By the same authors

Curative Commodities Between Europe and Southeast Asia, 1500-1700

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)



Publication details

Title of host publicationEntangled Itineraries: Materials, Practices, and Knowledge across Eurasia
DateAccepted/In press - 9 May 2018
DatePublished (current) - 2019
PublisherUniversity of Pittsburgh Press
EditorsPamela H. Smith
Original languageEnglish


How do certain substances and objects become invested with value as curative commodities? How well do beliefs about curative commodities and methods of healing travel across boundaries – geographical, temporal, cultural, linguistic, religious? Such questions animate many historiographical, sociological, and anthropological enquiries into beliefs about health and healing, and into the transmission of curative materials and ideas between cultures. The development of beliefs about the efficacy of certain cures can be particularly difficult to trace in cosmopolitan centres of exchange and interaction. This chapter addresses these issues through a case study – or rather case history – of a childbirth miracle in seventeenth-century Portuguese Malacca (Melaka, modern-day Malaysia). This case history allows us to follow merchants and missionaries on the trade routes connecting the port cities of Southeast Asia to the wider world in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It explores their encounters with varied beliefs about health and healing in the colonial city, and analyses the strategies employed to assert claims of efficacy about a range of materials, techniques and practices used to protect and cure. It also explores European attempts to introduce new curative materials. Through such case studies we can begin to outline how beliefs in the efficacy of certain substances and practices are socially constructed, and how theories of healing can be transmitted and translated between disparate groups.

    Research areas

  • Childbirth, Healing, Malacca, Medicine, Miracles, Portuguese Asia, Value

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