Zombie

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Zombie
Grouping Legendary creature
Sub grouping Undead
Similar creatures Revenant
Country Caribbean
Region The Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa

In Haitian folklore, a zombie (Haitian Creole: zonbi) is an animated corpse raised by magical means, such as witchcraft.[1]

The concept has been popularly associated with the Vodou religion, but it plays no part in that faith's formal practices.

Etymology

The English word "zombie" was first used in the 1838 short story "The Unknown Painter", as zombi. The additional "e" was not added until the 1900s.[2]

Haitian zombie phenomenon

Zombies featured widely in Haitian rural folklore, as dead persons revived by the act of necromancy of a bokor sorcerer (the bokor is a witch-like figure to be distinguished from the houngan priests and mambo priestesses of the formal Vodou religion). Zombies remain under the control of the bokor as their personal slaves, since they have no will of their own.

Slaves brought to Haiti in the 17th and 18th centuries, believed that when they died, Baron Samedi would gather them from their grave to bring them to heaven, unless they had offended him in some way, such as committing suicide, in which case they would be forever a slave after death, as a zombie. A number of scholars have pointed out the significance of the zombie figure as a metaphor for the history of slavery in Haiti.[3]

The Haitian zombie phenomenon first attracted widespread international attention during the United States occupation of Haiti (1915 - 1934), when a number of case histories of purported "zombies" began to emerge. The first popular book covering the topics was William Seabrook's The Magic Island (1929).

In 1937, while researching folklore in Haiti, Zora Neale Hurston encountered the case of a woman who appeared in a village, and a family claimed she was Felicia Felix-Mentor, a relative who had died and been buried in 1907 at the age of 29. However, the woman had been examined by a doctor, who found on X-ray that she did not have the leg fracture that Felix-Mentor was known to have had.[4] Hurston pursued rumors that the affected persons were given a powerful psychoactive drug, but she was unable to locate individuals willing to offer much information. She wrote: "What is more, if science ever gets to the bottom of Vodou in Haiti and Africa, it will be found that some important medical secrets, still unknown to medical science, give it its power, rather than gestures of ceremony."[5]

Chemical hypothesis

Several decades after Hurston's work, Wade Davis, a Harvard ethnobotanist, presented a pharmacological case for zombies in two books, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) and Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie (1988). Davis traveled to Haiti in 1982 and, as a result of his investigations, claimed that a living person can be turned into a zombie by two special powders being introduced into the blood stream (usually via a wound). The first, coup de poudre (French: "powder strike"), includes tetrodotoxin (TTX), a powerful and frequently fatal neurotoxin found in the flesh of the pufferfish (order Tetraodontidae). The second powder consists of dissociative drugs such as datura. Together, these powders were said to induce a deathlike state in which the will of the victim would be entirely subjected to that of the bokor. Davis also popularized the story of Clairvius Narcisse, who was claimed to have succumbed to this practice. The most ethically questioned and least scientifically explored ingredient of the powders, is part of a recently buried child's brain.[6][7][8][verification needed]

The process described by Davis was an initial state of deathlike suspended animation, followed by re-awakening — typically after being buried — into a psychotic state. The psychosis induced by the drug and psychological trauma was hypothesised by Davis to reinforce culturally learned beliefs and to cause the individual to reconstruct their identity as that of a zombie, since they "knew" they were dead, and had no other role to play in the Haitian society. Societal reinforcement of the belief was hypothesized by Davis to confirm for the zombie individual the zombie state, and such individuals were known to hang around in graveyards, exhibiting attitudes of low affect.

Davis's claim has been criticized, particularly the suggestion that Haitian witch doctors can keep "zombies" in a state of pharmacologically induced trance for many years.[9] Symptoms of TTX poisoning range from numbness and nausea to paralysis — particularly of the muscles of the diaphragm — unconsciousness, and death, but do not include a stiffened gait or a deathlike trance. According to psychologist Terence Hines, the scientific community dismisses tetrodotoxin as the cause of this state, and Davis' assessment of the nature of the reports of Haitian zombies is viewed as overly credulous.[10]

Social hypothesis

Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing highlighted the link between social and cultural expectations and compulsion, in the context of schizophrenia and other mental illness, suggesting that schizogenesis may account for some of the psychological aspects of zombification.[11] Particularly, this suggests cases where schizophrenia manifests a state of catatonia.

Roland Littlewood, professor of anthropology and psychiatry, published a study supporting a social explanation of the zombie phenomenon in the medical journal The Lancet in 1997.[12]

The social explanation sees observed cases of people identified as zombies as a culture-bound syndrome, with a particular cultural form of adoption practiced in Haiti that unites mentally ill homeless people with grieving families who see them as their "returned" lost loved ones, as Littlewood summarizes his findings in an article in Times Higher Education:

I came to the conclusion that although it is unlikely that there is a single explanation for all cases where zombies are recognised by locals in Haiti, the mistaken identification of a wandering mentally ill stranger by bereaved relatives is the most likely explanation in many cases. People with a chronic schizophrenic illness, brain damage or learning disability are not uncommon in rural Haiti, and they would be particularly likely to be identified as zombies.[13]

Related African legends

"Zombi" is also another name of the Vodou snake lwa Damballah Wedo, of Niger–Congo origin; it is akin to the Kikongo word nzambi, which means "god". There also exists within the West African Vodun tradition the zombi astral, which is a part of the human soul that is captured by a bokor and used to enhance the bokor's power. The zombi astral is typically kept inside a bottle which the bokor can sell to clients for luck, healing or business success. It is believed that after a time God will take the soul back and so the zombi is a temporary spiritual entity.[14] It is also said in vodou legend, that feeding a zombie salt will make it return to the grave.

The idea of zombies is present in some South African cultures. In some communities it is believed that a dead person can be turned into a zombie by a small child.[15] It is said that the spell can be broken by a powerful enough sangoma.[16]

It is also believed in some areas of South Africa that witches can turn a person into a zombie by killing and possessing the victim's body in order to force it into slave labor.[17] After rail lines were built to transport migrant workers, stories emerged about "witch trains". These trains appeared ordinary, but were staffed by zombie workers controlled by a witch. The trains would abduct a person boarding at night, and the person would then either be turned into a zombie worker, or beaten and thrown from the train a distance away from the original location.[17]

In popular culture

Participants of a 2009 zombie walk in Moscow

As fictional undead creatures, zombies are regularly encountered in horror and fantasy themed works. They are typically depicted as mindless, reanimated corpses with a hunger for human flesh, and particularly for human brains in some depictions. Although they share their name and some superficial similarities with the zombie from Haitian Vodun, their links to such folklore are unclear. Many consider George A. Romero's film Night of the Living Dead to be the progenitor of these creatures.[18][19] Zombies have a complex literary heritage, with antecedents ranging from Richard Matheson and H. P. Lovecraft to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, all drawing on European folklore of the undead. The popularity of zombies in movies has led to them sometimes having been taken out of their usual element of horror and thrown into other genres, for example the comedy film Shaun of the Dead. The "zombie apocalypse" concept, in which the civilized world is brought low by a global zombie infestation, has become a staple of modern popular art. By 2011 the influence of zombies in popular consciousness had reached far enough that the United States government's Center for Disease Control used the idea as a theme to promote disaster preparedness.[20]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Zombie". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1998. 
  2. ^ Gandhi, Lakshmi (15 December 2013). "Zoinks! Tracing The History Of 'Zombie' From Haiti To The CDC". NPR CodeSwitch (in English). NPR. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  3. ^ Wilentz, Amy (2012-10-26). "A Zombie Is a Slave Forever". The New York Times. Haiti. Retrieved 31 October 2012. 
  4. ^ Mars, Louis P. (1945). "Media life zombies". Man 45 (22): 38–40. doi:10.2307/2792947. JSTOR 2792947.  edit
  5. ^ Hurston, Zora Neale. Dust Tracks on a Road. 2nd Ed. (1942: Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984, p. 205). 
  6. ^ Davis, Wade (1985), The Serpent and the Rainbow, New York: Simon & Schuster, pp 92-95
  7. ^ Davis, Wade (1988), Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie, University of North Carolina Press, pp 115-116.
  8. ^ http://www.csicop.org/si/show/zombies_and_tetrodotoxin/
  9. ^ Booth, W. (1988), "Voodoo Science", Science, 240: 274–277.
  10. ^ Hines, Terence; "Zombies and Tetrodotoxin"; Skeptical Inquirer; May/June 2008; Volume 32, Issue 3; Pages 60–62.
  11. ^ Oswald, Hans Peter (2009). Vodoo. BoD – Books on Demand. p. 39. ISBN 3-8370-5904-9. 
  12. ^ Littlewood, Roland; Chavannes Douyon (11 October 1997). "Clinical findings in three cases of zombification". The Lancet 350 (9084): 1094 – 1096. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  13. ^ Littlewood, Roland (1 December 1997). "The plight of the living dead". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 28 March 2014. 
  14. ^ *McAlister, Elizabeth. 1995.“A Sorcerer's Bottle: The Visual Art of Magic in Haiti.” In Donald J. Cosentino, ed., Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou. UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1995: 304–321.
  15. ^ Marinovich, Greg; Silva Joao (2000). The Bang-Bang Club Snapshots from a Hidden War. William Heinemann. p. 84. ISBN 0-434-00733-1. 
  16. ^ Marinovich, Greg; Silva Joao (2000). The Bang-Bang Club Snapshots from a Hidden War. William Heinemann. p. 98. ISBN 0-434-00733-1. 
  17. ^ a b Niehaus, Isak (June 2005). "Witches and Zombies of the South African Lowveld: Discourse, Accusations and Subjective Reality". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11 (2): 197–198. 
  18. ^ J.C. Maçek III (15 June 2012). "The Zombification Family Tree: Legacy of the Living Dead". PopMatters. 
  19. ^ Deborah Christie, Sarah Juliet Lauro, ed. (2011). Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human. Fordham Univ Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-8232-3447-9. 
  20. ^ Boston Globe The CDC want you to prepare for the zombie apocalypse by Jesse Nunes 20 May 2011

Further reading