Dispensers, Obeah and Quackery: Medical Rivalries in Post-Slavery British Guiana
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This paper examines the ambiguous place of medical assistants-dispensers-in a post-slavery British Caribbean colony, British Guiana, from the end of slavery in the 1830s to the early twentieth century. Although the latter were crucial to the functioning of the colonial medical system, local physicians resented them, complaining about the economic threat they posed and at times condemning them as quacks. These attacks were part of a wider discussion about the composition of the medical profession and the role of medical auxiliaries in colonial society, and to an extent, they echoed debates conducted in other jurisdictions in this period. But in the British Caribbean, this discussion was significantly different. There, long-standing views about obeah-an Afro-Creole medico-religious practice-as a particularly dangerous and uncivilised type of quackery was part of the discursive context. That those participating in this debate included African-descended physicians whose arrival in the medical profession was recent and contested demonstrates the vexed and complex nature of professionalisation in a post-slavery society.
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