Bonnie O'Connor
Folklore and Folklife
University of Pennsylvania

This remarkable video centers on Eduardo Núñez, a spiritual leader and healer in the Santería religious tradition, which is quite active in the United States today and which plays a central spiritual and healing role in the lives of its followers. This tradition is little known and poorly understood outside of its own population of followers; the attentions it does receive from outsiders are typically misinformed, prejudicial, and sensationalized.

 

Drufovka and Stanford's film is a matter-of-fact and straightforward presentation of the daily life and work of Eduardo and his congregation of initiates and petitioners. It is a noteworthy feature of this piece that the ceremonialevents it documents are presented as they occur, from theperspective of the participants, without explanatory analysis by outside "experts." This is a rare approach even in ethnographic film to a subject that includes much that middle class, Anglo, or academic audiences might feel stands in need of explanation (trance and possession states, divination, sacrifice of animals in exchange for human well-being). It is a particular strength of the honest and unflinching film that all the explanation is left to Eduardo himself, and is the explanation that he makes to his followers as he proceeds through his provision of guidance and counsel, healing, and spiritual inspiration and teaching.

At the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society yo soy hechicero drew an audience of folklorists withwide ranging interests and specialties, including many in the field of religious study, and sparked a lengthy and productive discussion about many of the central issues that ethnographic representation raises for outsiders: whether or not analysis is required; who is qualified to analyze and explain religious experience; what are the mechanisms of prejudice and understanding among academics and the "general audience;" whose definitions of normalcy and reality are accepted; and so forth. Stanford and Drufovka's films raises "hot" epistemological and methodological issues, and forces audiences to turn their attention not only to the video's immediate subject, to their own reactions and their roots.