Kalle KananojaOct 11, 2021
Healing Knowledge in Atlantic Africa
Cambridge University Press 2021
In Healing Knowledge in Atlantic Africa (Cambridge UP, 2021), Kalle Kananoja tells the story of how pre-colonial communities throughout the west coast of Africa employed a wide range of medical and spiritual strategies to treat all kinds of diseases. In the sixteenth century, the arrival of European traders and colonists initiated an exchange of healing knowledge that moved across the Atlantic for the next three-hundred years. The initial links in this chain of exchanges were established by European settlers or visitors who, given the limited number of European doctors and medications available, sought the services of African healers whose methods were often seen as more suited and efficacious in the local environments. Missionaries, travelers and botanists also added to these exchanges by collecting and systematizing some of the knowledge they acquired from African informants.
By documenting the richness and mobility of African healing knowledge, Kananoja points that even though plants, remedies and practices from the Americas and Asia have been more widely studied, African contributions were equally significant. Africans also sought to learn from the practices, institutions and remedies that travelers brought back from Europe and other parts of the Atlantic world, and incorporated them into what was an already rich and diverse body of healing knowledge. Ultimately the prevalence of these exchanges illustrates not just the differences that existed between European and African understandings of disease and the human body, but also how much common ground there was between them. Kananoja compellingly argues that African healing knowledge should be seen as a rich and dynamic system, which was central to the emergence of an Atlantic world.
Esperanza Brizuela-Garcia is an associate professor of history at Montclair State University.