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Zombie

If vampires are the aristocrats in the world of the walking dead, zombies are the lumpen proletariat. Both vampires and zombies have an infectious bite, but there the resemblance ends. Zombie [Zombi] is a word full of mystery even for those who made it. The explanations of those who utter it most often are never quite lucid : it seems to convey ideas darkly impossible to define, - fancies belonging to the mind of another race and another era, - unspeakably old. Perhaps the word offers the best analogy is "goblin": yet the one is not fully translated by the other. Both have, however, one common ground on which they become indistinguishable, - that region of the supernatural which is most primitive and most vague; and the closest relation between the savage and the civilized fancy may be found in the fears called childish, - of darkness, shadows, and things dreamed.

Ancestral spirits are collectively referred to as zombies, derived from the Kikongo dzambi, 'god'. Trindadian 'jumbie', Jamaican 'duppy', Monserratian 'jumbee' and Brazilian 'zumbie' share the same derivation. A strong feature of obiism is the belief in haunts - that not only the spirit but the person of the dead, in a modified form, returns to trouble the living. These more nearly correspond to the shades of the ancient Greeks, having body and substance, than to our conception of spirits which are without them. These shades are known in Jamaica as "duppies," in Martinique as "zombi," in Antigua and Barbados as "jumbles," and in America as " harnts."

Dead children are especially liable to return as duppies to haunt the mother, who, even though she may have been the tenderest of creatures, always recalls some act of omission or commission on her part which will cause the child to return and punish her. To prevent this, they are very particular to put heavy weights upon the graves; otherwise they will awake some night to find the duppy sitting upon the foot of their bed.

Zombies are invoked by drumming, dance and singing. Variously reconstituted and adaptable to varying events, Zombi crystallize the crossing of spirit and man in vodou practices. The primary function of these ceremonies is to invoke zombies for the purpose of personal possession. In Haitian Voodoo, a zombi is a soulless body. The body is used for slave labor in gardens and plantations, for housework and house building. Zombies, the slaves of Voodoo practioners, constitute a reality in Haitian culture. Zombification is the process by which such enslavement is effected. Zombification is caused by the use of drugs produced from a plant and a small fish. The result, after the individual had been certified dead, buried, exhumed and revived, is that the personality of the zombi is severely diminished. Haitians therefore fear becoming zombies. In Haiti the legal and ethical implications are rarely alluded to.

The widely known skill of the Voodoo priests extended to the concoction of strange draughts from the native herbs of Haiti. Cocombre-Zombi, the leaves of Datura tatula, was used as a narcotic and as a love potion. The purple thorn-apple, technically known as Datura tatula^ is very similar to the jimson weed, possesses the same properties, and is distinguished from it merely by its reddish stenis and purplish flowers. The leaves and seeds may be gathered with those of the jimson weed.

Aside from poisons that kill at once, they were reputed to distill potions that kill by a long, slow process, the time being regulated by the strength of the dose to meet the exigencies of the case. Most uncanny, however, was the poison which will cause the victim to pass into an unconscious condition, so profound that it may be easily mistaken for death. Given Haitian practices of burial in above ground crypts, consignment to the grave is not the sentence of death implied by "six feet under" burial.

This trance-producing potion might seem to be a creation of the imagination, if it were not for the fact that many observers of Haiti from early colonial times down to the early 20th Century had vouched for the evidences of its use. Such a poison was necessary to the cannibalistic Voodoo devotees of slavery days, because slaves, as valuable chattels, were carefully enumerated. The chosen victim, usually a child, was dosed with the poison that brought on a condition simulating death. The master, satisfied that he had lost one of his human animals by natural causes, ordered the burial. Afterwards, the victim was resuscitated for the sacrifice, since the Voodoo rites require a living, conscious offering. All this, gruesome as it is, summed up the accounts of widely separated cases, some of them based on confessions of the criminals themselves.

Students of Haitian society suggested that there was an ethnopharmacological basis for the notorious zombies, the living dead of peasant folklore. The surfacing in the early 1980s of three "zombies" focused scientific attention on the reported zombi drug. The formula of the poison was obtained at four widely separated localities in Haiti. The consistent ingredients included one or more species of puffer fish (Diodon hystrix, Diodon holacanthus or Sphoeroides testudineus) which contain tetrodotoxins, potent neurotoxins fully capable of pharmacologically inducing the zombi state.




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