Eight Fingered Eddie

Eight Finger Eddie, who died on October 18 aged 85, became famous as the founder of the hippie scene in the Indian resort state of Goa.
An American-born former bass player whose real name was Yertward Mazamanian (he was nicknamed Eight Finger Eddie because he was born with only three fingers on his right hand), Eddie arrived at Anjuna, Goa, in 1966 – a time when it was a tiny village with a few tea stalls and houses lining a white, sandy beach.

“I was the first freak in Goa,” Eddie recalled. “I turned up and liked it so much, I just wanted to stay. And then others started coming. In those days, they came overland from Europe in camper vans and no one had any money. We listened to Traffic and the Rolling Stones.”

In Goa’s hippie heyday in the late 1960s and 1970s, Eight Finger Eddie helped to look after the lost and spaced-out who travelled in his wake. Some were American draft dodgers or Vietnam deserters with faraway stares and heroin habits. He ran a soup kitchen, and in 1975 started the Anjuna flea market as a place to hang out or swap paperbacks of Hermann Hesse, William Burroughs and the Bhagavad Gita.
The presence of Eddie and his companions was tolerated by locals, who would watch with amusement as their strange visitors consulted the I Ching, performed yogic exercises, sucked earnestly on hashish pipes or argued over the true meaning of Bob Dylan’s Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

Apart from going to Kathmandu to escape the monsoon every year and making a trip to Bombay to replace his American passport every 10 years, Eight Finger Eddie remained in Goa for the rest of his life.

The state became a top tourist destination with the building of high-end hotels and casinos, and his Anjuna market turned into a thriving retail centre – but Eddie seemed not to care: “Some people say it’s not like it used to be, and it’s not,” he told an interviewer in 1991. “But I like it here now. I like the parties. And I like the music. It’s good to dance to.”

One of seven children of Armenian immigrants to America from Istanbul, Yertward Mazamanian was born in a small town near Boston, Massachusetts, in 1924. In his online memoirs, Eight Finger Eddie: My rise to relative obscurity, he claimed to have been a boy scout, a regular churchgoer and an “honours student” at school.

Yet it seems that the attractions of the dropout life exerted an early hold. After managing to persuade an Army psychiatrist that he was unfit for military service during the Second World War, he was sacked from a job with the General Electric Company. “I abhor work,” he concluded, “begrudging every moment I’ve wasted as a wage earner. My aim in life is to get through life doing what I want to do.”

After a period spent as a layabout and occasional bass player in a jazz band, during which he smoked large quantities of dope, got married, had a son and divorced, Eddie took off around the world in a camper van with a couple of friends, beginning in Mexico, then travelling via Europe to Marrakesh and finally Egypt. There he joined an overland trip to India, arriving in 1965.

His first visit to the country was short-lived, however. He was busted for selling drugs, jailed for three months and then deported. He returned for good the following year.

Though Eddie became something of a persona non grata with the Goan authorities, who were looking to discourage backpack tourism, a Facebook site was set up last year in his name. When he fell ill, a Norwegian journalist launched a campaign to raise money for his medical bills. It generated $2,250, also helping to pay for his cremation, which has taken place with Hindu rites.

His ashes will be scattered at Anjuna’s flea market and beach.

1 comment to Eight Fingered Eddie

  • Ajit

    Hey Derek,

    Just found a book in the library called Paradise Trail by Duncan Campbell. It’s a novel partly set Calcutta in the 1970s and worth a read if you’ve an interest in backpackers, hippies and so on.

    Great blog by the way.


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