“Today he cures; tomorrow he kills”: Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World

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Seminar Date
July 25, 2012
Between 1730 and 1750, Domingos Álvares traveled the Atlantic world like few Africans of his time—from war-torn Dahomey, to the slave societies of Brazil, to the rural hamlets of Portugal. Using Domingos’ biography as a prism through which to analyze broader patterns of forced migration and diaspora, I highlight the complex social and political ambiguity that defined the history of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. As a powerful healer and vodun priest, Domingos Álvares cured hundreds of people across the Atlantic, yet these cures were rarely a simple matter of remedying illness and disease. By examining the transfer and transformation of particular forms of Gbe healing across the Atlantic world, I will show how ideas were never static, but, rather, always in dialogue with the new. The power of healers like Domingos lies in their ability to point out the tensions, conflicts, and hypocrisies of ruptures, like illegitimate warfare and plundering in Dahomey or enslavement and forced exile in Brazil. These ruptures were the bricks and mortar of history, the catalysts for change that linked thousands of years of transformation in Africa, in some cases extending into the diaspora. Thus, public healing actually became a crucial tool for rendering “modern” intellectual categories, making them more comprehensible, and ultimately more African.
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