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The Mysterious Zombie Phenomena of Haiti
Evolution of zombie cult films originated from Haiti
Horror film makers love to film zombies. Horror fans were won over by AMC's The Walking Dead. The show enjoys continuous success and stole viewers away from Sunday Night Football and ran well against the Sochi Winter Olympics. Recent zombie revivals have not achieved positive success since George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, a zombie horror film that inspired many sequels and similar zombie tales.
Both The Walking Dead and Night of the Living Dead portray zombies as weak individuals but terrifying cannibals congregated together in huge groups. The origin of zombies didn't start in the streets of Atlanta or a Pennsylvania country farmhouse. Zombies are considered an unfortunate assembly of living dead corpses that exist in Haiti. Authentic zombies are not cannibals. Voodoo folklore combines old historical religious faiths shared among 60 million people around West Africa, Egypt, Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, New Orleans, and Louisiana.
American soldiers experienced encounters with Haitian black magic, voodoo, and zombies. They protected U.S corporations and returned back home in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Their personal stories led to the publication of successful pulp novels and zombie horror movies.
Voodoo bathing ritual
Haitian voodoo culture background
As recently as 1996, vodun is the prominent religion of Haiti and Benin. In Haiti "zombi" is defined as "spirit of the dead." African scholars define zombie word origin as derived from the “Kongo word "soul" and is spelled nzambi .
Fifty-percent of Haiti’s population identify with vodun. The other half identifies with Roman Catholicism, a social condition best described as “syncretism of afro-diasporic roots” and French missionary teachings. Vodun is polytheistic and encourages both black and white magic. Haitian sorcery has been practiced for hundreds of years.
Yoruba people inhabited Benin, Nigeria, and Togo; they influenced vodun practices during the 18th century. French Colonists took them aboard their ship and used them as plantation worker slaves in Hispaniola, a Caribbean island. Frenchman tried to convert them to Roman Catholicism but slaves never abandoned their native religion. A modern form of vodun was born.
Voodoo poison maker
Corps cadavre refers to the physical body.
Gwobon anj is a term that refers to the animating aspect of the human body.
Ti-bon anj is a term that refers to the “agency, awareness, and memory” of the human being.
The bokor practicing spirit sorcery attempts to separate “agency” and “awareness” from the human being and imprison it in a bottle termed an “earthenware jar” and the zombie is referred to as “zombie astral.”
The uncanny powers of the Boker
Bokors (Voodoo priests) studied and applied black magic. They resurrected dead people by administering a drug substance in the victim's mouth called coup padre, a powder containing a deadly ingredient called tetrodotoxin, a poison obtained from fou-fou, or "porcupine fish (puffer fish)."
Bokers first created zombies in secret societies. They ignored people involved with daily rituals in which they praised gods (Iwa).
Bokers force fed zombies a prepared paste. Ingredients include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Cane syrup
Bokers drug their victims.
Datura (plant) Stramonium is a hallucinogenic drug recognized in many cultures. It contains 3 chemical ingredients:
1. Scopolamine: decreases secretion of body fluids. Organs controlling the stomach and intestines are slowed down. Pupils begin to dilate.
3. Atropine: drug relieves spasms in gastrointestinal tract but FDA doesn't consider it safe or effective.
- Human remains
- A polychaete worm
Haitian man claims a Boker turned him into a zombie
Zombie voodoo ritual
How Haitian victims are turned into zombies
Zombie legend: a person displeases personal family members or in-laws, including neighboring people and branded an anti-social recluse, the combined group hires a Bokor to transform the outcast into a zombie. (Keegan, www.flmnh.ufl.edu)
Subjects taking coup padre are under a drug induced trance and seem near death.
Coup padre effects on victim that lead to zombie conversion
- heart rate weakens
- breathing patterns are diminished
- body temperature shows sharp decrease
- The public prematurely bury coup padre victims like they would a corpse.
- The Bokor exhumes the drugged victim. He doesn’t harm the subject physically but erases his/her memory for a life of uncontested labor. "Though still living, they remain under the Bokor's power until he dies." (Keegan, www.flmnh.ufl.edu)
Haitian zombies lose “cognition/consciousness” and “free will.” Zombies only regain free will by eating salt. Plantation slave holders feed zombies food without salt.
- They're unable to raise up their heads
- They lack “nasal intonation”
- They're unable to make eye-contact
- Their repetitive actions are insignificant
- Their limited vocabulary is repetitive
Zora Neale Hurston
American anthropologist investigate zombie phenomena
In 1937, an American folklorist and anthropologist investigated the credibility of zombie phenomena. Zora Neale Hurston travelled to Haiti and villagers told her an unusual story about Felicia Felix-Mentor, she died in 1907, 29 years of age. Some Haitians told Hurston she came back from the dead twenty years later. Hurston learned about dangerous drugs responsible for effecting people with death-like symptoms. She doubted Americans learned from voodoo sorcerers anything about the secret ingredients used to create zombie white powder.
In 1938, Hurston’s Voodoo Gods was published. Her book was the first to print a photograph taken of Clairvius Narcisse in a psychiatric hospital. He was converted into a zombie and lived to tell about it.
Papa Doc Duvalier
The Credibility of Zombies
Do you believe Haitian Bokers actually convert unfortunate victims into zombies?
Haitian dictator was protected by zombie army
Papa Doc Duvalier was dictator of Haiti from 1957-1971. His ruthless army was called Tonton Macoutes; it means bogeyman (secret police). Zombie like sentries obeyed Duvalier's commands in a trance-like state, wore dark glasses and were armed with machetes, hung their victims in public squares and earned fearful respect from Haitians. Jean Claude Duvalier succeeded his father and used the feared militia to keep political rivals in check. They were also known as the Volunteer Militias of National Security (MVSN). Duvalier was inspired by Italian fascist Blackshirts.
The international media reported that political protesters were abducted by Tonton Macoute. They were forced to participate in voodoo rituals and force fed poisonous white powder that caused brain damage and turned them into zombies.
The dictator was a serious voodooist. He had grandiose dreams of immortality as eternal Haiti’ ruler. He promised Haitian people he would come back to them after his own death. Duvallier died of a heart attack and a guard looked after his tomb to prevent him from coming back as a zombie and prevent grave robbers from taking his corpse. Haiti traditionally place guards at tombs and they are also padlocked. Some people believe Haitian folklore is often confused with fact, but Haiti has a long history of black slavery. Drugs and hypnosis were methods of keeping slaves in check, although they may not have been actual zombies.
The Puffer fish
Wade Davis's incredible discovery of Haitian drugs used in zombification
The Serpent and the Rainbow book written by Wade Davis
Haitian male, Clairvius Narcisse, was 40 years old in 1962. He checked into a hospital to treat pain in his body and had difficulty breathing. He died two days later and his death certificate is on record. His body underwent refrigeration in the morgue for 24 hours. He was buried in the family plot. Eighteen years later, he introduced himself to his sister and told an unbelievable tale. He claimed his mind was conscious while his body lost muscular function; he couldn't breathe at the hospital or his burial site at the family plot. Buried underground, his coffin was dug out and opened up three days later. Men physically beat him, gagged his mouth, and forced a hallucinatory drug in his mouth. He was forced to perform slave labor at a sugar plantation for two years. The drugs caused his mind to hallucinate. He moved around in a dream like transient state and lacked strength to fight it. Another zombie used a hoe as a murder weapon and freed all the zombies. Narcisse wandered for sixteen years and avoided returning home; he suspected his brother devised a scheme to turn him into a zombie. Narcisse returned home to his sister when his brother died
Wade Davis pharmaceutical explanation
Ethno botanist Wade Davis worked at Harvard University and traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1982 and discovered tetrodotoxin, a poisonous drug (considered 100 times more deadly than cyanide). He interviewed numerous Bokers and purchased 8 different samples of white powder from 4 Haitian regions.
Boker’s white powders all included human bones that were charred and crushed, an assortment of stinging spine plants and puffer fish. That certain fish contains dangerous ingredients in a popular sushi dish called fugu and requires careful preparation to minimize lethal dosages of neurotoxin tetrodotoxin. The puffer fish contains growing bacteria present in newts, toads, and numerous other animals. Human beings and predators are vulnerable to it although puffer fish developed immunity.
“Tetrodotoxin blocks a sodium channel in nerve cell membranes, preventing the nerves from being able to fire any muscles.” Humans that ingest small doses of it experience paralysis of their voluntary muscle activity, including the heart and muscles responsible for the function of 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. Witnesses remember a few occasions when people that ate fugu were revived after they appeared in a death like state. They ate poisonous doses that lacked a potent knock-out punch to permanently destroy the brain.
Wade Davis: Looking for Zombies
Critics and doctors scientific opinion about zombies
Haitian Zombies, an article by Skeptoid, June 14, 2011, analyzed rare occurrences of zombie phenomena. The zombie making poison tetrodotoxin is only present in rare white powders. Bokers attempting to convert their subjects with tetrodotoxin have to concoct a perfect balance. The subject is more likely to die or not ingest a sufficient amount of magical toxin. Brain damage severity is unpredictable.
Many critics doubt Davis’s story about Clairvius Narcisse, a man who experienced death and was buried. The Albert Schweitzer Medical Center, a hospital in Haiti, only charges residents five dollars a day. Critics suspect a non-local person suffered kidney failure and checked into the hospital using Narcisse’s name in order to get local customer's a low rate.
Dr. Douyon discovered interesting facts about Narcisse after interviewing family members. Naricisse produced numerous illegitimate children and incurred debts that made many mothers unhappy. He was the ideal person a Boker would victimize and torment by converting him into a zombie.
Narcisse’s incredible zombie resurrection defies belief. He was mentally conscious during his two day survival, but couldn't detect a beating heart, his lung didn’t breath any oxygen to the brain. His body was delivered to the morgue and endured hypothermic refrigeration for twenty-four hours. He was buried in a grave for three days. Lab tests confirmed he had non-functioning kidneys. A Boker brought him back to life and restored his health. Narcisse spent several years working in a sugar plantation.
Haiti has a history in which voodoo priests drugged themselves under datura’s influence before performing voodoo rituals, and at times, survived the poisonous effects of tetrodotoxin. But how much brain damage could a zombie endure? Could he retain adequate physical skills 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.”
1997- The Lancet published a medical report about 3 individuals that were identified as actual zombies. Case studies were written by “British anthropologist Roland Littlewood and Haitian doctor Chavannes Douyon.” They conducted EEG and CT brain scans. DNA and fingerprinting tests confirmed that only one zombie named FI was verified by authentic identification. Doctors believed neurotoxin theory explained some cases linked to zombie classification. Some people suffering deadly illness are actually effected by catalepsy or motor paralysis. They tested two different Bokor white powders and discovered the poison ingredient tetrodotoxin. Many Haitian natives suffering forms of mental illness and AIDS are mistaken as zombies.
- FI was properly identified as a 30 year old woman. She passed away after suffering a short term illness and was buried by her house. Three years later, her family recognized her facial mark and saw her walking with the characteristics of a zombie into the village. Her family believed she was turned into a zombie because her husband wanted revenge because of her extramarital affair. She was taken to a psychiatric hospital in Port-Au-Prince and suffered from “catatonic schizophrenia.”
- WD was an 18 year-old male teenager and son of a secret police. His eyes developed yellow coloration and he quickly died after his body swelled up. His body was entered in the family tomb. Eight years later, word spread that he appeared as a zombie at a cockfight event. His mother identified a fourth finger that was hyper-extended when he was a child. He accused his uncle of making him a zombie. The uncle was jealous of the secret police’s literacy that entitled family land ownership under his name. Lack of oxygen caused WD to suffer brain damage and his epilepsy was treated with drugs. He took daily doses of 100mg phenytonin, a drug that reduces uncontrollable fits to one day per month.
- MM was an 18 year-old female teenager. She died before suffering a prolonged illness. Thirteen years later, she was identified as a wandering zombie at the town market. The daughters thought she was abducted. She had a “developmental learning disability” that was caused by alcoholism during the time her mother was pregnant with her.
Haitian Vodou cover many topics from my research of the subject in greater detail than mentioned in my hub article. ln Haitian Vodou, Mambo Chita Tann explores the historical roots and contemporary practices of this unique tradition, including discussions of:
―Customs, beliefs, sacred spaces, and ritual objects
―Characteristics and behaviors of the Lwa, the spirits served by Vodou practitioners
―Common misconceptions such as “voodoo dolls” and the zombie phenomenon
―Questions and answers for attending ceremonies and getting involved in a sosyete (Vodou house)
―Correspondence tables, Kreyol glossary, supplemental prayer texts, and an extensive list of reference books and online resources
Well-researched, comprehensive, and engaging, Haitian Vodou will be a welcome addition for people new to Haitian spirituality as well as for students, practitioners, and academics.
Haitian voodoo has been practiced for hundreds of years. The ritual of converting unfortunate victims into zombies began with secret societies and the tradition continues to this day. Bokers need to keep their zombie making activities a private affair. Bokers attempting to convert human beings into zombies are considered murderers by the Haitian government.
Article 246 of the Haitian penal code states:
It shall also be qualified as attempted murder the employment which may be made against any person of substances which, without causing actual death, produce a lethargic coma more or less prolonged. If, after the person had been buried, the act shall be considered murder no matter what result follows.
Many Haitian voodoo rituals were never witnessed by Americans until the United States sent soldiers to Haiti during the 1920's and 1930's. No serious study about zombies was investigated until Zora Neale Hurston in the late 30's. Wade Davis took her study further and discovered the secret ingredients Bokers used to convert people into zombies.
Many Haitians believed their dictator, Duvalier, used voodoo to create a zombie army. Present day zombie case studies have been examined by anthropologist Littlewood and Dr. Douyon. Doctors successfully discredited the validity of zombification by pointing to credible medical explanations. But not all zombie case studies have been discredited. Many journalists admit credible evidence suggests zombie powders suspended the life of their victims in limbo and brought them back to life. It is uncertain how many people actually survived zombification.
Rational explanations satisfy skeptics. Haiti has a long history of black slavery. Slaves may have been drugged and hypnotized into submission for plantation owners and resembled mechanical characteristics of zombies. Many dilapidating illnesses in Haiti effect people into behaving like zombies, too.
Remember that the power of voodoo is not conducted with only chemical powders but spiritual worship has attracted wielders of black magic and white magic. Haitian zombies aren't considered cannibals. Who can prove an African cannibal slave was never a victim of a Boker. In the magical world of Haitian voodoo it seems anything is possible.