By Jimena Terrazas (Mexico ’15)
In modern times, zombies have become a popular theme for American horror movies; dead bodies covered in blood, usually animated by a virus, coming back from the dead to eat people. We are all used to these kind of movies, but these bizarre and sometimes nasty stories have their origin in a really interesting and antique tradition from Haiti and the Western part of Africa.
Western Africans believe that a body might be brought back to life by means of Voodoo. A bokor or sorcerer will capture its soul in a small bottle and use the body for evil purposes. According to the popular African legend, a zombie might be stopped by feeding it salt.
When African slaves were taken to America, they took their traditions and their culture with them, and this is how the belief in zombies immigrated to Haiti, where it became very famous.
In the beginning of the 19th century, anthropologists and doctors traveled to Haiti to find out the secret of the zombie dust, a drug that would make people get into a cataleptic trance (reducing their vital signs to the minimum) and then come back to life normally. Wade Davis, an ethnobotanist, came up with a theory about this powerful substance. He wrote two books: The Serpent and the Rainbow (which years later would become a famous movie) and The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie.
After his investigation, Davis discovered that the zombie dust was made of tetrodoxin (a fatal neurotoxin found in the skin of the pufferfish), datura (hallugicens), and grounded dead babies’ brains. The first two substances would lower the body’s functions and then return them to normal. The scientific community discarded Davis’ theory and attributed this strange phenomena to schizophrenia and popular belief.
During the dictatorship of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, the Militia of National Security, better known as Tonton Macoutes (which means bogeymen), took advantage of this zombie dust to scare the Haitian population. These corrupt and mischievous people were the voodoo leaders in Haiti as well, and beside murdering and raping people, they would also perform witchcraft with their…