Everything You Must Familiarize Yourself With Regarding Zombies: Unveiling the Origins and Legends

Haitian vodou

# All You Need To Know About Zombies: The History And Myths

## Summary

In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the history and myths surrounding zombies. Contrary to popular belief, zombies are not just fictional creatures used for entertainment purposes; they hold a deep meaning and serve as a poignant allegory for slavery. While George Romero’s 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead” is often credited with introducing zombies to mainstream media, the concept of zombies actually predates it by centuries. The term ‘zombie’ can be traced back to West African languages, specifically the Kongo and Mitsogo languages. This article will explore the origins of zombies, their association with Vodou, and how they became ingrained in popular culture.

## The Origins of the Term ‘Zombie’

The modern term ‘zombie’ has its roots in the Kongo and Mitsogo languages. In the Kongo language, ‘nzambi’ translates to the ‘spirit of a dead person,’ while in the Mitsogo language, ‘ndzumbi’ means ‘corpse.’ These areas were significant because they were where European slavers transported native people to work on sugar cane plantations in the West Indies. The term ‘zombie’ was popularized in the English language by Robert Southey in his 1819 novel “A History of Brazil.” However, it was W.B. Seabrook who truly introduced the term to the public in his 1927 travel narrative, “The Magic Island,” which chronicled his journey to Haiti.

## Slavery and the Practice of Vodou

During the time when Haiti was occupied by France and known as St Domingue, slaves were forced to convert to Roman Catholicism. However, they continued to practice their own religions, which led to the emergence of new religions that combined African traditions with Catholicism. Vodou, also known as Voodoo, was one such religion that originated in Haiti. The practice of Vodou involved various rituals, including the creation of zombies. This aspect of the religion captivated American audiences and heavily influenced Hollywood’s portrayal of Vodou, albeit with significant distortions.

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## Zombies in Haitian Culture

Due to the influence of Vodou, there are numerous stories about zombies in Haitian culture. According to Vodou beliefs, zombies can be created by a sorcerer called a Bokor. Contrary to the common portrayal in media, zombies in Haitian culture are not dangerous or cannibalistic. They are reanimated bodies without free will, serving as mindless slaves to their creators’ commands. The process of zombification involves the Bokor removing or taking possession of the victim’s soul, either before or after death. This practice was often used as a form of punishment for those who went against the Bokor while alive. Traditional zombies created through Vodou can only understand basic commands, communicate through moans and groans, and display limited vocabulary.

## The Haiti Revolution and Zombie Stereotypes

In 1791, a slave rebellion in St Domingue led to the overthrow of the masters and the renaming of the country to Haiti. This revolution, which lasted until 1804, resulted in Haiti becoming the first independent black republic. However, European empires consistently portrayed Haiti as a violent and superstitious nation. Throughout the 1800s, accounts of black magic rituals, cannibalism, and human sacrifices in Haiti were widespread. When the United States occupied Haiti in 1915, they attempted to eradicate the native Vodou religion, which only served to strengthen it. During this time, the concept of zombies became intertwined with violent and ritualistic rumors surrounding Haiti.

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## Zombies in American Pulp Fiction

In the 1920s and 30s, stories about vengeful dead beings became increasingly popular in American pulp fiction. Previously, these revenge-seeking entities were portrayed as ghosts or malevolent spirits. However, during this period, they began taking the form of physically decayed bodies clawing their way out of graves. The fascination with zombies extended beyond fictional narratives, with writers claiming real-life encounters with zombies. One such writer was W.B. Seabrook, who documented his alleged experiences with zombies in his book “The Magic Island.”

## W.B. Seabrook’s Encounter with Zombies

W.B. Seabrook, a journalist, writer, occultist, and alcoholic, claimed to have encountered zombies during his visit to Haiti. In his book, he described meeting the ‘zombies’ who worked on a sugar plantation owned by the Haitian-American Sugar Corporation. Seabrook initially described them as mindless beings, plodding like automatons, with vacant and unfocused eyes. However, he later revealed that these individuals were ordinary demented human beings rather than actual zombies.

## Conclusion

Zombies have a rich history that goes beyond their portrayal in contemporary media. Originating from West African languages, the term ‘zombie’ found its way into the English language through various literary works. In Haitian culture, zombies are intimately connected with Vodou and serve as slaves to sorcerers known as Bokors. Traditional zombies have limited capabilities and are not the cannibalistic creatures often depicted in popular culture. Furthermore, the stereotypes surrounding zombies in Haiti have been perpetuated by foreign occupation and sensationalized accounts. Understanding the true history and myths behind zombies provides a deeper appreciation for their significance as an allegory for slavery and colonialism.

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## FAQs

**Q: Are zombies real?**
A: Zombies, as portrayed in movies and popular culture, are fictional creatures. However, the concept of zombies has cultural and historical roots in Haitian Vodou.

**Q: Can zombies eat human flesh?**
A: Contrary to popular belief, traditional zombies created through Vodou do not engage in cannibalistic behavior. They are mindless bodies controlled by sorcerers.

**Q: How do sorcerers create zombies?**
A: Sorcerers, known as Bokors, can create zombies by taking possession of a victim’s soul, either before or after death. The process involves suppressing the victim’s vital signs and eradicating their memory.

**Q: Do zombies have any free will or awareness of their condition?**
A: Traditional zombies have no free will and are not aware of their condition. They exist solely to serve the commands of the Bokors who created them.

**Q: Can zombies regain their freedom?**
A: If a Bokor dies, the zombies they control can regain their freedom and return to their original state.

## Final Thought

The history and myths surrounding zombies offer a fascinating glimpse into the cultures and traditions of Haiti. From their origins in West African languages to their association with Vodou, zombies have served as a powerful symbol of slavery and oppression. Understanding the true nature of zombies goes beyond their portrayal in popular culture and allows for a deeper appreciation of their significance. Next time you encounter a zombie in a movie, remember the rich history and myths that inspired its creation.

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