‘Eduardo the Healer’ (1978)

'Eduardo the Healer' (1978)

‘Eduardo the Healer (1978)’

(USA • Richard Cowan • 1978)

‘Eduardo the Healer’ (originally ‘Eduardo el Curandero’) is a nice little find – a fly-on-the-wall ethnobotanical documentary following sympathetic Peruvian sculptor, folk healer/ shaman, former trainee priest and fisherman Eduardo Calderón over the course of a typical day.

Born in 1930, the amenable Eduardo tells us a little of his life story and shares his philosophies as he diagnoses and effects ceremonial cures for several patients, using methods including divination and healing by means of guinea pig entrails, the mescaline-containing entheogenic cactus San Pedro (Trichocereus pachanoi) and a variety of other shamanic tools.

Eduardo Calderón & Doña Laura

Eduardo Calderón & Doña Laura

There’s also an extended sequence where we see Eduardo reminiscing with Doña Laura – a herbalist and healer who performed a cure on Eduardo when he was seventeen years old (for being “a beer guzzler, a city slicker and a wencher” who was, moreover, “hexed by a girl”) – as he buys the lengths of San Pedro (“some that kick”), some tobacco and a little condor herb (“purgative or hallucinogenic?”) required for the evening’s healing. As an amateur ethnobotanist and small-scale grower of various Trichocereus cacti myself, it’s accordingly particularly interesting to me to see such glimpses of traditional indigenous use as it was several decades ago, not to mention the mouth-watering fat chunks of cactus used in the brew!

The latter section of the film depicts a healing (ordinarily carried out at night) carried out on hexed man Luciano Azmat, who is suffering from “spiritual shock”. We sit in as Eduardo discusses the case with his assistants and some family members, mapping out a comprehensive plan for the evening’s session. We’re then given a brief overview of the complicated traditional altar constructed by Eduardo, comprising many votive items of power.

The ritual itself is performed outside – in the presence of various assistants and (presumably) family members – and consists of elements such as prayer, singing, chanting, whistling, parables, cleansing bodywork and tobacco drunk through the nose. With Luciano seemingly rejuvenated by the end of the session, Eduardo and friends accordingly declare the healing to be a success, with a footnote reporting the subsequent longer-term return of Luciano’s good fortune.

Filmed in Las Delicias, near the city of Trujillo, the fifty-four-minute documentary was directed by Richard Cowan (who also co-wrote and co-produced, with fellow anthropologist and author Douglas G. Sharon) for Pennsylvania State University (in partnership with the Centro Folklorico De Machu Picchu). A companion book (‘Eduardo el Curandero: The Words of a Peruvian Healer’) was published subsequently, comprising a partial transcription of the film, illustrated with black and white stills.

Calderón died in 1996, but happily this film remains to offer us a privileged glimpse into his world nevertheless. If this review of ‘Eduardo the Healer’ piques your interest, hunt out ‘The Cactus Apprentice’ episode of the excellent ‘Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia’ series too.