The History of Zombies Essay

Submitted By narrehbutt
Words: 1849
Pages: 8

Historical depictions of conventional ‘zombies’ by modern media has, with increasing dominance, created a social evolution through their stereotypical representations, ignoring the traditional depictions of the Haitian zombis. In both modern and ancient times the portrayal of the ‘zombie’ as a mythological creature has greatly changed due to the different cultural needs and presenting horrors of a particular society. As it has grown to be one of the more omnipresent creatures in most modern popular culture, the zombie has since developed into a larger focus point in scholastic investigation, expanding out to symbolise and exemplify a wide range of occurrences. Despite this increasing cultural presence, zombies have brought with them an underlying sense of apprehension and horror that seems to possess a potent threat to the living world.

Throughout many different civilisations, ‘zombies’, as a cultural phenomena, have possessed different mythological aspects and social functions. Contrary to popular belief, the concept of zombies as malicious, flesh eating beings, is in fact a far cry from the, what is believed to be, original Haitian zombis, were they were in fact the victims. These re-animated corpses were controlled by magical means for specific reasons, which was generally manual labour (Relatively Interesting, 2012). As a result of this, those that were turned into the zombis were innocent, and have been brought back to life against their will. It is believed by a group of researchers at the Florida Museum of Natural History that Haitian zombis were;
“... someone who has annoyed his or her family or community to the degree that they can no longer stand to live with this person. They respond by hiring a Bokor to turn them into a zombi (e)” (, 1982)

This re-animation of the deceased was done by the Bokors, what are regarded as the Voodoo priests that had an affinity for black magic, through the administration of coup padre, a powerful powder which was riddled with the primary ingredient of which is Tetradotoxin (TTX), a deadly material of the poisonous ‘porcupine fish’ (, 1950). Once the coup padre has been ingested by the one going into the decent of zombification, they would obtain the appearance of death, where most bodily functions would slow almost to the point of stopping. They would then be buried by the family and then be exhumed by the Bokor and then their memory would be wiped, leaving them in a shell of a person, a mindless drone. As William Keegen, an archaeologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, has says; “...though still living, they remain under the Bokor’s power until the Bokor dies” (, 1982)

It was said that once a person was ‘zombified’ by a Bokor, they would work and ‘live’ until their natural deaths, or if they consume salt, which makes them become ‘spoiled’, which makes them then turn after their ‘master’;
“... made to work like a robot in the fields, on construction sites, in a bakery or a shop, [and] the zombi[e] may serve as a watchman, keep the books, steal crops or money from its master, or be rented out for or sold to others.” (Ackermann, 1991)

Commonly, in the Haitian social and political hierarchy, the re-animated corpses were used as a form of social management, the Bokors, the traditional witch doctors, were extensively viewed as being feared and respected (DNews, 2012). The Bokors were also referred to as being in the services of the Tonton Macoute, the dreaded and fierce ‘secret’ police that was used by an oppressive political regime. Those that resisted the authorities in any fashion were threatened with becoming one of the living dead, a concern that was not taken lightly within the Haitian culture (Relatively Interesting, 2012) .

Outside of places that have a prominent belief in Voodoo, zombies were widely regarded as being nothing more than a social custom, assumed to be much like the western ‘bogeyman’. This however…