Haitian folklore about Zombies: the Haiti’s living dead

When zombies appear in Haitian folklore, they are undead corpses that have been resurrected by supernatural methods, such as witchcraft. Although the notion has been commonly connected with the religion of voodoo, it has no place in the faith’s official activities and is thus not included.

Haiti is replete with stories of people who died, were buried, and then suddenly appeared after a while, becoming zombies. Children here grow up among such stories. Mothers don’t let them play with their shadows, and in case of bad behavior, they say that they will be carried away by the bokor.

In his book “The Invisibles Voodoo Gods In Haiti”, British anthropologist Francis Huxley writes: “In Port-au-Prince (the capital of Haiti) there are few people at all, even among the educated, who would not believe these sinister stories.” One such story was told to Huxley by a Catholic priest. In it, a zombie roamed the village and was eventually taken to the police station. But the police, frightened, did not want to keep the find and simply left it on the street. There he was discovered by his own aunt, who lived nearby. According to her, he died and was safely buried four years ago.

A priest was called, and the zombie revealed to him the name of the sorcerer who forced him to work. Valiant policemen sent a letter to the sorcerer with an urgent offer to take his zombie back. There was no answer, but two days later, he really died. Perhaps the sorcerer thus avenged the exposure.

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Another story was recorded by the American traveler Zora Kherson in 1938. Subsequently, she entered the classic Haitian folklore about Zombies – in Haiti, they still tell her about the stories of zombies.

Charming Maria, the beloved daughter of a rich man in the capital, died in 1929 at the age of 12. Five years after this sad event, former school friends noticed her in the window of one of the houses. The owner of the house flatly refused to give any explanation. The inconsolable father took up the matter, but the house was empty, neither the owners nor the girl could be found.

Bad rumors spread around the city. To dispel them, the authorities allowed the grave to be dug up. In the coffin lay a skeleton, too long for a child. Some details of the clothes in which the girl was buried were missing.

It was said that after the death of the sorcerer, the parents managed to ransom Mary and even take her to France. Her brother often visited her there.

But this story, according to the Haitians themselves, is not typical for zombies. The whole horror of their situation lies in the fact that no one can help them. Relatives, if they know something, are most often simply afraid.

The same Zora Hurston cites a story told by the mother of a dead boy. On the night after the funeral, his sister heard singing and noise in the street. Then she recognized her brother’s voice. The girl woke up the whole house. And the family, looking out of the window, saw a procession wandering down the street. In it was their son, buried the day before. With difficulty rearranging his legs, when he caught up with the house, everyone heard his crying. But none of the family, not even his parents, dared to go outside to help him. The procession was out of sight.

The skulls of Zombies
The skulls of Zombies

It’s hard to believe in horror stories about zombies. But Protestant and Catholic priests in Haiti and researchers who have arrived for scientific purposes tell stories that they do not doubt are true. The widows of sorcerers are sometimes brought to the missionaries of the creation, which they themselves buried, simply in order to get rid of them. And European scientists not only saw with their own eyes, but also photographed zombies.

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Are Haitian zombies true?

If you want, everything is possible! It turns out that zombies as a phenomenon exist. Another question is whether they are actually the walking dead.

A more plausible explanation is that the zombies never actually died. They are characterized by an absent expression, a downward gaze, a shuffling gait. They do not understand when they are spoken to, and their own speech is almost always meaningless. That is, there are all signs of mental inferiority. It’s possible that many of the zombies are just idiots, carefully hidden away by their families, pretending they’ve been dead for a long time. And then, many years later, they accidentally catch someone’s eye. So Alfred Metro, under the guise of a zombie, was shown an abnormal girl who had run away from home, where her parents usually kept her under lock and key.

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But what about witnesses who swear they saw dead zombies? And, moreover, they are remembered as mentally complete, cheerful people.

The old Haitian penal code has article 246, which states: “An attempt is the use of substances with which the object is immersed in a lethargic sleep, regardless of the purpose of the use of the substance and the consequences. If the subject is buried in a state of lethargic sleep, then the attempt becomes premeditated murder”.

It follows from this that the zombie can indeed be a person whom the relatives buried and mourned, and the Bokor removed from the grave. But he was buried alive, immersed in a trance. From which it may never come out.

In an interview with William Seabrook, a well-known Haitian doctor, Philippe-Felix Mentor, said that at least some of the zombies he had to deal with were victims of this kind of mistake, intentional or accidental. Obviously, Mr. Mentor admits, these substances destroy the part of the brain that controls will and speech.

A person can move, but is not able to formulate his thought. As for the method of preparation of this remedy, it is not possible to find out. Maybe it was taken out of Africa and passed down from generation to generation. It is a great secret, and the initiates would rather die than reveal it. To get the latest stories, install our app here

Today, voodoo is often used to attract tourists. Francis Huxley talks about a performance in which a Hungan (Voodoo priest) retrieves a dead man from a grave and reanimates him. In the grave, Huxley discovered a pipe through which air flowed. The “corpse” was simply an assistant to the Hungan, and was breathing calmly, waiting for the resurrection.

The ritual ceremony of Haitian zombies
The ritual ceremony of Haitian zombies. ©AP

Haitians, of course, are aware of these tourist shows. But most of them continue to believe in zombies, and the fear of joining their ranks is in the blood of these people. It is very likely that no one removes zombies from the graves, but simply with the help of special means, they are immersed in a state close to death.

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