Zombie phenomena originated from Haiti
AMC’s The Walking Dead enjoys enormous success and stole viewers away from Sunday Night Football and the Sochi Winter Olympics. Zombies never gained so much attention since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, a zombie horror film that inspired many sequels. The TV show and horror movie portray zombies as weak individuals but a terrifying group of cannibals. Zombies didn’t originate in Atlanta streets or a Pennsylvania country farmhouse. American researchers are convinced zombies are rooted in Haitian culture, but are not cannibals.
American soldiers protected U.S corporations in Haiti and encountered black magic, voodoo, and zombies before returning back home in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Their personal stories were published in pulp novels and adapted into motion pictures.
Early roots of Haitian voodoo
Yoruba inhabitants practiced 18th century voodoo in Benin, Nigeria, and Togo. French colonists enslaved them aboard ship and made them work at plantations in Hispaniola, a Caribbean island. Frenchman converted them to Roman Catholicism although their native religion was never abandoned. The result led to modern voodoo.
In 1996, voodoo religion reigned supreme in Haiti and Benin. Fifty-percent of Haiti’s population practices it. The other half embrace Roman Catholicism, a social condition best described as “syncretism of afro-diasporic roots” and French missionary teachings. Voodoo is polytheistic; it encourages black and white magic. Haitian sorcery spans hundreds of years. Voodoo folklore is shared among 60 million people around West Africa, Egypt, Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, and New Orleans.
Bokers create zombies
Bokors (Voodoo priests) studied black magic and resurrected dead people. They administered coup padre in a dead person’s mouth, a powder containing a deadly drug, tetrodotoxin, obtained from fou-fou, or “porcupine fish.” Bokers prepare zombies a paste mixed with sweet potatoes, cane syrup, nightshade and henbane.
Bokers first created zombies in secret societies that didn’t praise gods (Iwa) in daily rituals. A person displeased personal family members or in-laws, including neighbors. One of them hired a Bokor to transform the outcast into a zombie. (Keegan, www.flmnh.ufl.edu) Zombies only regain free will by eating salt. Slave owners prepare their food without it.
American researchers investigate zombies in Haiti
In 1937, an American Folklorist and anthropologist investigated zombie phenomena. Zora Neale Hurston travelled to Haiti. She learned about 29 year-old Felicia Felix-Mentor who died in 1907. Some villagers told Hurston that Felicia returned back from the dead twenty years later. Hurston discovered that drugs caused victims to experience death like symptoms and doubted voodoo sorcerers would inform Americans about secret ingredients mixed in zombie white powder.
The Serpent and the Rainbow written by Wade Davis started a zombie debate. Haitian male, 40 year old Clairvius Narcisse, entered a hospital for body pain and breathing difficulties in 1962 and died two days later. His death certificate is on record. Narcissse’s body endured 24 hour refrigeration in the morgue before it was buried. His personal introduction shocked his sister 18 years later. He claimed his mind was conscious while his body lost muscular function. He couldn’t breathe during hospitalization or encased inside the family tomb. His coffin was dug out and opened up three days later. Men physically abused him, gagged his mouth, and forced a hallucinatory drug in his mouth. Narcisse was enslaved at a sugar plantation for two years and existed in a dream like transient state. A member of his zombie tribe murdered slave holders with a hoe and freed them. Narcisse wandered free for sixteen years and suspected his brother devised a scheme that turned him into a zombie. He returned home to his sister after his brother died.
Harvard University ethno botanist, Wade Davis, travelled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and discovered tetrodotoxin (100 times deadlier than cyanide). He interviewed bokers and purchased 8 different white powder samples from 4 Haitian regions.
White powders included charred and crushed human bones; stinging spine plants and Puffer fish which contains toxic ingredients in fugu, a popular sushi dish. It requires careful preparation to minimize lethal dosages of tetrodotoxin, a growing bacteria present in newts, toads, and numerous animals. Unlike puffer fish, humans and predators are vulnerable to it.
“Tetrodotoxin blocks a sodium channel in nerve cell membranes” and stops nerves from firing muscles. Humans ingest small doses of it and experience paralysis of their voluntary muscle activity, including heart and muscles responsible for controlled breathing. The conscious subject fails to register a pulse beat and is unable to breath, eventually slipping into unconsciousness and death. The brain lacks sufficient blood flow. Eye-witnesses reported that a few people victimized by fugu recovered from their comatose appearance; ingested poisonous toxins failed to permanently damage their brain.
Skeptics challenge zombie phenomena
Haitian Zombies, a Skeptoid article, June 14, 2011, analyzed zombie phenomena. Bokers administering tetrodotoxin to their subjects must concoct a perfect balance. The victim can die or not ingest a sufficient amount of toxin to suspend living body organs. Brain damage severity is unpredictable.
Many critics doubt Davis’s story about Clairvius Narcisse. The Albert Schweitzer Medical Center, a hospital in Haiti, only charged residents five dollars a day. Critics suspect a nonlocal person suffered kidney failure and deceived the hospital by using Narcisse’s name for an affordable rate.
Dr. Douyon interviewed Narcisse’s family members. Naricisse produced numerous illegitimate children and incurred debts that angered mothers. A boker was hired to convert Naricisse into a zombie.
Narcisse was mentally conscious for two days but lacked a beating heart. His lung failed to breathe oxygen to the brain. His body endured hypothermic refrigeration for twenty-four hours in the morgue. He was buried in a grave for three days. Lab tests confirmed he had non-functioning kidneys. A boker brought him back to life in strong physical condition. Narcisse worked several years in a sugar plantation.
Voodoo priests drug themselves under Datura’s (hallucinatory drug) influence before they perform voodoo rituals; occasionally zombie victims survive poisonous effects of tetrodotoxin. How much brain damage could a zombie endure that enabled him adequate strength to perform hard labor? “The grain of truth in the zombie mythology is a real one, but its popular portrayal – even within Haiti – is an exaggeration based on tradition and superstition.”
The Lancet published British anthropologist Roland Littlewood and Haitian doctor Chavannes Douyon’s medical report in 1997. Three individuals were identified as zombies. The doctors tested two different tetrodotoxin white powders, conducted EEG and CT brain scans, DNA and fingerprinting tests, and confirmed FI was the only zombie properly identified. Neurotoxin theory explained cases linked to zombie classification. Ill people suffered from catalepsy or motor paralysis. Many Haitian natives suffer mental illness and AIDS; they’re mistaken for zombies.
Zombie rituals began with secret societies and continue in modern times. Bokers keep their occupation low profile. Article 246 of the Haitian penal code forbids Bokers of attempting to convert humans into zombies; the Haitian government considers it murder.
Some present day zombie cases are baffling. At least two American journalists insist zombie powders suspended the life of their victims in limbo and brought them back to life. The number of zombie survivors is unknown.
Rational explanations satisfy skeptics. Haiti’s long history of black slavery makes critics believe that slaves were drugged and hypnotized into acting submissive to plantation owners. Dilapidated illnesses in Haiti caused an epidemic of walking corpses.
Voodoo zombie resurrection is not established with only chemical powders; spiritual worship attracts wielders of black magic and white magic. Haitian zombies aren’t considered cannibals. Was an African cannibal ever a victim of a Boker? The magical world of Haitian voodoo seems to make anything possible.