Domingos Alvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World

Domingos Alvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World

Domingos Alvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World

Domingos Alvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World

Synopsis

Between 1730 and 1750, Domingos Alvares traversed the colonial Atlantic world like few Africans of his time--from Africa to South America to Europe. By tracing the steps of this powerful African healer and vodun priest, James Sweet finds dramatic means for unfolding a history of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world in which healing, religion, kinship, and political subversion were intimately connected.
Alvares treated many people across the Atlantic, yet healing was rarely a simple matter of remedying illness and disease. Through the language of health and healing, Alvares also addressed the profound alienation of warfare, capitalism, and the African slave trade. As a result, he and other African healers frequently ran afoul of imperial power brokers. Nevertheless, even the powerful suffered isolation in the Atlantic world and often turned to African healers for answers. In this way, healers simultaneously became fierce critics of Atlantic imperialism and expert translators of it, adapting their therapeutic strategies in order to secure social relevance and even power. By tracing Alvares' frequent uprooting and border crossing, Sweet illuminates how African healing practices evolved in the diaspora, contesting the social and political hierarchies of imperialism while also making profound impacts on the intellectual discourse of the "modern" Atlantic world.

Excerpt

Early on the morning of August 12, 1743, in the jails of the Portuguese Holy Office in Lisbon, guards awakened Domingos Álvares, removed him from his cell, and delivered him to the custody of Inquisitor Manuel Varejão e Távora. In the presence of two deputies and a notary, Távora asked Domingos to confess his sins. Domingos answered that he had nothing more to confess. Távora immediately ordered Domingos into the building’s cellar, the Sala do Tormento, where “the doctors, surgeons, and other ministers in the execution of the torment were called and sworn in.” The deputies stripped Domingos naked and threw him on the rack (potro). In a last attempt to elicit a confession, the notary warned Domingos that “if the torment killed him or broke his bones … it would be his fault, and his fault alone, and not that of the Inquisitors and other ministers, who judged his case according to its merits.” The notary’s report gives no indication that Domingos responded. Lying face up on the wooden rack, eight leather cords tied snugly around his arms and legs, Domingos waited for the executioner to turn the wheel, tightening the cords of the apparatus. With each turn, a new order of pain— first, the strangling of circulation and subsequent deadening of the hands and feet; next, the penetration of the straps through the naked flesh, lacerating down to the bone; finally, if necessary, the tightening of the straps until they crushed the very bone. After fifteen minutes of this excruciating torture, Domingos cried out for Jesus and the Virgin Mary, prompting Távora to bring an end to the proceedings. Just eleven days later, the Inquisitors sentenced Domingos to public whipping and four years exile in the Portuguese village of Castro Marim; he was judged guilty of heresy, apostasy, and entering into a pact with the Devil.

How did Domingos Álvares, a recently manumitted African slave, find himself in such a dire predicament? What were the circumstances that led to his arrival in Lisbon, the bizarre accusations against him, and his eventual banishment to a Portuguese frontier outpost? The answers to these questions lie at the intersection of some of the most salient issues relating to the history of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world, a world Domingos traveled far more extensively than most people of his time. From 1730 to . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.