as independent practitioners in slave warehouses. Once involved in the marketplace of healing practices, people of African descent frequently bought and trained their own slaves to rent to owners of mines and haciendas, or to missionaries in charge of the spiritual and corporeal needs of Amerindian towns.23

Black Caribbean Rituals

Healers of African descent were not only involved in the provision of recognizable practices of Western health care shaped under the umbrella of Western institutional codes and humoral/galenic epistemologies about bodies. Encounters around health care between black healers and Caribbean clients more often than not developed from novel epistemologies and ontologies of Caribbean inspiration that had been shaped by practitioners of African descent themselves. Avid sharing and transculturation were normative in the realm of ritual practices of Caribbean locales. It is clear, however, that the inspirations of Africans played a key role in shaping the particular manners in which Caribbean people came to inhabit their bodies and spaces of health and disease, rather than fading into a dominant Catholic cultural space.

Throughout the early modern era, Caribbean healers of African descent regularly practiced rituals that were clearly related to the rituals portrayed in 17th- and 18th-century accounts from West and West Central Africa. These rituals prominently included rites in which the presence of specific numinous entities was essential to the management of bodily ailments. Inquisition and judicial trials provide recollections of healing rituals that involved the utterance of words in African languages, such as Kimbondo or Ewe/Fon, and multiple ceremonies in which witnesses declared that African practitioners used unintelligible words. Chickens were commonly used as part of procedures that closely resembled those reported in West and West Central Africa by European chroniclers and travelers such as Pere Labat, Willem Bosman, and Olfert Dapper, as well as Capuchin missionaries such as Luca de Caltanisseta and Giovanni Cavazzi.24

Among the many power-objects of West and West Central African inspiration found in records of healing procedures in the Caribbean are horns, staffs, drums, gourds, and other minkisi. There are also descriptions of objects similar to the famous bolsas de Mandinga that circulated as protective charms all around the Atlantic during the early modern period.25 In their rites, Afro-Caribbean ritual practitioners also performed massages, vented tobacco smoke, and used fragrant waters. They made incisions from which they would suck social ills in the form of material bundles of evil containing worms, hairs, insects, sticks, and bones. They diagnosed social poisons and unearthed power-objects left behind by their clients’ enemies to destroy them. They communed with spiritual energies coming from the New World and from West and West Central Africa, calling upon these energies via whistling and the sound of drums.26

These ritual practitioners, some of whom became the most famous and feared healers in Caribbean locales, performed procedures they had learned from other healers or in Africa, and created new models for explaining bodies and the natural and social worlds to which they were so closely connected. These new models were experientially based and departed from new knowledge about bodies and the natural world that depended on tangible evidence that integrated Caribbean social, spiritual, and physical realms. It is no exaggeration to say that they were the intellectual leaders of Caribbean communities. Ritual practices related to the body, after all, were closely associated with religious and political power. Adaptation did not mean, however, that the process of acculturation of Africans in Caribbean spaces marched through the oft-discussed hybridities of Atlantic blacks in Iberian spaces.27 The incorporative capacity of African religious practices was certainly relevant for the type of healing procedures that Caribbean practitioners would perform. However, these adaptations, as discussed above, had as much to do with a Caribbean healer’s own beliefs as with his or her interest in incorporating clients’ ideas about what constituted powerful rites. The supposed conversion of Africans and their descendants to Catholicism was far from complete. Indeed, a common complaint of European missionaries, priests, and visitors to Caribbean cities during the early modern era was the constant presence of African-inspired rites in public spaces. Some Africans lived in the quarters of Caribbean cities, such as Getsemaní in Cartagena de Indias, where they did not need to learn Castilian to practice their trade. It was not uncommon for translators of the Jesuit college in Cartagena de Indias to assist in civil, criminal, and Inquisition trials of African bozales who had been living in the city for years (and, in some cases, for decades) without learning Castilian.

The dominance of black culture was even more conspicuous in the hinterlands of Caribbean urban spaces. In these areas, which were populated by an assortment of blacks, whites, and Indians, Afro-Caribbean practitioners were often the only healers. In the maroon settlements called palenques, ritual healing practices were closely associated with political power, as was the case with the female ritual practitioner Leonor, who was also the leader of the El Limón palenque in the viceroyalty of New Granada. Even in maroon settlements, however, the re-creation of African cultures was not necessarily the norm. Palenques, if ruled by black leaders, were inhabited not only by African and creole blacks, but also by Native Americans and their descendants, and occasionally, by Europeans.28

African healers like Leonor were interested in creating communities in which their healing power could translate into political one. It was not uncommon for some of these practitioners to be involved in positions of leadership in Catholic brotherhoods, as well as in political plots to overtake the control of Caribbean cities. The social aspects of healing were clearly in place in the Caribbean, where hospitals functioned not as the imagined spaces for the deployment of medicine, but as spaces of community formation where communal practices long engrained in European and African ideas about health became essential in their functioning.29

In searching for social power as well as effective treatments, black Caribbean ritual practitioners experimented with healing substances and procedures on themselves, patients, and even animals. Black healers were involved in the empirical transformations in knowledge production of the early modern era and were interested in incorporating empirically sound practices and substances into their therapeutic armamentarium.30 The historical record shows how they exchanged information about healing plants among themselves and with Native Americans, not only to find substitutes for African plants, but also to adapt themselves and their practices to the circumstances of the New World.31


Slavery, dislocation, and violence were key facts of life for many early modern black Caribbean healers. Despite their success as practitioners, these healers lived in societies that were at the forefront of the profound redefinition of the meanings of race, ethnicity, and the very nature of the human body that occurred throughout the Atlantic world during the 17th and 18th centuries.32 An unknown number of black healers died while working under the rigors of slavery or after being punished for their practices. Besides exile, or reclusion in hospitals and convents, sentences involved public humiliation in the form of Autos de Fe and corporeal punishment like lashing. Black healers lived under the uncertainty and fragility of existence under the constraints of slavery. Dislocated from their own communities of origin, African healers’ practices were continuously depicted either as diabolic or primitive by competing priests, doctors, and surgeons. However, the history of black Caribbean healers is also one of success. No other group was so important in describing and formulating answers to the everyday reality of pain, suffering, and death that marked life in Caribbean locales.

In this world, European medicine did not provide better answers or explanations than those that practitioners trained in other traditions provided. Our own boundaries about how knowledge is produced are pregnant with tropes derived from teleological histories of scientific and biomedical trajectories that obscure the realities of an early modern Caribbean world defined by black epistemologies. Far from being invested in a re-creation of African survivalism, African ritual practitioners in the Caribbean, and certainly their descendants, appropriated knowledge not only from fellow West and West Central Africans, but also from Europeans and Native Americans. In a competitive cultural economy of healing, where most of their patients, even if they were black, had little access to any specific mores they would attempt to transmit with their rites and material culture, African practitioners were very good at adapting to their surrounding circumstances. Innovation and adaptation were critical in a promiscuous landscape of healing, where clients replaced practitioners without hesitation if their treatment did not provide prompt relief, and where simultaneous consultation of multiple healers with varied (and often contradictory) therapeutic regimes was the norm.

The diverse therapeutic, social, and political roles played by Caribbean healers of African descent provide a revealing window into the complex trajectories of producing knowledge about human bodies and the natural world in the early modern era. The history of early modern black Caribbean healers is one marked by encounters, competition, travel, and unbounded curiosity. It is a history that reveals the creation of novel ways to inhabit the world, rather than a simple recreation of African mores in reaction to a dominant European cultural and intellectual system.

Discussion of the Literature

The image of healers of African descent in Caribbean spaces conjures up tropes about black shamans practicing rites related to West and West Central African religious traditions. Most of the works interested in Caribbean healing practices have studied these practices as part of African diasporic religions such as Obeah, Voodoo, Palo Monte, or Regla de Ocha. This literature has focused on defining the African origins and the nature of the epistemological components of the many cultural hybrids that made up Caribbean religious rites, beliefs, and material culture. The field was, thus, initially defined by scholars’ interest in verifying the links between Caribbean healing practices—when they were recognized as such—and African rites and beliefs as recorded in 20th-century ethnographic studies of West and West Central African communities.33 These studies have, mostly, focused on the histories of ritual practitioners of African descent living in 18th and 19th century British and French Caribbean spaces like Jamaica, Saint Domingue, or Barbados. Given the particularities of the histories of these slave societies, and their histories of colonialism, it is not surprising that these works emphasize the African nature of Caribbean healing rites, and their reactionary and revolutionary aspects. To some extent, this type of work can, paradoxically, reinforce ideas about the otherness of Africans and their beliefs. Heavily influenced by the work of Melville Herkovists, if conscious of the famous critiques of Sidney Mintz and Richard Price, this literature has been crucial in providing recognition of how Caribbean communities of African descent have shaped the culture and societies of the region.34 However, these works paid little attention to prevalent cross-cultural breeding in which early modern black Caribbean healing procedures emerged, a milieu that included threads of European, Asian, and Native American origin.35

A new literature about Caribbean healing practices has emerged in the last decade. Instead of searching for survivals and African origins in 20th century sources, this scholarship evaluates ritual practices and knowledge production on the basis of early modern contemporary sources. These works recognize that black Caribbean practitioners drew from multiple cultural streams, not just African ones, to create social power and agency. Crucially, this world was not defined only by the constraints of slavery and plantation societies or by religious binaries defined by Protestantism or Catholicism.36 These new histories of the Caribbean paint a more complex portrait of early modern Afro-Caribbean healers: they were neither reactionary actors nor cultural anachronisms. True, slave-fueled plantation economies were crucial in defining the lives of people of African descent, including healers and ritual practitioners in Caribbean islands such as Cuba, Saint Domingue, and Jamaica during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, as these new works make clear, the rise of the transatlantic slave trade and Caribbean plantocracies was just one of the many historical developments that shaped the history of healing in Caribbean locales. This new scholarship argues that Caribbean ways of addressing the constant reality of pain and disease in the early modern era were the product of specific historical circumstances that reflected larger transformations in beliefs about the natural world in the Atlantic from the late 17th to the 19th century.37

These new works also problematize the “African” nature of Caribbean rites. They point out that the healing and religious practices recorded by Western ethnographers in equatorial Africa during the 20th century were the product of communal, social, and cultural engagements related to the long history of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism in Africa itself. More importantly, the practices that 20th-century Caribbean ethnographies recognized as contemporary survivals of an African past were actually the reenactment, not the continuation, of rites by local ritual practitioners, who had read about these rites in the same African ethnographies that anthropologists and historians use to trace their origins—in what Stephan Palmié has called “the cooking of history.”38 The message of the newer scholarship is that African actors were deeply involved in the development of a rich Caribbean culture around human corporeality. While certainly rooted in the experience of slavery, their contributions go beyond stereotypical stories about survivalism and resistance, and the recreation of African tropes.

Further Reading

Brown, Vincent. The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Gómez, Pablo F. “The Circulation of Bodily Knowledge in the Seventeenth-Century Spanish Caribbean.” Social History of Medicine 26.3 (2013): 383–402.Find this resource:

Gómez, Pablo F. “Incommensurable Epistemologies? The Atlantic Geography of Healing in the Early Modern Black Spanish Caribbean.” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 44 (2014): 95–107.Find this resource:

Palmié, Stephen. Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban modernity and Tradition. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Palmié, Stephan. The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion. University of Chicago Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Scott Parrish, Susan. “Diasporic African Sources of Enlightenment Knowledge.” In Science and Empire in the Atlantic World. Edited by James Delbourgo and Nicholas Dew. New York: Routledge, 2008.Find this resource:

Schiebinger, Londa L. Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Paton, Diana. “Obeah Acts: Producing and Policing the Boundaries of Religion in the Caribbean.” Small Axe 13.1 (2009): 1–18.Find this resource:

Paton, Diana, and Maarit Forde. Obeah and Other Powers: The Politics of Caribbean Religion and Healing. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Weaver, Karol K. Medical Revolutionaries: The Enslaved Healers of Eighteenth-Century Saint Domingue. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.Find this resource:


(1.) For the classic in this subject see, Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492–1800 (New York: Verso, 1997). See, also, Philip D. Curtin, The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

(2.) Pedro López de León, Práctica y teórica de las apostemas en general, question y practicas de cirugía, de heridas llagas y otras cosas nuevas y particulares . . . (Christóbal Gálvez: Calatayud, 1685).

(3.) Kenneth F. Kiple, The Caribbean Slave: A Biological History (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984); J. R. McNeil, Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620–1914 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

(4.) See, for instance, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Matt D. Childs and James Sidbury, “Introduction,” in The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade, eds.Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Matt D. Childs and James Sidbury (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). See also, Carmen Bernand, Negros esclavos y libres en las ciudades hispanoamericanas (Madrid: Fundación Histórica Tavera, 2001).

(5.) See, among others, Alejandro de la Fuente et al., Havana and the Atlantic in the Sixteenth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008); and David Wheat, Atlantic Africa & the Spanish Caribbean, 1570–1640 (Chapel Hill: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture by the University of North Carolina Press, forthcoming 2015).

(6.) De la Fuente, Havana and the Atlantic, 46; For trade on medicines see Linda Newson and Susie Minchin, From Capture to Sale: The Portuguese Slave Trade to Spanish South America in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Kononklijke Brill, 2007), 267–283; Also, Gómez, Pablo F. “The Circulation of Bodily Knowledge in the Seventeenth-Century Spanish Caribbean.” Social History of Medicine 26.3 (2013): 383–402.

(7.) Gómez, “The Circulation.”

(8.) Stephan Palmié and Francisco A. Scarano, eds. The Caribbean: A History of the Region and Its Peoples (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Ida Altman, “Marriage, Family, and Ethnicity in the Early Spanish Caribbean,” The William and Mary Quarterly 70 (2013): 225–250.

(9.) See, Pablo F. Gómez, “Incommensurable Epistemologies? The Atlantic Geography of Healing in the Early Modern Black Spanish Caribbean,” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 44 (2014): 95–107; Wheat, Atlantic Africa; or Linda Newson and Susie Minchin, From Capture to Sale.

(10.) See, Gómez, “The Circulation.”

(11.) See, for instance, the incisive series of articles in the AHR Forum, “The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century Revisited,” The American Historical Review 113 (October 2008): 1029–1099.

(12.) See Pablo F. Gómez Zuluaga “Bodies of Encounter: Health, Disease and Death in the Early Modern Spanish Caribbean” (PhD diss., Vanderbilt University, 2010), 68–85; Gómez, “Incommensurable.”

(13.) For more on the social context of healing in Africa see the classic: Steven Feierman, “Struggles for Control: The Social Roots of Health and Healing in Modern Africa,” African Studies Review 28 (1985): 73–147.

(14.) See Gómez, “Bodies of Encounter,” especially chapter three. Here, as in the rest of the book, I use the ethnonyms as they appear in Spanish or Portuguese records. For classic works on the geographic origins of West Central African slaves, see “David Birmingham, Trade and Conflict in Angola: The Mbundu and their Neighbors under the Influence of the Portuguese, 1483–1790 (Oxford: Clarendon 1966), 78–100; Joseph. C. Miller, Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730–1830 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 105–139; and Linda M. Heywood and John K. Thornton, Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585–1660 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 109–168; For West Africa, see, among others, Walter Rodney, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545–1800 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1970), 100–113; George E. Brooks, Landlords & Strangers: Ecology, Society, and Trade in Western Africa, 1000–1630 (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1993), 235–237, 261–276; Robin Law, “Dahomey and the Slave Trade: Reflections on the Historiography of the Rise of Dahomey,” Journal of African History 27 (1986): 237–267; or Robin Law, The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550–1750: The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African Society (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991).

(15.) See, Gómez, “Bodies of Encounter.” For larger demographic data, see Enriqueta Vila Vilar, Hispanoamérica y el comercio de esclavos: Los asientos portugueses (Seville, Spain: EEHA, 1977); or Wheat, Atlantic Africa & the Spanish Caribbean.

(16.) See George E Brooks, Eurafricans in Western Africa: Commerce, Social Status, Gender, and Religious Observance from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2003); and Pernille Ipsen, “‘The Christened Mulatresses’: Euro-African Families in a Slave-Trading Town.” The William and Mary Quarterly 70 (2013): 371–398.

(17.) Linda M. Heywood and John Thornton, Africans and Catholics: The First Generation of African Americans in North America and the Caribbean, 1619–1660 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 169–232.

(18.) Gómez, “Circulation.”

(19.) Susan Scott Parrish, “Diasporic African Sources of Enlightenment Knowledge,” in James Delbourgo and Nicholas Dew, eds, Science and Empire in the Atlantic World (New York: Routledge, 2008); Kathleen Murphy, “Translating the Vernacular: Indigenous and African Knowledge in the Eighteenth-century British Atlantic,” Atlantic Studies 8 (2011); Londa L. Schiebinger, Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), Gómez, “Circulation”

(20.) Pablo F. Gómez, “Incommensurable Epistemologies?”

(21.) David Wheat, “Nharas and Morenas Horras: A Luso-African Model for the Social History of the Spanish Caribbean, c. 1570–1640,” Journal of Early Modern History 14.1–2 (2010): 119–150.

(22.) Among others, Gómez, “Circulation”; Gómez, “Bodies of Encounter,” Chapter 3; Munchin and Newson, From Capture, 235–266; or Karol K. Weaver, Medical Revolutionaries: The Enslaved Healers of Eighteenth-Century Saint Domingue (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006).

(23.) Gómez, “Circulation.”

(24.) Willem Bosman, A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea, Divided into the Gold, the Slave, and the Ivory Coasts . . . (London: printed for James Knapton, at the Crown, and Dan. Midwinter, at the Rose and Crown, in St. Paul’s Church Yard, 1705).

(25.) Pablo F. Gómez, “Transatlantic Meanings: African Rituals and Material Culture from the Early-Modern Spanish Caribbean,” in Materialities of Ritual in the Black Atlantic, eds.Akinwumi Ogundiran and Paula Saunders (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014); James Sweet, “Slaves, Convicts, and Exiles: African Travelers in the Portuguese Atlantic World, 1720–1750,” in Bridging the Early Modern Atlantic World: People, Products, and Practices on the Move, edited by Caroline Williams (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), 193–202. For the notion of inspiration see, Todd Ochoa, Society of the Dead: Quita Manaquita and Palo Praise in Cuba, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), Kindle Edition, 237–245; See also, Edouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992).

(26.) See Vincent Brown, The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008); Adriana Maya Restrepo, Brujería y reconstrucción de identidades entre los Africanos y sus descendientes en la Nueva Granada, Siglo XVII (Bogotá: Ministerio de Cultura, 2005); Gómez, “Transatlantic Meanings; Weaver, Medical Revolutionaries.

(27.) See for instance, Sidney M. Greenfield and André Droogers, eds., Reinventing Religions: Syncretism and Transformation in Africa and the Americas (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001); Rosalind Shaw and Charles Stewart, eds., Syncretism/Anti-syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis (London: Routledge, 1994); For astute critiques see Stephan Palmié, “Ecué’s Atlantic: An Essay in Methodology,” in Stephan Palmié, ed, Africas of the Americas: Beyond the Search for Origins in the Study of Afro-Atlantic Religions (Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2008); and Diana Paton and Maarit Forde, eds. Obeah and Other Powers (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), Introduction.

(28.) See Jane Landers, “The African Landscape of Seventeenth-Century Cartagena and Its Hinterlands,” in The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade, edited by Jorge Cañizares Esguerra, Matt D. Childs and James Sidbury (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 147–162; also, Maria Cristina Navarrete, Cimarrones y palenques en el siglo XVII (Cali, Colombia: Universidad del Valle, 2003).

(29.) For instance Matt D. Childs, The 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle Against Atlantic Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006); For notions about power and healing, see Steven Feierman, “Struggles for Control,” and Gómez, “Inconmensurable?”

(30.) Gómez, “Circulation”; Parrish, “Diasporic African Sources”; Murphy, “Translating the Vernacular”; or Schiebinger, Plants and Empire.

(31.) Gómez, “Circulation”

(32.) On this problem, see Walter Johnson, “On Agency,” Journal of Social History 37 (2003): 113–124.

(33.) Among many others, see, for instance, Melville J. Herskovits and Frances S. Herskovits, Trinidad Village (New York: Octagon Books, 1964); Roger Bastide, African Civilisations in the New World, trans. Peter Green (London: C. Hurst, 1971); George Brandon, Santería from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997); Kristina Wirtz, Ritual, Discourse, and Community in Cuban Santería (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007); Leslie G. Desmangles, The Faces of Gods: Vodou and Roman Catholicism in Haiti (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992); Joan C. Bristol, Christians, Blasphemers, and Witches: Afro-Mexican Ritual Practice in the Seventeenth Century (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007); Adriana Maya Restrepo, Brujería y reconstrucción de identidades entre los Africanos y sus descendientes en la Nueva Granada, Siglo XVII (Bogotá: Ministerio de Cultura, 2005); Michel S. Laguerre, Afro-Caribbean Folk Medicine (South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey, 1987); Vincent Brown, The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008); Karol K. Weaver, Medical Revolutionaries: The Enslaved Healers of Eighteenth-Century Saint Domingue (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006); or Niklas Thode, For the Health of the Enslaved: Slaves, Medicine and Power in the Danish West Indies, 1803–1848 (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen, 2012).

(34.) Sidney Mintz and Richard Price, The Birth of African-American Culture: An Anthropological Perspective (1976; Boston: Beacon, 1992); Richard Price, “The Miracle of Creolization: A Retrospective,” New West Indian Guide 75, nos. 1/2 (2001): 35–64; Jerry Gershenhorn, Melville J. Herskovits and the Racial Politics of Knowledge (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004).

(35.) See, for instance, the critique of Lara Putnam, “Rites of Power and Rumors of Race: The Circulation of Supernatural Knowledge in the Greater Caribbean, 1890-1940,” in Obeah and Other Powers: The Politics of Caribbean Religion and Healing, edited by Diana Paton and Maarit Forde (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), Kindle edition.

(36.) For examples of plantation-based literature see, for instance, Kamau Brathwaite, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, 1770–1820 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971). For critiques, see Diana Paton, “Obeah Acts: Producing and Policing the Boundaries of Religion in the Caribbean,” Small Axe 13.1 (2009): 1–18; David Scott, “Modernity that Predated the Modern: Sidney Mintz’s Caribbean,” History Workshop Journal 58.1 (2004): 205.

(37.) See, for example, Diana Paton and Maarit Forde, Obeah and Other Powers: The Politics of Caribbean Religion and Healing (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012); Pablo F. Gómez, “The Circulation of Bodily Knowledge in the Seventeenth-Century Spanish Caribbean,” Social History of Medicine 26.3 (2013): 383–402; Stephen Palmié, Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), Stephan Palmié, “Ecué’s Atlantic: An Essay in Methodology,” in Stephan Palmié, ed, Africas of the Americas: Beyond the Search for Origins in the Study of Afro-Atlantic Religions (Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2008), 179–222.

(38.) Stephan Palmié, The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion (University of Chicago Press, 2013).