Fairy-Tale Files: Voodoo Zombies

Fairy-Tale Files

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.

A Haitian man being controlled by a voodoo priest in a ‘zombie-like state’

The first appearance of zombies began in Haiti (Haitian French: zombi, Haitian Creole: zonbi) with voodoo priests called bokors. These zombies were people brought back from the dead often with the purpose to be used as slave labor on sugarcane plantations. The bokors would blow a white powder neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin into their victims’ faces causing muscle paralysis, giving the priests control over their bodies. Unlike Western adaptations of zombies, where zombies are the result of a virus outbreak or a sign of the apocalypse, Haitian zombies are rooted in their serious faith in necromancy, where voodoo is part of their religion.

Illustration from The Magic Island

Though the term zombie was first introduced to the English language in 1819 by the poet Robert Southey, the author W.B. Seabrook is responsible for first bringing zombies into Western culture with his book The Magic Island (1929) where he recounts his visit to Haiti, and his experience with voodoo. This book is written as nonfiction, but was received skeptically because of Seabrook’s notorious alcoholism. Seabrook used the undead zombie to make social commentary about the mistreatment of Haitian workers in the sugar industry, as they were seen as mindless labor for these companies to profit off of.

A ‘walker’ (aka zombie) from AMC’s The Walking Dead

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) is said to be the turning point of zombie portrayal to the image we now associate with the name. This type of zombie is most accurately portrayed in a variety of films and TV shows like The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, World War Z, and Dawn of the Dead. They change from the Haitian brainless workers to our brain-eating monsters. In The Walking Dead the zombies are called walkers. But, (SPOILER ALERT) we learn in later seasons that everyone already carries the virus (gene? The cause of the outbreak hasn’t been revealed yet) and will turn into a zombie once they die, whether of natural causes or being bitten by a zombie.

This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by Ochre Issue contributor Gabrielle Williams.