Wednesday, October 26, 2016


   According to Merriam Webster, the word 'zombie' was first used in 1871, being a Haitian Creole word. The Oxford English Dictionary says the word's first appearance in English was in 1819. The word is believed to come from the African countries of West Africa. Africans slaves brought their various religious traditions to Haiti where they were fused with Catholicism, creating the hybrid religion, Voodoo (or Vaudou).
   It is believed that the word 'zombie' or 'zonbi' comes from the African words 'zumbi' and/or 'nzambi.' Zumbi means 'fetish' and nzambi is Kikongo for 'god.' Nzambi was apparently a very important god because when European missionaries introduced Christian ideas to the African people they chose the word to represent God. That's what wikipedia says, anyway...although their source sounds very reliable: Thornton, John K. "The Development of an African Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1491-1750," Journal of African History 25 (1984). However, according to 'nzambi' is Kongo for 'spirit of a dead person.'
   In Haiti and Martinique the word 'zombie' was a term for 'spirit' or 'ghost.' When, exactly, this word began to mean a soulless body raised and controlled by a bokor (witch doctor or priest of voodoo), I was unable to ascertain.

   The Haitians believed that there were two parts of a human soul, the 'gro bonanj' (big guardian angel) was the consiousness and personality. The 'ti bonanj' (little guardian angel) was the conscience and will. The Bokor made a special poison that induced a death-like state and the victim was buried alive. The Bokor then dug up the body and stole the ti bonanj. So the zombie wasn't technically dead, but had half of their soul stolen, the part that gave them a conscience and free will.(
   I read in a book on superstition once (sadly, I can remember neither the title nor the author of the work) that this was an actual practice. The witch doctor drugged people, they were assumed dead and buried alive. Then the witch doctor dug them up and sold them into slavery as undead zombies. After cutting out their tongues, of course, so they couldn't set the record straight.
   Also, the Bokors could apparently separate either or possibly both of a persons souls from their bodies, usually in bottles and use them for his own magical purposes or sell them. These were called 'zombie astrals.'
   Wikipedia says that Haitians believed that Baron Samedi, their voodoo god would raise them from their graves to an afterlife in a heavenly version of Africa. But those who had displeased Baron Samedi (Samedi is French for Saturday) would become zombies after death, eternal slaves.
   Supposedly, the creation of zombies was even illegal in Haiti, written into the law in 1864.
an ink drawing of ambulating cadavers by me


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