The zombie, by modern interpretations, is a creature hell-bent on the consumption of their living counterparts. This semi-fictitious mongrel has become a significant cog of the entertainment industry. Everywhere I look there is a novel turned big-budget film vying for a piece of the consumer pie. What many of us do not know is that the story of the zombie has significant roots in a history that extend much further than any movie could ever dream of. The origins of the zombie can be traced to the Vodoun culture of Haiti and beyond into the deepest secrets of ancient Africa where curious new beliefs arose from the tragic consequences of slavery and abuse. While the fat-cats of Hollywood expect consumers to be entranced by their siren song, we must examine the place of the zombie in history and explore the dark mysteries of Haiti to learn about our own mindless consumption.
It only takes a quick glance to find an example of the zombie phenomenon in mainstream society. For instance, there is the wildly popular Walking Dead series on AMC, which follows a group of survivors after a zombie apocalypse. Each episode is a gritty, realistic, and gore-ridden roller-coaster ride that allows the viewer to envision a world unlike any other. At the end of our weekend watching people fight against a mindless horde has become something we find happiness in doing. American society is well acclimated to this type of zombie entertainment and we relish any opportunity to see an unrealistically lucky band of miscreants dish out salvation with bullets and blunt objects. However in Haiti the zombie is more than a fictitious entity, it is a real phenomenon. Through fear, manipulation, coercion, and slavery human beings became real-life zombies. This is where the cultural schism takes place, because for the people of Haiti the zombie is a tangible reality outside of the realm of couches and big screens.
When Wade Davis decided to investigate rumors of zombies in Haiti I doubt that he expected to find the results that he did. Stories of the rising dead originally sprouted behind the wave of foreign occupation throughout the early twentieth century. It was under the horrific shroud of forced labor that global industrial giants abused and allegedly drugged their workforce into a state of hypnotized compliance. Through the cultural aspects of Haiti and the prevalence of Voodoo beliefs these mindless workers helped create the foundation of the zombie. After doing extensive research on the folklore behind the zombie Davis came upon the intriguing neurotoxin tetrodotoxin, which can purportedly mimic the signs of death. He heard tales of people being buried alive and resurrected, only to suffer a fate far worse than death: working in slave-like conditions for sugar plantations across the region. Fact meets fiction in the rural villages of Haiti, culminating in a horror far greater than those dreamt up by the entertainment industry.