Tale of Healer Miguel Perdomo Neira: Medicine, Ideologies, and Power in the Nineteenth-Century Andes

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Overview

This new book tells the story of Miguel Perdomo Niera, a healer whose amazing cures during his travels through the northern Andes in the 1860s and 1870s evoked both enormous hostility and widespread adulation.

A combination of narrative and analysis, the book documents Perdomo's experiences in Colombia and Ecuador and offers valuable insights into the social history of medicine during the Great Transformation in nineteenth-century Latin America. Reactions to Perdomo also illuminate the conflicts between colonial and modern and between religious and secular belief systems in Latin America during this time. This era pitted the norms of colonial Latin America against forces of change that shaped contemporary Latin America. Perdomo's practice of medicine demonstrated a strong religious influence that liberals thought were incompatible with a modern, secular society.

Seldom have the contentions surrounding competitive medical systems been so starkly illuminated as in the case of Perdomo. One of a group of empirics, also known as cranderos, bleeders or barbers, who offered health care to people in Latin America, Perdomo did not charge for his services. Many people were perplexed by his cures. The drugs that he used allegedly enabled him to perform minor surgery without pain, swelling, or excessive bleeding. Supporters wrote numerous testimonials expressing their gratitude for his ability to cure illnesses that had plagued them for years.

But Perdomo also had his detractors. Physicians, formally trained medicos, and those who supported scientific modernization were critical of Perdomo's practice of Hispanic medicine, even though it was part of the medical system of the day. Blending Catholic healing beliefs with indigenous and African medical ideologies, Hispanic medicine challenged the innovations occurring in the professional medical community.

This volume also makes a singular contribution to a scholarly understanding of the emergence of medical pluralism, tracking the submergence of traditional medicine by the institutionalization of scientific medicine. In its investigation of the history of nineteenth-century medical history, it explores a sparsely researched historical terrain. Moreover, it examines popular healing ideologies and practices, topics that are seldom discussed in the context of nineteenth-century medical history.

The Tale of Healer Miguel Perdomo Neira is a valuable resource for courses in Latin American history and anthropology, and the history of Andean nations.

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Editorial Reviews

Frank Safford
The Tale of Healer Miguel Perdomo Neira sheds new light on a largely ignored aspect of Latin American society and culture in the nineteenth century. Through the career of Miguel Perdomo, a popular healer in Colombia and Ecuador, circa 1860–1874, David Sowell illuminates the conflict between faith-based empiric healing, as represented by Perdomo, and official, elite-controlled, secular, scientific medicine, as championed by academically trained physicians. Sowell frames this conflict with a concise historical sketch of earlier European and Andean medical systems. He also makes clear its cultural, social, and political dimensions.
Setha M. Low
This historical study of healer Miguel Perdomo Neira offers profound insights into the evolution of pluralistic systems-not just in the medical realm but also within Latin American culture more generally. David Sowell's research uncovers how a riot generated by Miguel Perdomo's presence in Bogotá became the basis of inventive analysis of the relationship between biomedicine and 'other' or 'alternative' medical systems. Free health care is always political, as Sowell demonstrates. This beautifully written study successfully integrates the political dimension and the struggle for professional dominance into an analysis of healing practice.
Alexandra Minn Stern
A fascinating story. . . . This book significantly broadens our understanding of the contested meanings of science, religion, sickness, and disease in modern Latin America.
Ann Zulawski
This is essential reading not only for students of the history of medicine but also for anyone interested in the conflictual process of modernization in nineteenth-century Latin America.
H-Net Book Reviews H-Latam
Recommended as a rare look into the appeal and practices of social medicine in the nineteenth century.
Setha Low
This historical study of healer Miguel Perdomo Neira offers profound insights into the evolution of pluralistic systems-not just in the medical realm but also within Latin American culture more generally. David Sowell's research uncovers how a riot generated by Miguel Perdomo's presence in Bogotá became the basis of inventive analysis of the relationship between biomedicine and 'other' or 'alternative' medical systems. Free health care is always political, as Sowell demonstrates. This beautifully written study successfully integrates the political dimension and the struggle for professional dominance into an analysis of healing practice.
Booknews
Sowell (history, Juniata College, Huntington, Pennsylvania) has reconstructed Perdono's life using research sources that include contemporary newspapers, pamphlet testimonials of his supporters, and judicial, notarial, and municipal archives. Although Perdono is the central subject of this fascinating study, chapters consider the larger issues that surrounded him, including the practice of scientific medicine and its introduction into Colombia and Ecuador; the conflicts between scientific and Hispanic (native) medicine; and the ideological contentions visible in Perdomo's life, including the social power of healing and the emergence of medical pluralism. Translations of the testimonials are provided in an appendix. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780842028264
  • Publisher: Scholarly Resources, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/2001
  • Series: Latin American Silhouettes Series
  • Pages: 171
  • Product dimensions: 6.18 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

David Sowell is associate professor of history at Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction Chapter 2 Healers and Medical Systems in Andean America Chapter 3 "Science . . . Which Is the Truth" Chapter 4 The Life and Times of Miguel Perdomo Neira Chapter 5 The Emergence of Medical Pluralism Chapter 6 Appendix: Testimonials on the Healings of Miguel Perdomo Neira Chapter 7 Notes Chapter 8 Bibliography Chapter 9 Index

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