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Voodoo (Vodou) Zombies of Haiti

William B. Seabrook published a book in 1929 called The Magic Island in which he describes his experiences on the island of Haiti…including his encounter with a zombie, which he describes as follows:

“The eyes were the worst. It was not my imagination. They were in truth like the eyes of a dead man, not blind, but staring, unfocused, unseeing.
The whole face, for that matter, was bad enough. It was vacant, as if there was nothing behind it. It seemed not only expressionless, but incapable of expression.”

The zombie described above was once a normal human being. He was once a son, maybe a husband, perhaps a father or a brother…until he fell into the hands of a “bokor,” which is an evil voodoo priest.

Zombies are made into the living dead through a bokor’s potion and, perhaps an accompanying spell. The bokor makes the zombie his slave by taking his or her life, and then bringing the individual back from the dead - usually with no memory of a past. The bokor is also said to maintain control of a part of the zombie’s soul, which increases the bokor’s power.

There are reports of some zombies regaining a part of their mind upon coming into contact with situations with which they were strongly connected to in their lives.

The dictator of Haiti from 1957 to 1971, Papa Doc Duvallier, is said to have a private army of these zombies. He also had his own voodoo church.

Sometimes relatives are surprised by the appearance of a loved one many years after the person had died!

One young student returned to his parents’ home many months after having been shot in a burglary. The young man talked about “a voodoo witch doctor stealing his body from the ambulance before he reached hospital and his transformation into a zombie.” He soon became “unable to communicate, grew more lethargic, and died.”

Stephen Bonsal, a writer visiting Haiti in 1912, saw a man dead and buried at his funeral. A few days later, he witnessed the man “dressed in grave clothes, tied to a tree, moaning.”

In 1985, Ethno botanist and Researcher Wade Davis published a book about his visit to Haiti to research zombies, specifically a zombie by the name of Clairvius Narcisse.

Clairvius was said to have been poisoned by a mixture of toxins by his brother. They had evidently fought over land. He was buried on May 2, 1962. His body was stolen, and a paste of datura (a type of plant belonging to the same classification as nightshade, henbane, and mandrake) and tetrodotoxin (a neurotoxin derived from puffer fish and several other species of fish) was given to Narcisse. The bokor responsible for committing these atrocities forced him and other zombie slaves to work his sugar plantation until the bokor’s death in 1980.

Wade Davis wrote about the story in his book The Serpent and the Rainbow, made into a movie (not approved by Davis) in 1988.


Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow, U.S.: Simon & Schuster, 1985.
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Content copyright © 2018 by Deena Budd. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Deena Budd. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Deena Budd for details.


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