Mystery world Haiti and zombies
Zombies, the walking dead, reanimated corpses are found deep at the bottom of Mori's uncanny valley: though still human in form, they are no longer connected to us by life, and they breach our deepest taboos;
cannibalism, grave desecration, the strict separation of life and death. Zombies have bacome familiar through horror films of the last century. It may first seem that history has little connection to our fictional flesh-eating friends, but they have complex origins. Africans say the word comes from the Kongo word for "soul", nzambi. When slaves were brought to Haiti and the Vodou religion grew, the idea of the zombi was born.
It is estimated that 80-90% of Haitians serve the spirits or practice Voodoo. In Vodou, all people die in two ways; naturally (sickness, gods will) and unnaturally (murder, before their time); those who die unnaturally linger at their grave, unable to rejoin ancestors until the gods approve. Souls are vulnerable at this time: their will may be snatched up by a powerful sorcerer (boko) and locked in a bottle which the boko uses to control their un-dead but un-living body. Other times he lets their body rest but uses just the soul. Under the right circumstances, a hardworking man might prefer to continue working rather than lie waiting in the ground, especially if he is used by the boko to help with healing magic.
More unsavory boko, though, could purposely kill a man to make a zombie, then force him into mindless toil or worse, black magic and evil intentions. Zombies and boko are found only on the fringes of the Vodou religion, belonging to the realm of secret societies, not the everyday praising of the gods (lwa). The boko's power to make zombies is used more often as a threat to maintain social order; only rarely will he actually go through with the act of catching a soul. The stories are told with laughter as much as with seriousness, and the zombie remains a potent image in the rural folktales and philosophical discussions of Haiti today.
Haitians are very sensitive to the stereotypes associated with Vodou, scholars rarely explore the still very present zombie image in Haitian culture, and so we get little information from reliable sources (leaving horror films to replace facts). Those who do breach the topic are not treated seriously and are sometimes accused of racism; other scholars ignore their (to them) obviously unworthy research. The most well-known researcher to explore the Haitian zonbi is Wade Davis, an ethnobotanist: the horror film The Serpent & the Rainbow is taken from his book of the same name.
There seems reason to believe from work and research done in the past that there may possibly be a concrete, scientific basis for stories of zombies, so perhaps time will tell. For now these mysterious creatures lurk along the fringes of Haitian villages and our imaginations. Whether drug addled slaves or corpses reanimated through dark sorcery, the enigma of the real zombies of Haiti beckons us. Perhaps one day we will bring them out into the light and have the answers we seek.