American Geographical Society
African Medicine and Magic in the Americas
Author(s): Robert Voeks
Source: Geographical Review, Vol. 83, No. 1 (Jan., 1993), pp. 66-78
Published by: American Geographical Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/215381
Accessed: 17-06-2018 15:39 UTC
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AFRICAN MEDICINE AND MAGIC IN THE AMERICAS* ROBERT VOEKS ABSTRACT. African-derived ethnomedical systems are visible elements New World cultural landscape. Rejected by Western medicine, African systems have survived and flourished in the Americas since the beginning the slave trade. Historical introduction of African magico-medical systems, social and economic factors that facilitated their survival, and the role geography in their persistence are examined. Questions of origin, ethnomedical typology, religion, and syncretism, magic and power, and collective plant knowledge are considered. CONQUEST and colonization of the Americas by Europeans panied by an unprecedented blending of Old World and diseases, ethnomedical systems, and plant-based pharmacopoeias. mantic visions of a salubrious American Eden, free of illness yielded to the reality of epidemic and premature death. Indigenous succumbed in droves to exotic viruses; Mediterranean colonists battled new tropical maladies; and African captives, overworked and underfed, fell prey to both. Colonial physicians, few in number and often self-trained, doled out the medical care then known to late medieval and Renaissance Europe. Barbers, surgeons, bleeders, and priests, whose views of causation ranged from as- trological imbalances to the effects of evil spirits and bad air, responded to the needs of the growing European population. But neglect by slave owners and the exorbitant cost of physician services and pharmaceuticals forced African chattel to tend to their own medical problems. African priests, herbal- ists, and magicians, initiated into their trade before passage to the Americas, pursued their vocation to the extent possible in their new urban or rural settings. Firmly established in colonial times, African-based medicine, magic, and their associated plant pharmacopoeias have persisted and in many cases flourished in the Americas. ARRIVAL AND SURVIVAL The demographics of the slave trade most clearly delimited where and to what degree African magico-medical systems diffused into the New World. Where the volume and duration of slavery were heavy and protracted, African-based ethnomedicine not only survived but also in some cases came to predominate. Brazil, which absorbed more than four million African im- migrants, retains African religious and medical systems so orthodox that, *Research funding was provided by the National Geographic Society and the California State University. * DR. VOEKS is an associate professor of geography at California State University, Ful- lerton, California 92634. Copyright ? 1993 by the American Geographical Society of New YorkThis content downloaded from 220.127.116.11 on Sun, 17 Jun 2018 15:39:34 UTCAll use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms
AFRICAN MEDICINE IN THE AMERICAS until recently, Nigerian priests undertook pilgrimages to Brazil to ceremonies long forgotten in Africa. With a total of approximately lion slaves imported, the old Spanish Main exhibits magico-religious scarcely different from those in Africa. By contrast, North America, received only half a millio
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