Zombies have taken on a whole new meaning throughout the last half a century. Movies such as Night of the Living Dead have given a whole new meaning to the term Zombie. Unlike many of the mythical creatures with their unnatural roots stemming from the Catholic Church, zombies originated in Haiti. The story behind zombies has to do with voodoo, a blend of Catholic beliefs and old tribal beliefs from the African slaves' homeland.

Voodoo drugs

   Voodoo priests, or houngans, drug unwitting people into a deep, trancelike unconciousness. The drugged person is believed dead by all - doctors included. After the person has been buried, the houngan digs up the coffin and removes the unconcious zombie. The houngan and his helpers are the only ones that know the person is alive.
   What happens is years down the road, a friend or family member might run into their old loved one and think it's his dead body roaming the earth again. Other times the zombie will come out of the trance and find his way home. They can awaken either by missing their drug-take, or by purposely or accidently being given a quantity of salt. Salt somehow acts as a counter-effect to the houngans zombie drug.
   Needless to say, when the person comes out of his trance after months or even years, there comes a story of revenge. Sometimes the houngan is killed or jailed and other times the now-woken zombie is the one silenced. Either way, the zombies are drugged and taken into captivity and used as slaves to the houngans.

One of the only encounters with zombies

   In John Godwin's Unsolved: The World of the Unknown, he tells of a French anthropologist, Georges de Rouquet, who went to Haiti in 1930. While there, he was able to observe four zombies. He is one of the few white men - or even all men, in fact - who have been able to witness them. The houngan did not allow de Rouquet to touch them, however. The following comes from his journal:

   Toward evening we encountered a group of four male figures coming from the nearby cotton field where they had been toiling. I was struck by their peculiar shambling gait, most unlike the lithe walk of other natives. The overseer with them stopped their progress, enabling me to observe them closely for some minutes. They were clothed in rags made from sacking. Their arms hung down by their sides, dangling in a curiously lifeless fashion. Their faces and hands appeared devoid of flesh, the skin adhering to the bones like wrinkled brown parchment. I also noticed that they did not sweat, although they had been working and the sun was still very hot. I was unable to judge even their approximate ages. They may have been young men or quite elderly. The most arresting feature about them was their gaze. They all stared straight ahead, their eyes dull and unfocused as if blind. They did not show a spark of awareness of my presence, even when I approached them closely. To test the reflexes of one I made a stabbing gesture toward his eyes with my pointed fingers. He did not blink or shrink back. But when I attempted to touch his hand the overseer prevented me, saying that this was not permitted.
   My immediate impression was that these creatures were imbeciles made to work for their keep. Baptiste, however assured me that they were indeed the zombies; that is dead persons resurrected by sorcery and employed as unpaid laborers.

Sometimes the zombies come back from the dead

   An interesting report of a zombie coming back from the dead is that of Clairvius Narcisse. This story was originally from the National Enquirer in 1982, but I found it in Reader's Digest's Mysteries of the Unexplained (1982).
   In 1962 he suddenly became sick. His sister took him to the hospital, where after some examination the doctor pulled the sheet over his head and signed the death certificate.
   Narcisse says, "I couldn't get enough air in my lungs. My heart was running out of strength. My stomach was burning. Then I felt myself freeze up. I heard the doctor tell my sister, 'I'm sorry he's dead.' I wanted to cry out, to tell her that I was alive, but I was unable to move."

Buried alive

   Friends and family came to say farewell and Narcisse lay there the entire time being able to hear everything said but unable to do or say anything about it. He heard the mourners at his funeral and the dirt falling on his coffin.
   He then remembers standing next to the coffin with his wrists tied while 2 men filled his grave back in. They took him to a farm where he became a slave working the fields with 100 other zombies.

The zombies wake up

   After about 2 years, the person in charge of administering the drugs failed to do so and many of the zombies woke up. They killed the overseer and all returned to where they came from. Narcisse believed it was his brother who sold him as a zombie slave so he waited until 1980 when he received word that his brother had died. He then returned to his hometown in L'Estere where he walked back into the lives of friends and family who had watched his burial 18 years earlier.

The truth about zombies

   As you can see, there's nothing unnatural about zombies. Again, they fall into the realm of the unknown which creates fear, wonder, doubt and all the usual stuff that revolves around these things. In turn, they become legendary beasts of movies who live off of "Braaaaiiinnnsss." In reality, they're just a form of slave labour and trading. Normal, innocent people are taken away and sold into slavery by the voodoo doctors and their helpers. Perhaps the drug is similar to the 'date-rape' drug, but I've never looked into that and don't think it really concerns me enough to bother.

   Update: It's been suggested that a certain kind of pufferfish is responsible for the druggings. Haven't seen the actual studies - just through hearsay as yet - so I won't elaborate, but just for the record, the pufferfish's poison could be the drug used.

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