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30. Wade Davis and the Controversy Over Zombies

30. Wade Davis and the Controversy Over Zombies

We are now going to take a detour back to Haiti and explore the case of Wade Davis. Davis is an anthropologist who went to Haiti in the early 1980s to try to uncover the secrets of the Haitian Zombie. What he discovered is what is now commonly referred to as “Zombie Powder.” It is the tool that the Bokor use to transform human beings into Zombies. While different Bokor have different formulas, the one thing they all have in common is tetrodotoxin, a poison that comes from pufferfish that has the ability to induce lethargy, immobility and in many cases death.

Davis concluded that the Haitian Zombie was created by bringing a human being so close to death that they would be declared dead. Very soon after burial, the Bokor would then dig up their bodies and the disoriented, brain-damaged victim would be sent to work as a slave.

There is question, however, as to the legitimacy of Davis’ research as pointed out in this article of How Stuff Works. Scientists have:

Questioned Davis’s ethics, since he observed the desecration of graves when gathering ingredients for the powder

Questioned whether the initial experiments with the powder were scientific or controlled and whether other substances had been added to the powder being tested

Alleged that samples of powder contained little to no tetrodotoxin. Davis counters that putting the powder into solution for testing may have destroyed the active ingredients

Revealed that Davis repeated his topical applications of the powder using rats and saw absolutely no effect

Studied several alleged zombies and discovered clear cases of mental illness and mistaken identity

While there is reason to believe that Davis’ research was not perfect, the tetrodotoxin link does give us a clue to how zombification claims have played such a powerful role in Haitian history (watch the video above), and it also gives you another reason to avoid the pufferfish.

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