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Friday, December 21, 2012

The Truth About Zombies

We've all read books or seen movies that featured zombies - those "undead" who still roam the earth, looking like dead relatives or friends but who appear to be merely shells of their former selves. Have you ever wondered how the concept of zombies got started and whether it was rooted in fact?

One theory centers in Haiti, one of the zombie capitals of the world.

The story goes that plantation owners needed servants to work their fields. Slaves, of course, cost them no wages but they were in short supply. The discovery that a mere drop from poisonous fish (such as the puffer) could reduce a heartbeat so it was undetectable was seen as an answer to their problem.

They selected their victims and slipped the poison into their drink or food. Within minutes, they appeared to have had a stroke or a heart attack and shortly after, there were no signs of life. Before the age of embalming, the deceased would have been wrapped in material and buried within a day of their death. So the funeral was held, the bodies buried...

And after dark, the plantation owner would send men to dig up the body and bring it to him.

The person would be drugged (creating a zombie-like appearance and personality) and would be told they were dead and had moved into the netherworld. They were told throughout eternity, they would serve the plantation owner.

A young woman who had been poisoned, buried, dug up and drugged eventually escaped and made her way back to her village. The residents there did not believe she was actually still alive; being a suspicious people, they determined that she was "undead." Other victims suffered similar fates. They could not go home because their people were spooked by their appearance. So they lived out their days in a drug-induced stupor serving at the pleasure of the plantation owner.

Have you heard any similar stories? Can you think of any books or movies that carried this premise into fictional accounts?

It is often a true story that stimulates the imagination of authors, immortalizing something that might have otherwise been lost to history...