The term comes from Haitian folklore, where a zombie is a dead body reanimated through various methods, most commonly magic.
The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of the word as West African and compares it to the Kongo words nzambi and zumbi. — Wikipedia… Zombie a reanimated corpse.
Making its entrance in the historical records in the year 1819 from a historical event happening in the country of Brazil through the poet Robert Southey, the word zombi surfaces for the first time.
The word itself referred to the African-Brazilian leader of rebels, Zumbi inspired from the original word nzambi. The origin of the word zombie according to the Oxford English Dictionary is given to West Africa.
Zombie, Zombi, Zonbi, it doesn’t matter which of those words you use, it always comes down to the meaning of a reanimated corpse through the use of witchcraft. The idea of a zombie, often when thinking about the Haitian culture, we associate it the religion of voodoo. However, it is often seen as a myth and not part of the faith itself.
While researching the subject of zombies and their origins, I found myself lost in the continent of Africa. Many legends and reports are part of their culture and beliefs. Their knowledge of “remedies” and “potions” when it comes down to the paranormal is fascinating.
One legend has it that in after rail lines were up, build to transport migrant workers, some called those Witch Trains. They would appear like any other trains, but what lived inside made them entirely different.
The Witch Trains were the homes of zombified workers that one witch could control. The trains abducted people walking in at night and then they would find themselves caught in a crowd of zombified people to either be turned themselves by dying first and revived as one of them or beaten down to only be thrown away from the train.
In the year 1982, Canadian Wade Davis — an ethnobotanist and anthropologist, traveled to Haiti for investigations on the claims of zombification of people. The postulations spoke of two types of powders used on the infected people, most likely through a wound and so the ingredients in the powders would be carried through the bloodstream.
Coup de poudre, French for powder strike, include an ingredient found in the pufferfish’s flesh and is a tetrodotoxin or TTX and is most likely a fatal neurotoxin in any amount used. The second powder used is a deliriant drug. Once mixed, they give the impression of a death state to anyone witnessing the injured person or the bokor performing the ritual.
One mysterious ingredient, but still to this day not confirmed, consist of a part of a buried child’s brain. It is scientifically not explored and lacks information on the subject.
The research from Davis suggests that the victim is put in a suspended animation resembling the death of a person. Then, the person is brought to life again, strangely only after his or her burial and comes back into a sort of psychotic state.
Of course, the psychosis is a reaction Davis described as following the trauma of awakening buried and reinforced by the induced drug. It does offer drama to the audience witnessing the zombified person digging its way out of the ground.
The zombie then has to assume he or she was dead and has no more identity in Haiti and therefore are at the mercy of the bokor. Zombies would often roam around graveyards, another observation from Davis while investigating the Haitian zombies.
Later on, Davis’ claims and reports were somewhat scientifically dismissed as they wouldn’t agree that tetrodotoxin poisoning could keep someone as a “zombie” for years. The drug would often affect the diaphragm — the muscle that permits humans to breathe by either numbness or paralysis and causes nausea.
It can result in unconsciousness and death but does not give an impression of death if the person is still alive. Therefore, Davis’ assessment regarding Haitian zombies, now classified as naive.
Psychology & People
R.D. Laing, a Scottish psychiatrist came with the hypothesis that some of the Haitian zombies might be victims of schizogenesis, therefore, explaining some psychological behavior of the zombified people.
When schizophrenia manifests itself in a state of catatonia — psycho motor immobility and abnormality manifested by stupor, it could give a good representation of the zombie behavior described by Davis.
Later on, in 1997, an anthropology professor and psychiatrist, Roland Littlewood published his work speaking of the zombie phenomenon in Haiti as a culture-bound syndrome. It speaks of the homeless and mentally ill people and grieving families who see some of the people “returning” as their loved ones.
Still A Mystery
To this day, after all the research, there is still no precise information on how the zombification happens in Haiti or what is the real secret behind the paranormal voodoo practice.
All we know is that Haiti gave us a monster that to this day inspires thousands of authors to write amazing horror novels or television series and big screen movies. Maybe one day we’ll know the secret, but then, it would take away the magic behind it all.
The OCD Vampire