Goa's hippie pioneer dies in India's tourism mecca

Eight Finger Eddie helped put Goa on the map for global backpackers; the town is popular with Israeli tourists.

eight finger eddie 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
eight finger eddie 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Eight Finger Eddie's time had come and gone.
When the 85-year-old, touted as the godfather of Goa's hippie scene, died last week in a beachside village in Goa, the west coast Indian state he had helped put on the travel map for global backpackers and stoners had long since turned its back on him and his kind.
Goa is now a top vacation and party destination, thronged by tourists hungry for its high-end hotels and chilled-out beaches. Along with the tourism has come wealth, helping Goa to be come one of India's wealthiest states in terms of per capita income.
It was a different scene at Anjuna beach, now the epicenter of tourism in Goa, when Eddie arrived with his half-naked buddies, Junky Robert, Hollywood Peter and Trumpet Steve.
It was 1965 — the year a Russian became the first to walk in space, America sent combat troops into Vietnam and Bob Dylan went electric — and Anjuna was just a tiny hamlet with a few tea stalls and houses dotting a pristine sandy beach.
Just the sight of the hippies, lean and wearing next to nothing apart from unkempt Beatles-inspired haircuts and earthen pipes on waist-cords for smoking hashish, gave locals a shock.
"They were in love with this place. And we fell in love with them, because of the way they lived," recalled local writer Dominic Fernandes, 65.
The details of how and why Eddie arrived in India in his 30s are not clear. He was born Yertward Mazmanian in America in 1924 with just three fingers on one hand, helping him earn the nickname "Eight Finger Eddie" in Anjuna, along with his other nickname, "The King of Hippies." Before moving to Anjuna, he lived a few years at another Goan beach village, Colva, according to an 2008 video interview with researchers tracking hippie movements in India.
"Some people let me stay in their house. I made food, and I could eat. Those days you didn't have to pay rent unless you yourself wanted to contribute something. Sometimes people were skeptical, but then they realized you did not want anything," he said.
"Then a Japanese girl told me about a beautiful beach called Anjuna with just some houses and nobody nearby. We all went there. I was 40 then and the rest of the freaks were 20-year-olds," he said.
Spending nearly half a century in Goa, Eddie sometimes ran a soup kitchen and in 1975 started the Anjuna flea market as a place for hippies and other foreigners to hang out or barter goods. At first, "only freaks came," Fernandes said. "People gave things away, or it was only free ... it was like a party."
Now the Wednesday market, like Goa itself, is thriving as trade hub for food, clothes, jewelry and other commerce.
Goa today attracts a different breed of visitor, hungry for new-age experiences or just hoping to fall off the map for a while. Nearly 2.4 million tourists each year — almost twice Goa's population — have helped keep the nightlife throbbing and restaurants in business. A hotel-building boom has produced 25 five-star hotels along with many high-end guesthouses.
Goa owes much of its success to Eddie and others like him who created the buzz about the serene paradise-like beaches that brought the first wave of Western tourists, travel writer Hugh Gantzer said.
But with success, the hippies of old were shunned by the new establishment.
"They have outlived their usefulness. Goa has to say goodbye to them; tourism in Goa has moved on. Hippie and backpack tourism inevitably is associated with drugs and does not make a healthy spectacle," Gantzer said.
When Eddie, seen lately wearing worn slippers and a cheap bag slung over his shoulders, died on Oct. 18 of a heart attack in Anjuna's hospital, the only public mention of it was the next day in a local English newspaper's "death advertisement," signed by "friend and family in Anjuna and all over the world."
It calls him "a guiding light for travelers" and credits him with being the "first foreigner who settled on south Anjuna beach, which became the last station of the hippie trail."
Social networking sites also have been abuzz about the death of Goa's alpha hippie. A Facebook site set up last year in his name has 941 fans, and a donation campaign started by freelance Norwegian journalist Oystein Krogsrud when Eddie began ailing has netted more than 100,000 rupees ($2,250) to pay for Eddie's cremation and medical expenses.
Eddie was cremated Oct. 19 in a Hindu ceremony that was shown on live-stream video broadcast via Internet to 100 people across the world, Krogsrud said. His ashes will be scattered at Anjuna's flea market and beach.
Krosgrud plans to set up a museum from Eddie's personal effects for this year's Anjuna flea market, when it resumes in a few weeks with the start of the six-month tourism season.