Undead To Me

2 Nov

From the original Night Of The Living DeadI ran across this fascinating article on Haitian zombies the other day:

About a month after I arrived in Jérémie, a rumor swept through town that a deadly zombie was on the loose. This zombie, it was said, could kill by touch alone. The story had enough authority that schools closed. The head of the local secret society responsible for the management of the zombie population was asked to investigate. Later that week, Monsieur Roswald Val, having conducted a presumably thorough inquiry, made an announcement on Radio Lambi: There was nothing to fear; all his zombies were accounted for.

Interestingly, this relates back to the Koro discussion from yesterday, in that zombification is largely a cultural phenomenon facilitated by a natural one – in the case of Koro it’s a mental issue causing anxiety about the size and use of your body parts, in zombification it’s a bit of fish toxin leaving you paralyzed but cognizant.

But TTX alone does not make a zombie. TTX is the same poison found in the deadly Japanese fugu fish, whose sushi is a great delicacy. Every year, several gourmand fools, having eaten improperly prepared sushi, fall victim to TTX poisoning, and upon their resuscitation, if they survive, are normal.

Not so the Haitian zombie.

The Haitian zombie, Davis argues, is the product of a series of terrifying experiences, all specific to the cultural context of rural Haiti. First comes the overwhelming trauma of having been buried alive. Clairvius Narcisse reported total lucidity through the entire ordeal. Upon removal from the coffin, the would-be zombie is fed a hallucinogenic drug from the plant Datura stramonium, locally known by the suggestive name concombre zombi. At the same time, the victim is given a ferocious beating by his captors. The final touch is the total rejection of the zombie by his own community. The cumulative effect is the destruction of the zombie’s will — what the Haitians call the “ti bon ange,” or the good little angel, the unseen thing that gives personality and resolve to each individual soul. The victim is now a zombie, and he knows he is now a zombie: He has fallen into a well-known trap from which no man or woman escapes.

Clairvius Narcisse, the most famous of zombiesThe whole article is fantastic – I’ve barely scratched the surface with my quotes here, and I highly recommend it.

It does leave me wondering, however, about the types of nonsensical behaviours we engage in due entirely to societal standards and pressure.

From Malta Today:

“Thirteen people were in an apartment on the second floor when, at around 3am, one of the occupants heard his child crying,” said Odile Faivre, the deputy prosecutor in Versailles.

“The man in question, of African origin, who was completely naked, got up to feed his child, at which point the other occupants took him for the devil.

“He was seriously wounded in the hand after being stabbed with a knife before he was thrown out of the apartment, via the door.”

The 30-year-old man then tried to force his way back into the room.

“That’s when the other occupants tried to escape by jumping out of the window, panicked by a fear of the devil,” said Ms Faivre.

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2 Responses to “Undead To Me”

  1. bmj2k November 3, 2010 at 23:01 #

    What little I know about Haitian religion and history is fascinating. And not to belittle it, though it may sound so, the film White Zombie with Lugosi is interesting in the brief scenes that talk about the Haitian voodoo and zombie culture- all the more so because of the white colonial attitude towards it.

    • JRD Skinner November 4, 2010 at 10:46 #

      I actually just re-watched White Zombie during my run up to Halloween, and I have to agree, it’s an odd window into the time and place.

      It’s another topic I’d like to do more research on, although I suspect a lot of what would be really fascinating isn’t available to the public, for example: who, and under what circumstances, created the first zombie?

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