Santo Domingo: this unknown Black woman healer inspired 1st hospital built in the Americas in 1500s

Stephen Nartey October 10, 2022
Ruins of the Hospital San Nicolás de Bari, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Phyrexian

The historical relics sitting in the Dominican Republic’s colonial city of Santo Domingo reveal the contributions of enslaved Africans to the improvement of life in the region despite concerns by inhabitants that authorities have been consciously making attempts to overshadow these influences.

One of those initiatives is represented by Hospital de San Nicolas de Bari, which was constructed to enable a nameless enslaved woman to take care of the scores of sick in Santo Domingo.

Historical manuscripts from the Archbishop of Santo Domingo to the Spanish Crown praised the enslaved woman he described as pious and was providing healthcare to many poor people at no cost to them, according to the BBC.

The works of the faceless black heroine which have been buried by colonial authority for many decades were captured in documents recovered by researchers at the City University of New York’s Dominican Studies Institute dated the 16th century.

She rendered her services where the hospital de san Nicolas de Bari was erected. She is believed to have capitalized on her immense knowledge of African herbal medicine and used it to cure the ailment of those who called on her assistance.

The impact she was making in Santo Domingo compelled the then-Spanish Governor Nicolas de Ovando to put up the first hospital in the region in 1500. Many descendants of enslaved Africans in Santo Domingo believe the name of this heroic healer has not been loud in the history books because of attempts to erase her contributions to healthcare in the colonial city.

The Dominican Republic is known as the region where enslaved Africans were first transported to in the Caribbean in the 1490s by Christopher Columbus when he sailed to Senegal and The Gambia.

The first transatlantic slave trade started with the Dominican Republic in 1503 before the first slaves were sent to other U.S. states. It is also the second region after Haiti to outlaw slavery in 1801. The historical significance of the Dominican Republic cannot be underestimated when slavery is on the table.

Slavery would have occurred in the region earlier but for the difficulties encountered by Spanish sailors in settling in Santo Domingo after earlier failed attempts to acclimatize with the area. The Spanish Crown was only able to stamp its dominance in the region after Columbus’ intrusion in 1492. At least some 400,000 slaves are believed to have lost their lives or suffered harsh treatment following the Spanish Crown’s role in the slave trade.

In its desire to benefit immensely from the sugar economy, the Spanish authority transported more slaves into the region to work on the plantations. At least descendants of 28 African tribes were brought to the region and this is evident in the culture and traditions exhibited by the people.

Spanish culture may be dominant in the colonial city, but, the presence of enslaved Africans cannot be overlooked when discussing Santo Domingo’s rich heritage and past.

The culture is deeply rooted in the dance and singing of women in open spaces. The gestures made with the hands and wriggling of waist and hips by women ensemble groups are of African origin.

For many inhabitants, this is undeniable because the region is seen as one of the oldest colonial cities in the Caribbean.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 10, 2022


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