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Nº 62. Thursday, May 18, 2017


In modern pop culture, a zombie is a soulless body (a corpse) that has been enlivened again by unknown forces.

Zombie emerging from a tomb. In this photo, a supposed Haitian zombie emerges from its tomb.

The belief in zombies originated in West Central Africa. In that region, the locals had a cult of a god in the shape of a python snake, which was called n'zumbi. They believed that witches, or houngan, could reanimate the dead by imploring the god n'zumbi. Apparently, this term could also be applied to mediums, ghosts, or spirit of the dead.

This cult arrived to America brought by the Mandingo slaves and settled in Haiti, Brazil, and other regions of the New World as part of the voodoo religion. In the voodoo of Haiti, a zombie is a soulless body which is enliven again in order to be employed in physical work. The houngan, or witches, can reanimate corpses, but also can take the soul of a living person out of his or her body. Thereby, the zombie becomes slave of the houngan. The say is that houngans keep the zombies in a state of cataleptic trance, like ‘walking deads’.

Not only houngans can create zombies. The ghede (spirits of the dead that wear top hats) are also believed to be able to create zombies.

Ethnobotanist Wade Davis, from Harvard University, studied the voodoo rite in Haiti. He concluded that zombies are people that have been drugged with a preparation made from various plants and a toxin from a Caribbean puffer (a kind of fish also known as swellfish or blowfish). The fish used is related to the fugu fish of Japan, a fish whose liver is poisonous and that only can be prepared by cooks authorized by a governmental institution. The people so drugged are then buried in a cataleptic state. Then they are exhumed, to the astonishment of the witnesses, and kept lethargic with new and subsequent doses of the concoction.

According to the local beliefs, a secret society, called komo, uses the rite to maintain a number of enslaved workers in existence.

Zombies have entered the global pop culture through Hollywood horror movies. As with vampires and werewolves, zombies are recurrent characters in comics and other ways of entertainment.