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.
[A] well-written narrative. . . . Sweet exposes one of the many ways in which African cultural practices profoundly shaped the interactions between 18th-century Africans and Europeans.—Journal of African American History
From the Publisher
"Domingos Alvares imaginatively re-creates the life of a fascinating character brought before the Portuguese Inquisition, and in so doing the book highlights the social and political ramifications of vodun-inspired healing practices and other forms of cultural diffusion linking the Bight of Benin to Brazil during the eighteenth century."—William and Mary Quarterly
"[An] insightful examination of the politics of healing."—Early American Literature
"[A] well-written narrative. . . . Sweet exposes one of the many ways in which African cultural practices profoundly shaped the interactions between 18th-century Africans and Europeans."—Journal of African American History
"Demonstrates an interesting, well-written, and rigorous methodological approach to studying the commonalities of the life and politics of Domingo Alvares. . . . Sweet has produced a comprehensive examination of the African diaspora with emphasis on the Black Atlantic."—The Historian
"[A] laudable and exemplary new study. . . . This richly detailed account will be considered among the best of a generation of Black Atlantic histories."—International Journal of African Historical Studies
"Sweet offers not only a glimpse into the intellectual life of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world but perhaps even an epistemological model for the struggles of our own time."—HAHR
"[This book] will be of significant interest to specialists of the Atlantic World, particularly those of the Black Atlantic, and will likely generate lively discussions in graduate seminars."—Register of The Kentucky Historical Society
"This book should become mandatory reading for graduate students as well as faculty working on Atlantic history. . . . The skillful prose of this work also should be a model for other historians."—Journal of World History
"A fine, well-constructed and cogently argued piece of microhistory."—The Americas