Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


I'm not necessarily sure where to believe the real story lies in all this, but this lengthy article on zombies in Haiti is fascinating.
About a month after I arrived in Jérémie, a rumor swept through town that a deadly zombie was on the loose. This zombie, it was said, could kill by touch alone. The story had enough authority that schools closed. The head of the local secret society responsible for the management of the zombie population was asked to investigate. Later that week, Monsieur Roswald Val, having conducted a presumably thorough inquiry, made an announcement on Radio Lambi: There was nothing to fear; all his zombies were accounted for.

Shortly after that incident, I started taking Creole lessons from a motorcycle-taxi driver named Lucner Delzor. Delzor was married with four children, but he kept a mistress on the other side of town. He told me that he had never so much as drunk a glass of water at his mistress’s house for fear she might lace his food with love powder. He loved his wife and children far too much to risk that.

One of my first complete sentences in Creole was “Gen vréman vre zonbi an Ayiti?” Or: “Are there really, truly zombies in Haiti?”

“Bien sûr,” Delzor said. He had even seen them: affectless men and women with a deathlike pallor, high nasal voices, and the characteristic drooping at the chin — men and women who he knew for a fact had died and been buried.

“Ayiti, se repiblik zonbi,” Delzor added. Haiti is the republic of zombies.

I was eager to meet a zombie for myself, and began making appropriate inquiries. Several weeks later, my wife came home from a judicial conference. Making small talk, a local judicial official mentioned the strange case of zombification that his courtroom had seen not several months before. The case was, he said, “un peu spectaculaire.”

I met Judge Isaac Etienne a week or so later at his unfinished concrete house in the village of Roseaux. Roseaux is on the sea, and the fishermen, their nets already in, were stretched out on the small grassy town square, drinking rum and playing dominoes under a dazzling midmorning sun. The judge was a boyish-looking man of 42, slender, wearing baggy surfer shorts, flip-flops, and a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt.

The dossier was, at bottom, a murder story, the judge said — but it was a murder story with the great oddity that the victim did not die.

If one accepts the author's theory, this might be an interesting example of a situation in which both practictioners and victims of "magic" believe that real sorcery is being performed, while there remains a natural (though weird) explanation for the whole thing. Or could could go to either positing real sorcery or writing the whole thing up to hysteria amoung a poor and uneducated population.


RL said...

...or writing the whole thing up to hysteria amoung a poor and uneducated population.

Nope, I work with a fairly affluent and educated population and can attest that there zombies among the ranks. The only difference is that while these zombies have the usual characteristics of being unaffected by reason or personal interaction, they're even unresponsive to a sharp blow to the head. Scary stuff..

Anonymous said...

Doesn't zombification have something to do with tetrodotoxin?

CMinor said...

I posted a link in '06 to a scholarly paper by a physicist named Costas Efthimiou debunking zombies and vampires. He debunked the vampires mathematically--vampirism is basically a pyramid scheme: you bite two friends, and they bite two friends, and pretty soon everybody's received multiple copies of the chain letter and is out of friends.

Unfortunately the link has evaporated and I can't seem to find the paper anywhere. Here's
an article from about the same time.

I'm sure there are other articles on "zombification" out there; it seems it's garnered enough attention lately to have spawned a (really, bad, I hear) Pride and Prejudice parody.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

CMinor, I saw that paper. Unfortunately, Mr. Efthimiou shows a profound ignorance of vampirology. You don't become a vampire just because a vampire bites you. You have to drink the blood of a vampire first, and obviously they don't let people do that very often.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

What I found most fascinating is the idea of appropriate documentation for possession and transport of a zombie. When bureaucracy and sorcery mix, things get strange. That to me is one of the pieces of data that seems most improbable and thus somehow makes the story seem more plausible.

CMinor said...

Oh, gee--my ignorance of vampirology is exposed! That's what happens when you get your info from Stephenie Meyer, I guess.

c matt said...

Do you need a permit to have a zombie? Do zombies pay taxes? Does someone "own" a zombie? Can a zombie own a zombie? Do zombies die? If they do, do they have wills? What happens to the will of a person who dies and later becomes a zombie? If you own a zombie, can you claim them as a dependent on your return? When is a zombie's birthday? What do you feed a zombie?

Just some practical questions that come to mind.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

Cmatt, to answer your questions: No, no, possibly, no, yes if you shoot them in the head, no, he rampages through the land searching for brains, only in Kansas, no one cares, and brains.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I see now that I have misread Cmatt's seventh question. Mea culpa.

The answer depends on whether or not the zombie apocalypse has occurred. If not, then the will is executed normally. If the zombie apocalypse has occurred, then of course all bets are off.