Haitian stories tell of people ‘brought back to life’ by bokors, or sorcerers. They are considered slaves with no consciousness or self-awareness.
What Are They?
A zombie is a mute, will-less body that has been given the semblance of life by some supernatural force, usually for manual labor or some evil purpose. It is portrayed in popular culture as contagious, with the reanimated body spreading the infection to others, typically by bites. In some stories, the zombies are shown to have superhuman strength and speed, but they are generally mindless, shambling creatures.
There are a number of theories about the origin of zombies, but most scholars agree that they are based on West African and voodoo traditions. The word “zombie” itself derives from the Kongo language words nzambi (god) and zumbi (fetish). The meaning of the combination is “fetish god.” The word zombie is also associated with the fetish practice of nzambi mpungu, in which people are used as a vehicle for a divine spirit.
According to folklore, bokors, or witch doctors, can reanimate a corpse by placing a spiritual item in the body, such as a tooth, hair, or nail, and then putting the dead person back into their coffin. The bokor then chants magic spells to give the reanimated body the qualities of a zombie, including the ability to walk without shambling and to eat human flesh.
The reanimated zombies are controlled by the bokor and have no choice but to carry out his or her wishes. They are sometimes described as having no emotions or feelings, but there are also some tales in which zombies exhibit a degree of empathy.
In modern fiction, zombies are most often depicted as violent hordes that are out to devour or destroy the living. They can be repelled by certain weapons, such as fire, a bullet, or a crossbow bolt, but they cannot be killed by a normal weapon, such as a gun.
In the real world, it is very unlikely that anyone will ever be turned into a zombie. However, it is possible that a virus could cause a zombie epidemic in the future. Scientists are already concerned about what may happen if the Arctic permafrost thaws, releasing organic material that includes million-year-old viruses. If these viruses survive and find a host, they could multiply and create a plague.
What Do They Do?
Zombies are known for their clumsy, slow movement and insatiable appetite. Their hunger for human flesh is fueled by a chemical in the brain called adrenaline, which triggers a rage-like response. As a result, zombies are often depicted as violent cannibals, but they also rely on their sense of smell and touch to locate prey. Because a zombie’s impulse and drive come from their brain, it’s often believed that cutting off the head or otherwise destroying their connection to the mind will stop them.
Bites and scratches are the most common injuries inflicted by zombies, but lacerations and blunt trauma are equally possible. Bites, however, are usually fatal and will lead to zombification. When attacking a victim, zombies will try to grab them with their teeth and claws. The victim will have no choice but to fight back, which will most likely result in more bites and scratches.
The hordes of undead have become a staple in Hollywood movies. As early as the 1920s, films like White Zombie and Frankenstein brought zombies into the public consciousness. In the 1960s, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead gave them a cult following. The 1980s saw few zombie films, though 1985’s Re-Animator, based on the Lovecraft story, was a success.
In reality, people do turn into zombies, but it’s usually the result of an illness or accident. For example, if someone has meningitis, they may develop zombie-like symptoms of confusion, a lack of energy, a loss of appetite and hallucinations. Meningitis is caused by an infection of the area surrounding the brain and spinal cord called the meninges. It can also be spread through blood-to-blood contact and can cause a potentially deadly condition called necrotizing fasciitis, which eats away at the muscles and skin beneath the surface of the body.
It’s not entirely clear why zombies have become so popular in modern culture, but the emergence of social media and the increase in global travel and immigration may play a role. Stanford literary scholar Angela Becerra Vidergar notes that mankind’s perception of violence took a dramatic turn after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, which may have led to an obsession with stories about mass destruction and apocalypses.
Zombies are undead creatures that eat brains and typically have no soul or conscience. Often portrayed as strong, rotting bodies that shuffle around and grunt in place, they have gained popularity as a horror-film staple because they can be manipulated into performing simple tasks, such as walking to their doom or devouring their prey. Unlike many fictional monsters, zombies actually have some roots in religion and superstition. The word was first used to describe reanimated corpses in Haiti, where the Voodoo religion originated from slaves’ African traditions and harsh conditions.
The term was later popularized in the US after the publication of a book by the travel writer William Seabrook in 1929, titled The Magic Island. Seabrook was a self-proclaimed negrophile, who embraced primitivism as an escape from his privileged Southern upbringing. He danced with whirling dervishes in Arabia and tried to join a cannibal cult in West Africa before arriving in Haiti, where he wrote about seeing zombies working the sugar plantations. The book shaped the modern understanding of zombies as slave-like corpses that obey orders from a Voodoo master.
Despite their widespread popularity, a number of scientific experts reject the idea of zombies as a result of Voodoo. Wade Davis, in his controversial 2010 book The Serpent and the Rainbow, proposed a different theory. He suggested that the reanimated Haitian man, Clairvius Narcisse, was not a zombie but a zombi astral. Davis proposed that the bokor, who revived Narcisse, administered drugs and hallucinogens to him. This altered his consciousness and caused him to behave like a zombie, but it did not remove his memory or personality.
Similarly, in the newer literature on zombies, the reanimation is usually the result of medical science gone bad. For example, the recent novel Feed postulates that a hybrid virus of a vaccine for cancer and one for the common cold combines with mammalian genes to transform living humans into zombies. The zombie phenotype is then transferred to other humans via bites. Other authors have proposed that viruses that reduce the mental capacity of humans can also create a zombie phenotype.
Chances are that if you’ve consumed any kind of media, you will have encountered zombies in some form or another. From books, comics and movies to games and television, zombies have been around for a long time and seem to be here to stay. But just what are the different kinds of zombies? Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of zombies you will encounter in popular media.
Walkers: Walkers are the type of zombie most people picture when they think of a zombie. They are typically slow moving and will wander aimlessly until they see or smell brains to eat. They are incredibly durable and can withstand a lot of punishment before dying. Walkers are often the most dangerous zombies as they can quickly herd together and will attack any survivors they encounter.
Stalkers: Stalkers, also known as Ferals, are a lethal class of zombies that embody the zombie’s predatory instincts to a chilling degree. These agile undead creatures have been seen stalking and ambushing unsuspecting survivors with ruthless efficiency. Their heightened sense of predatory behavior gives them the unnerving ability to crawl on walls and ceilings, making them challenging to hit with ballistic weapons. They also have a tendency to grow sharp claws and fangs and have been known to exhibit bestial-like behavior.
Vomiters: Vomiters, also known as Pukers, are a deadly subtype of zombie that is able to spew their stomach contents at a survivor with enough power. These zombies are typically overweight, which increases the force of their vomiting and allows them to build up pressure in their stomachs until they erupt. These types of zombies are a danger as they are essentially walking disease lockers that can spray a survivor with rotting flesh, disease-carrying insects, or even acid.
Exploders: These are a unique subtype of zombie that is capable of detonating at will. Similar to a Spitter, these zombies are able to build up explosive pressure in their stomachs until they explode at the first sign of trouble. This can be done through direct contact or close proximity and will typically squirt a zombie with a potent mix of guts, diseases, and other harmful liquids.