Here come the zombies, lurching uninvited from the trees and still without an
explanation. The story is pretty much the all about scarry ghoulash. Scores of
staggering corpses, who can be rekilled only by shots to the head, attack
people’s houses looking for the living.
What do these doddering dead guys want? From the way they knock on the
door, they may just want to use the bathroom. But when they start through
the door, they look like the rush-hour crowd at Times Square.
Joking aside, this legend is a belief of the Haitian people. Zombie comes from
the Haitian Creole word zonbi. The belief is that a person dies and is revived
by witchcraft. Zombification is the apparent return of a dead person from the
grave, and his enslavement to a zombie master.
The legend actually began in the late 19th century in North America and
Europe but ethnologists discovered that zombification may actually exist in
They found that Haitian society strongly believe zombies exist in their society
and it is a major part of the fabric of their culture. Researchers wanted to
know if their belief in zombification was based on fact or merely legend as it
is in every other society.
It has long been known that the people of Haiti report seeing people reappear
after being pronounced dead and buried. Researchers set out to find out if a
substance is being used among Haitian sorcerers and what substance or drug
they are using.
Circumstantial evidence shows that the substance is probably a toxin derived
from puffer fish of the genus Sphoeroides. This toxin can produce a total
paralysis almost indistinguishable from death, during which the subject
Japanese gourmets have long favored the carefully prepared flesh of the
puffer fish for the mild intoxication it induces; the effects of the toxin are
thus known from studies of accidental poisonings of unfortunate Japanese
Having discovered that it is possible to drug someone with a substance that
will mimic death, and then to retrieve the ''corpse'' from its grave, since the
paralysis eventually passes, researchers studying the Haitian culture to find
out why anyone would want to become a zombie.
Zombification in Haiti is a form of punishment carried out by secret societies
who administer justice on a local level in uneasy alliance with the formal
Those accused of various antisocial acts are brought before these societies,
which investigate the accusations, reach verdicts and execute punishment.
Ethnologists have found that the fear of a Haitian is not of being attacked by
a zombie, but rather of being turned into one.
Becoming a zombie is understood to involve having one's ti bon ange - roughly
one's soul - stolen from one's body, and thus losing autonomy. This is indeed a
scary idea, but one must bear in mind that the whole point of sanctions for
maintaining social control is that they should be really frightening, or else the
threat of them won't work.
But puffer fish poison can't account for how someone loses his ti bon ange; it
can only account for how someone can appear to return from death.
Ethnologists believe that Zombies are a part of Haitian secret societies and
that zombification takes place in an institutional context that, while subject
to abuse, like almost any other social institution, operates to maintain social
life and is part of a rich and coherent cultural system.
So, zombies are real and not just legend, they have become zombies against
the ‘‘Vaudoux’’ dance by noting the slaves,’ with a talent for music and whistling.
C.R.L. James recalls the story of a tryst drawn from the local folklore
featuring a ‘‘young beauty with ebony skin, her whole body trembling due to a
Saint-Me´ry defines the ‘‘Zombi’’ as the ‘‘cre´ol’’ word for a kind of ‘‘spirit’’ or
‘‘revenant.’’ Incorporeal zombies continue to be part of twentieth-century
According to Alfred Me´traux, evil spirits roving the woods are called aˆmes
zombi. Some of these zombie souls are found in cemeteries and isolated places
and are believed to be accident victims who died before their time. Me´traux
also mentions another type of zombie, souls stolen from corpses and stored in
bottles that are sought after by sorcerers to increase their magical power.
colonial records concerning rumors that proliferated in Saint Domingue about
the devil working through outlawed slave healers who represented a threat to
colonial power. A slave and herbalist named Marie Kingue´ reportedly inspired
fear and attraction among both the masters and the slaves due to her renown
as a powerful sorceress. Locals believed that she possessed ‘‘the power to kill
and raise from the dead.’
Although the word zombie is mainly linked to spirits before the Revolution, the
fear of corporeal undead slaves being exploited in Saint Domingue looms up,
for example, in what could be considered as a slip of the pen by the great
leader of the Revolution, Toussaint Louverture.
In his 1801 constitution, a document well ahead of its time for its profession
of democracy and human rights, Louverture abolished slavery on the island,
while retaining his allegiance to the French. Article 3 stipulated that ‘‘There
can be no slaves in the territory; servitude is forever abolished. Here, all men
are born, live, and die, free and
What is the difference between living and dying free?
Sybille Fischer argues that the notion of dying free and French could simply be
rhetorical, or it could point to Louverture’s fear of a ‘‘possible future’’ where
secessionists might claim their independence from France. Louverture
believed in the ideals of the French Revolution and envisioned the future of
Saint Domingue closely tied with France’s. According to Me´traux, despite
being a devout Catholic and campaigning against Vodou, Louverture was a
herbalist convinced of the existence of magic.
In the context of the superstitious atmosphere reigning in Saint Domingue and
rumors about sorcerers resurrecting the dead, the interpretation of
Louverture’s constitution should then also take into account zombification as
another dreaded ‘‘possible future’’ that entailed a life of subjugation after
The anxiety surrounding the embodied zombie appears again in an anecdote
reported by Michel-E´tienne Descourtilz concerning one of Louverture’s
soldiers. During the Haitian Revolution, Descourtilz was taken prisoner by the
black insurgent army, in which he then served as a doctor.
A few years after his liberation, he published an account of his experience in
the Revolution that included the story of a former slave who, after serving
several years under Louverture, comes home and claims that his poor, sick, and
emaciated mother is
Descourtilz describes the ‘‘old zombie’’ in terms reminiscent of Blessebois’s
and Saint-Me´ry’s haunting spirits, but he also implies that the son feels
compelled to reject his mother because she looks like a dead body.
A documentary filmmaker with a yearning for groundbreaking investigations
heard there was a place in Haiti where zombies went flying. The great houngan,
voodoo priest, in Gonaives might be persuaded to reveal this miracle for his
camera. Voodoo miracle working is as popular in the documentary film world as
Filipino incisionless surgery.
The documentarian got about a quarter of a million dollars from backers
interested in paranormal phenomena. After all, the Maharishi claimed his
discipline could produce flying disciples, but all anyone ever saw was a little
hopping up and down. The great voodoo priest of Gonaives was a long step for
mankind ahead of the Maharishi.
The filmmaker gathered his equipment, crew, cameras, and money. He was
thoroughly briefed and equipped. The brave band of explorers stood in a field,
panning, focusing, jiggling dials and meters, doing all those exciting
documentary film things, while the houngan pointed heavenward, shouting.
"There he is! No, you're in luck! There are two of them!"
Agile, nimble, subtle, graceful and skilled, the two flying zombies swooped and
soared at such a height that they could not be seen, but thanks to careful
planning and the best Sony equipment, proof of the frisky stunt zombies was
captured in its unseen entirety on 16 millimeter film.
The report was traced to a Canadian doctor who was the source for the claim
of mental illness did not exist. Despite this announcement, U.S. television
networks continued to run less-than-favorable reports on Aristide that cited
the false CIA report as their source. Offering a counter-narrative on the
editorial pages of the Boston Globe during this time the reporter stated: "The
main purpose of attacks on Aristide at this crucial moment of course, is to
distract from the character of the real murderers and psychopaths who
refuse to yield power in Haiti", but this counter narrative was an exception.
Davis, W. Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey
into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic. 1997.