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

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Between 1730 and 1750, powerful healer and vodun priest Domingos Álvares traversed the colonial Atlantic world like few Africans of his time--from Africa to South America to Europe--addressing the profound alienation of warfare, capitalism, and the African slave trade through the language of health and healing. In Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual His Between 1730 and 1750, powerful healer and vodun priest Domingos Álvares traversed the colonial Atlantic world like few Africans of his time--from Africa to South America to Europe--addressing the profound alienation of warfare, capitalism, and the African slave trade through the language of health and healing. In Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World, James H. 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.


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Between 1730 and 1750, powerful healer and vodun priest Domingos Álvares traversed the colonial Atlantic world like few Africans of his time--from Africa to South America to Europe--addressing the profound alienation of warfare, capitalism, and the African slave trade through the language of health and healing. In Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual His Between 1730 and 1750, powerful healer and vodun priest Domingos Álvares traversed the colonial Atlantic world like few Africans of his time--from Africa to South America to Europe--addressing the profound alienation of warfare, capitalism, and the African slave trade through the language of health and healing. In Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World, James H. 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.

30 review for Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Sweet effectively conveyed the interconnectedness of transatlantic migrations, forced and otherwise, and I was persuaded by his argument that African practices had just as strong of an influence on the development of transatlantic culture as anything European. However. All that I liked about the book was ruined when I realized after finishing it that all of the rich detail and narratives re Alvares’ healing practices came from his accusers, per his Inquisition file, which was Sweet’s main source Sweet effectively conveyed the interconnectedness of transatlantic migrations, forced and otherwise, and I was persuaded by his argument that African practices had just as strong of an influence on the development of transatlantic culture as anything European. However. All that I liked about the book was ruined when I realized after finishing it that all of the rich detail and narratives re Alvares’ healing practices came from his accusers, per his Inquisition file, which was Sweet’s main source. It would have been different if Sweet had framed his account accordingly, but he never explicitly acknowledges it, instead relating it as historical fact and portraying Alveras’ denial during his trial as his way of manipulating imperial discourse. I just can’t get on board with that.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Goldberger

    One of the best history books I have read cover to cover. Follows the journey of an African slave and shows his role as an autonomous figure. Eventually ends up in Portugal as a part of the Inquisition, showing white fear.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    I love reading things I normally wouldn't and this one was easy to get behind. Not easy , but worth getting behind. I love reading things I normally wouldn't and this one was easy to get behind. Not easy , but worth getting behind.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Alex Zito

    As a student of African history I had been waiting so long to read this book. This is the historian's craft at its peak - a deep contextualization and interrogation of primary sources pulling from specialized knowledge across multiple disciplines - for a purpose, to strengthen us in the knowledge that the struggles we live through are not new, and that when the world-age goes dark around us, we must understand resistance as healing and healing as resistance, and always seek to make new connectio As a student of African history I had been waiting so long to read this book. This is the historian's craft at its peak - a deep contextualization and interrogation of primary sources pulling from specialized knowledge across multiple disciplines - for a purpose, to strengthen us in the knowledge that the struggles we live through are not new, and that when the world-age goes dark around us, we must understand resistance as healing and healing as resistance, and always seek to make new connections.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    This is a well written and well researched book. It's rare when something so intellectually stimulating is also exciting you to find out what happens next. That's the value of having a 'main character' whose personage and exploits simultaneously challenge a prevailing form of African historiography. By this, I mean that Sweet constructs Domingos as a character who exists at two levels—one as the actor in a narrative whose scenes move fluidly from Dahomey, to Brazil, to Portugal; the other as an This is a well written and well researched book. It's rare when something so intellectually stimulating is also exciting you to find out what happens next. That's the value of having a 'main character' whose personage and exploits simultaneously challenge a prevailing form of African historiography. By this, I mean that Sweet constructs Domingos as a character who exists at two levels—one as the actor in a narrative whose scenes move fluidly from Dahomey, to Brazil, to Portugal; the other as an attempt to represent a kind of African who has been systematically written 'out' of previous histories due to the conceptual baggage embedded in Western historiography. Sweet, in many ways succeeds in both tasks, producing a history that is both compelling and thought-provoking. At the same time, I have no doubt that his reconstruction of Domingos’ life remains vastly different from however Domingos would have represented it. One way Domingos seems to present a challenge from a historiographical perspective is in Sweet's recourse to psychological categories to get us ‘closer’ to Domingos’ lived experience. Throughout, we’re trying to divine his true intentions, his consciousness, his motives. Yet I felt many of these concepts of knowing the self are rooted in a particular (modern) Western conception of human nature that at times has the feel of behaviorism (‘this happened so Domingos did this’). I think that the amount of psychological language used to ‘get in Domingos’ head’ raises a question that at least needed to be addressed more explicitly in a work that it is otherwise so sensitive to the dangers of appropriating Western conceptions to understand African politics, kin networks, and spiritual practices of healing. Though much less problematic than Stephanie Smallwood’s work, I would have liked to see a similar sensitivity in the imagining of Domingo’s ‘interior’ thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of the world. Historian of Psychology Kurt Danziger has written a lot on these dangers (Naming the Mind and Marking the Mind being two excellent examples that come to mind), and his work is worth checking out. One question I had while reading was about the the contemporary stakes in ‘recovering’ Domingos’ lost history. On the one hand, all histories seem to require historical imagination, but why does Domingos story, in particular, need to be told? Why in this way? What are the politics of it? I realize that Domingos is not just a cool story; it is a rebuke of previous historiography on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and therefore a very necessary one for African historians to read. But I wonder if there’s a still broader contemporary necessity animating the questions that Sweet poses. I am thinking about his attention to the fluidity of cultural practices, acts of translation, new conceptualizations of the political—all these resonate with contemporary debates about multiculturalism, gender, and, difference. What does Domingos have to say to questions such as these? A lot, I suppose, and that's the interesting thing about historiography and how its reconstruction of the past is (perhaps necessarily) a reconstruction of the present. Another frustration in this work was the under-theorized role of the intellectual in the context of social theory. I took Sweet's use of 'intellectual' to be riffing on Gramsci, who saw the role of the intellectual as constitutive of hegemonic political orders. Gramsci argued Italian intellectuals produced a false consciousness in the Italian proletariat that suppressed their (true) revolutionary consciousness. Sweet positions Domingos as a counter intellectual to the hegemonies of Dahomey and Portuguese Brazil, whose performance of spiritual healing serves as a powerful (and therefore dangerous) form of politics critical of the prevailing orders. This is how Domingos’ success at forging a large kin group can be described as his “genius;” every new initiate represents a subversion of Catholicism and Portuguese colonialism. This also goes a way to answering how Sweet can claim Domingos’ actions threatened the institutions of slavery while he helped to restore slaves’ productivity. The answer would seem to be that as Domingos ‘helps’ the slave masters, he increases his own renown and secures his reputation as having access to a form of power that threatens Dahomey and Portugal enough to get him twice exiled.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mike Emett

    Required for Atlantic World 15th-19th century graduate reading seminar, Ph.D.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    It was very interesting. I have never read the biography of a slave before and this one led a very unusual life.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    909.0496 S9746 2011

  9. 4 out of 5

    Margaret DeWys

  10. 5 out of 5

    Abby

  11. 5 out of 5

    Madison

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tessa

  13. 4 out of 5

    Conner

  14. 5 out of 5

    Thais Santos-Ammons

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Flis

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cory

  17. 4 out of 5

    WthWds

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bill

  19. 4 out of 5

    Henry

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Marie

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  22. 4 out of 5

    Elen

  23. 5 out of 5

    Julia Ortiz

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erin L

  25. 4 out of 5

    Zsófi

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  27. 4 out of 5

    Luana Kay

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rachael Delacruz

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lily

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mazlyn Freier

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