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47. The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie

47. The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie

Wade Davis is the “father” of Haitian Zombie research. I use this term loosely because since his trip to Haiti in the 80s and the publishing of his two books on the matter, The Serpent and the Rainbow and Passage of Darkness there probably isn’t a single more widely criticized researcher in the field.

Criticisms against him range from aggravation at the sheer arrogance of his first book, which colors him as an intrepid explorer, pulling back the shadows on Haitian occultism to outcries against his credibility, calling him to task for paying the Bokor for the Zombie powders he tested in order to prove his research. That being said, while there is still a huge number of unanswered questions implied in Wade’s research, he does present a fantastic and plausible story about how social, psychological and pharmaceutical factors can co-mingle to create “zombies.”

The core of Wade’s claims, as stated by Bob Corbett in his 1990 review of Davis’ work goes like this,

* there are zombies
* however, there are actually very very few of them
* they are created in part by a poisoned powder
* however, they are created in part by the effects of the culture
* zombies are created when a person first falls into a death-like trance which is both drug and culturally induced
* then is revived and kept under the control of the houngan by the use of other drugs
* zombies are created by Voodoo priests who are members of the Bizango secret societies
* Bizango societies constitute a totally secret and hidden other government beneath the surface of Haitian society
* zombification is not random nor for profit or personal vendetta
* zombification is the ultimate punishment to someone who has seriously violated the law of the Bizango society

Considering the substantial criticisms we have heard cast against Wade Davis, it’s worth looking at his journey from the perspective of someone who says his research deserves merit. It might also be worth it to get a glimpse of the philosophy that guides his research, philosophy you can see through this 2003 TED talk.

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