Friday, June 26, 2009


The centre of the zombie world is the island of Hispaniola, in the West Indies. Many peasant workers there believe that evil sorcerers called bokors have the power to bring their dead loved-ones back to life as unthinking puppets. The bokors are then said to use these unfortunates as their slaves. It is true that this Caribbean idea of zombies does exist, and that zombies can be found regularly walking the streets of the islands. Some people know members of their family or friends who have been turned into zombies, and as a precaution many poor peasant workers place heavy stone tablets on top of their loved-ones’ coffins to stop bokors snatching the bodies.

The reality is truly frightening, although it does not involve otherworldly powers. Psychiatric experts agree that the people identified as zombies by Haitian folk do have problems and suffer from a variety of serious mental health disorders. Some commentators have suggested that the idea of zombies was the way in which Haitian culture could explain these naturally unwell people. Others think it is something much more sinister. It is believed that by using natural, native resources, Haitian bokors can actually induce these mental illnesses.

Using a chemical called tetrodotoxin, a nerve agent found in puffer fish, the bokor’s victim can be afflicted with a deep paralysis. The victim’s family thinks he or she is dead, and so they are buried. The lack of oxygen in the coffin contributes to brain damage, and when the bokor comes to steal the body, the victim is revived using a substance called datura stramonium, or ‘zombie cucumber’, which is also a mind-control drug. Other poisons, like that found in a local cane toad, can be extracted and will act as hallucinogens and anaesthetics on the unfortunate victims. It keeps them in a permanent state of trance, appearing impervious to physical pain, and acts as a warning to other islanders to be wary of the power of bokors.

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