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Disease, religion and medicine: smallpox in nineteenth-century Benin

DOI: 10.1590/S0104-59702012000500003

Keywords: smallpox, sakpata, cult priests, medicinal plants, vaccination.

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the essay examines, with special reference to smallpox, the perception and interpretation of disease in pre-colonial dahomey, present-day republic of benin. because disease is seen primarily as a punishment from the gods and not just as a medical problem or a bodily disorder, traditional cult priests play a leading role in making diagnoses and prescribing remedies, mostly based on medicinal plants. the prominence of sakpata, god of smallpox, coupled with the influence of its priests is evaluated within the context of dahomey's political history and the spread of the disease. this pivotal position was to constitute a challenge to the french colonial campaign to vaccinate against smallpox.


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