Zombie

Zombie

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A group of actors portraying zombies.

A group of actors portraying zombies.

A zombie is a reanimated corpse. Stories of zombies originated in the Afro-Caribbean spiritual belief system of Vodou, which told of the dead being raised as workers by a powerful sorcerer. In modern horror fiction, zombies are generally undead corpses brought back from the dead by supernatural or scientific means, and are rarely under anyone’s direct control. They typically have very limited intelligence, and hunger for the flesh of the living.

There are several possible etymologies of the word zombie. One possible origin is jumbie, the West Indian term for “ghost”.[1] Another is nzambi, the Kongo word meaning “spirit of a dead person.”[1] According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, the etymology is from the Louisiana Creole or Haitian Creole zonbi, of Bantu origin.[2] A zonbi is a person who is believed to have died and been brought back to life without speech or free will.[3] It is akin to the Kimbundu nzúmbe ghost. These words are approximately from 1871.[2]

Contents

  • 1 Voodoo
  • 2 Folklore
  • 3 Popular culture
  • 4 Philosophy
  • 5 Social activism
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links

Voodoo

A Haitian zombie at twilight in a field of sugar cane.

A Haitian zombie at twilight in a field of sugar cane.

According to the tenets of Voodoo, a dead person can be revived by a bokor or Voodoo sorcerer. Zombies remain under the control of the bokor since they have no will of their own. “Zombi” is also another name of the Voodoo snake god Damballah Wedo, of Niger-Congo origin; it is akin to the Kongo word nzambi, which means “god”. There also exists within the voudon tradition the zombi astral which is a human soul that is captured by a bokor and used to enhance the bokor’s power.

In 1937, while researching folklore in Haiti, Zora Neale Hurston encountered the case of Felicia Felix-Mentor, who had died and been buried in 1907 at the age of 29. Hurston pursued rumors that the affected persons were given powerful drugs, but she was unable to locate individuals willing to offer much information. She wrote:

“What is more, if science ever gets to the bottom of Voodoo in Haiti and Africa, it will be found that some important medical secrets, still unknown to medical science, give it its power, rather than gestures of ceremony.” [4]

Several decades later, Wade Davis, a Canadian ethnobotanist, presented a pharmacological case for zombies in two books, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) and Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie (1988). Davis traveled to Haiti in 1982 and, as a result of his investigations, claimed that a living person can be turned into a zombie by two special powders being entered into the blood stream (usually via a wound). The first, coup de poudre (French: ‘powder strike’), induced a ‘death-like’ state because of tetrodotoxin (TTX), its key ingredient. Tetrodotoxin is the same lethal toxin found in the Japanese delicacy fugu, or pufferfish. At near-lethal doses (LD50= 5-8µg/kg)[5], it can leave a person in a state of near-death for several days, while the person continues to be conscious. The second powder, composed of dissociatives like datura, put the person in a zombie-like state where they seem to have no will of their own. Davis also popularized the story of Clairvius Narcisse, who was claimed to have succumbed to this practice. There remains considerable skepticism about Davis’s claims,[6] although there is wide belief among the Haitian people of the existence of the “zombie drug”. The Voodoon religion being somewhat secretive in its practices and codes, it can be very difficult for a foreign scientist to validate or invalidate such claims.

Others have discussed the contribution of the victim’s own belief system, possibly leading to compliance with the attacker’s will, causing psychogenic (“quasi-hysterical”) amnesia, catatonia, or other psychological disorders, which are later misinterpreted as a return from the dead. Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing further highlighted the link between social and cultural expectations and compulsion, in the context of schizophrenia and other mental illness, suggesting that schizogenesis may account for some of the psychological aspects of zombification.

See also: History of Haiti

Folklore

In the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed that the souls of the dead could return to earth and haunt the living. The belief in revenants (someone who has returned from the dead) is well documented by contemporary European writers of the time, such as William of Newburgh and Walter Map. According to the Encyclopedia of Things that Never Were[7], particularly in France during the Middle Ages, the revenant rises from the dead usually to avenge some crime committed against the entity, most likely a murder. The revenant usually took on the form of an emaciated corpse or skeletal human figure, and wandered around graveyards at night. The “draugr” of medieval Norse mythology were also believed to be the corpses of warriors returned from the dead to attack the living. The zombie appears in several other cultures worldwide, including China, Japan, the Pacific, India, and the Native Americans.

The Epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Sumer includes a mention of zombies. Ishtar, in the fury of vengeance says:

Father give me the Bull of Heaven,
So he can kill Gilgamesh in his dwelling.
If you do not give me the Bull of Heaven,
I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
I will smash the doorposts, and leave the doors flat down,
and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
And the dead will outnumber the living![8]

Popular culture

Modern zombies, as portrayed in books, films, games, and haunted attractions, are quite different from both voodoo zombies and those of folklore. Modern zombies are typically depicted in popular culture as mindless, unfeeling monsters with a hunger for human flesh, a prototype established in the seminal 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Typically, these creatures can sustain damage far beyond that of a normal, living human and can pass whatever syndrome that causes their condition onto others.

Usually, zombies are not thralls to masters, as in White Zombie or the spirit-cult myths. Rather, modern zombies come in mobs and waves, seeking either flesh to eat or people to kill or infect. Typically, they show signs of physical decomposition such as rotting flesh, discolored eyes, and open wounds, and move with a slow, shambling gait. They are generally incapable of communication, showing no signs of personality or rationality.

Modern zombies are closely tied to the idea of a zombie apocalypse, the collapse of civilization caused by a vast plague of undead. The ideas are now so strongly linked that zombies are rarely depicted within any other context.

There are still significant differences among the depictions of zombies by various media; for one comparison see the contrasts between zombies by Night of the Living Dead authors George A. Romero and John A. Russo as they evolved in the two separate film series that followed.

Philosophy

Main article: Philosophical zombie

In philosophy of mind, zombies are hypothetical persons who lack full consciousness but have the biology or behavior of a normal human being; thought experiments involving them are often used as arguments against the identity of the mind and the brain. The term was coined by philosopher of mind David Chalmers. They are referred to as philosophical zombies or “p-zombies”. [9]

Social activism

Main article: Zombie walk
A participant in a Zombie Walk event in Calgary, Canada.

A participant in a Zombie Walk event in Calgary, Canada.

Some zombie fans continue the George A. Romero tradition of using zombies as a social commentary. Organized zombie walks, which are primarily promoted through word of mouth, are regularly staged in some countries. Usually they are arranged as a sort of surrealist performance art but they are occasionally put on as part of a unique political protest.[10]

The world’s largest zombie walk was held on October 29, 2006 in Monroeville Mall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the setting of Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead film. The walk consisted of 894 attendees who all were instructed to bring canned food for a local food drive. [11]

Other organizations such as Zombie Squad use the genre as a way to promote disaster preparedness and to encourage horror fans to become involved in their community, through volunteering or hosting zombie themed charity fundraisers.

References

  1. ^ a b http://science.howstuffworks.com/zombie.htm
  2. ^ a b http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/zombie
  3. ^ http://www.wordcentral.com/cgi-bin/student?zombie
  4. ^ Gallaher, Tim (1997). Zora Neale Hurston, American Author
  5. ^ See tetrodotoxin
  6. ^ http://news.softpedia.com/news/to-Turn-Zombie-44339.shtml
  7. ^ Michael Page and Robert Ingpen : Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were: Creatures, Places, and People, 1987. ISBN 0-14-010008-3
  8. ^ Kovacs, Maureen Gallery, transl. with intro. (1985,1989). The Epic of Gilgamesh. Stanford University Press: Stanford, California. ISBN 0-8047-1711-7. Glossary, Appendices, Appendix (Chapter XII=Tablet XII). A line-by-line translation (Chapters I-XI).}}
  9. ^ Chalmers, David. 1995. “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness”, Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 200-219
  10. ^ Shopping Spree of the Dead!. Retrieved on 2007-02-26.
  11. ^ Donaldson, Bob, and Roberts, Larry. A walk with zombies, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. October 30, 2006.

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