The zombie has been a fixture of pop culture for decades, but has recently come to the forefront of monster popularity. This is thanks in part to AMC’s The Walking Dead, which introduces a post-apocalyptic world that seems almost believable. Yes, it is filled with creatures that are essentially dead and craving human flesh – an impossible phenomenon – but the viewer still feels as though it all could happen one day. Many survivalists even have a solid ‘zombie apocalypse’ plan in case it all comes to pass in the near future.
There’s something about the undead that feeds off the irrational, fear driven part of humanity. These flesh eaters may represent our fear of death, and the vast unknown that comes afterward. Just what happens if the brain, the person, dies but the body remains functioning? Well, according to most accounts of zombies, something evil is left behind to walk the earth. However, as seen with The Walking Dead, there is also something pitiful about the zombie mythos. It is merely an empty shell that used to be human. This little tidbit, and more, is brought to light when we dig up the origins of the zombie.
10. Zombies Come from Haiti
The first accounts of “zombies” come from Haiti. The descriptions of these zombies sound familiar: They have taught, grey skin and are largely emotionless. The zombies are said to be raised from the dead and do not feel pain nor the needs of the earthly world. It is said that anyone could become a zombie, if they robbed the right person up the wrong way.
9. Zombies are created-and used- by sorcerers
Sorcery and magic are believed to be true in the vast majority of the Haitian population. Perhaps this is why those calling themselves sorcerers, or shamans, hold so much power there. The “bokor,” as these sorcerers are called, are said to use dark magic to bring the dead back to life.
They would reanimate corpses of family members thought dead (but likely just in a coma) and use them for their bidding – whether that bidding be good or evil. Really, they appear to have been used by the bokor for labour. Many of these zombies became slaves of the ones who reanimated them. The population live in fear of the possibility of zombification, which makes it a good threat for the bokors to use to gain control.
8. There are real accounts of zombies
Not all of these accounts are old. In 1996-1997, researchers wrote three separate accounts of people who came ‘back from the dead’ in Haiti. These three cases are extremely curious because there’s no concrete explanation as to how they were once pronounced dead, and then “came back to life”. The first case states, “FI was around 30 years old when she died after a short febrile illness and was buried by her family the same day in the family tomb next to her house. 3 years later she was recognised by a friend wandering near the village”. The woman was recognized by her family and later taken to a psychiatric hospital.
The second case was of an 18 year old named “WD”. He died and was buried, but later showed up at a cockfight. The man accused his uncle of zombifying him.
The third case is perhaps the strangest of all. The researcher writes, “At the age of 18, MM had joined some friends in prayers for a neighbour who had been zombified; she herself then became ill with diarrhoea and fever, her body swelled up and she died in a few days.” 13 years later, she turned up again. She said that she was kept as a zombie for all those years, and only released once her bokor died. These cases are all extremely strange, but their appearance may be influenced heavily by the superstition in the area and the perceived facts of bokor magic.
7. The original zombies are not bloodthirsty at all
The familiar picture of a zombie shambling towards you, looking to rip your throat out and gorge themselves, is not the original picture at all. It is no surprise that Western culture has taken the zombie and made it into something angry and terrifying – after all, that is far more entertaining.
However, zombies may once have been something totally different. When looking at Haitian accounts of zombies, it seems as though these walking corpses are to be pitied. They are not aggressive, nor do they crave human flesh. These zombies shamble around aimlessly, waiting for their soul to be released, usually by a final death. As if that wasn’t sad enough, the families of the zombies also are likely to witness their loved ones turned into mindless slaves.
6. It is possible to recover from being a zombie
But there is a chance! Once someone is turned into a walking corpse, it is actually possible to revert back into a good ol’ human again. While many lose hope once a loved one is turned into a zombie, as that person should serve their new master forever, there is a way to reverse the process.
Because zombies are controlled by a certain bokor, if that bokor dies, the spell may be broken. Basically, the soul of the zombie is being held by the bokor, so if that soul is freed in some way, recovery is possible. Now, these are all speculations of course, but it does make for a powerful and intriguing story, and, if one lives under fear of such a thing happening, a silver lining to the whole zombie catastrophe.
5. “Zombification” was used as a threat
As mentioned earlier, being turned into a zombie was, and still is, seen as a very real threat in Haiti. The power of the bokors is thought to be terrifying and strong. This threat of zombification was used to stop rebellion in certain areas, and, as frequently seen with zombies and other superstitions, spread the influence of those in charge.
4. Zombie accounts first came to America in the early 20th century
From 1915-1934, when American soldiers were stationed in Haiti, tales of black magic began to appear. The soldiers would bring back tales of corpses coming to life and sorcerers using magic in the pursuit of evil. Now, these accounts were never taken seriously, but they did lead to the adoption of the zombie by American pop culture. The soldiers were far from home, in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by superstition and those that truly believed in the powers of the bokors, so it is understandable that some began to feel uneasy and see things that perhaps were not there. Or perhaps what they saw and felt hinged on the truth afterall?
3. Bokors break into tombs to bring the dead to life
As if the other legends surrounding zombification aren’t scary enough, there are many reports of bokors actually breaking into tombs and attempting to reanimate the dead. In addition, they remove body parts for use in their dark spells.
It is unclear how successful they are with either of these goals, but the fact that they actually attempt to revive zombies through such a means is terrifying enough. This kind of tale is reminiscent of popular Western zombie stories: That old fear of grave robbers taking bodies back for experiments and even reanimation, as with Frankenstein’s monster. This all leads to the true questions though: Are zombies the enemy? Or are live humans the ones to be afraid of?
2. Zombification is illegal in Haiti
Zombies may not be a real fear in North America currently, but in Haiti, the fear is still alive. It is actually illegal to zombify someone in Haiti, and this crime is comparable to murder. Despite the fact that the person is still alive, and can even recover, being turned into a zombification is such a terrifying concept that it had to be written into the law – with severe consequences for anyone attempting it.
1. The modern zombie – as unreal as one may think?
The origin of the zombie is a sketchy one, with accounts that cannot always be taken as truth, but the story of the zombie seems to be as popular as ever. The evolution of the zombie from sad, tortured soul to ravenous monster seems to be largely due to Western society’s craving for a dark, bloody enemy to haunt dreams and make life that much more exciting.
But the accounts of zombies – the original zombies – are very real. Are they fabricated and exaggerate from fear and superstition? Can they be explained by scientific means only? Many scientists have posited that a potent poison which renders a human effectively braindead but mobile might be the source of the legend. If localised, this poison could – in theory – be used to create whole legions of zombie armies. Let the conspiracy theories roll.