WATCH FROM HOME: The Last Bonesetter

Adam Booher, Kathryn Oths
color, 27 min, 2018
in Spanish, English
with English and Spanish subtitles

Available on DSL and DVD:

In some remote areas of the Peruvian Andes, such as the highland hamlet of Chugurpampa, traditional healers have all but disappeared. This is due largely to an unstable subsistence economy brought on by climate change, forcing frequent trips and even permanent outmigration to the coast, with the result that young people are not able to devote the time to learn the healing arts. Yet, due to the rigors of peasant life, there is still a high demand for the musculoskeletal healing tradition of bonesetting.

The Last Bonesetter: An Encounter with Don Felipe traces the career of one of the last “hueseros, ” or bonesetters, in the area – 80-year-old Don Felipe. Medical anthropologist Kathryn Oths has long been concerned with the survival of indigenous healing. She first got to know and work with Don Felipe in the 1980s when she carried out 18 months of fieldwork in Chugurpampa. At that time, dozens of healers offered their services to the sick and injured. While she kept up with Don Felipe in the intervening years, she was stunned to discover upon her return 25 years later that he was the sole provider of traditional health care for the large hamlet. Besides being a well-known bonesetter and herbalist, over time he also took on the roles of midwife and a curer of illnesses that are unique to the Andes such as susto (soul loss from fright). While there is a modern medical health post in the hamlet where he lives, it is seldom staffed by doctors and has few medicines to prescribe, Don Felipe is the only reliable source of health care who people trust for miles around.

Hoping to demonstrate the value of bonesetting and inspire younger generations to continue his legacy of traditional healing, Oths and her research team facilitated a conference at a regional hospital to showcase Don Felipe’s techniques and prowess on local patients for academics, doctors, and healers from around Peru. The ethnographic portrait of Don Felipe, set against a backdrop of breathtaking mountain landscapes, embeds him in his local culture and the everyday routines of life. This is a story of the mission to save the knowledge of one of the last remaining healers of his kind in the northern Peruvian Andes before it’s too late, including current efforts to find him an apprentice.

Also included:
Así Sobrevivimos (How We Survive): Getting By in a Changing Climate
7 min, 2018, directed by Adam Booher, Kathryn Oths
In Chugurpampa, high in the northern Peruvian Andes, a changing climate is putting pressure on a peasant agricultural community already living close the margins. While the highlanders have historically subsisted on what they raise—which includes a wide array of vegetables, grains, tubers, and livestock—in recent years, disease, drought, and hail have destroyed harvests. Many families, unable to cope with these calamities, have abandoned their lands for opportunities on the coast. Whereas 25 years ago traditional healers were abundant, few now enter healing roles as a result of the instability. The only remaining traditional provider is Don Felipe Llaro, an 80-year-old bonesetter and herbalist. The future of an ancient medical tradition is in peril.

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