Book #17 – Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie by Wade Davis
There was some reason, about two or three years ago, that research into Haitian zombies was important. Can’t remember now why, but it’s still an interesting subject and one that intrigued me before I got on a research kick. Davis seems to be "the" guy in this field. I watched The Serpent and the Rainbow ages ago and was fascinated by the concept that there might be a non-supernatural aspect to zombies; that they might actually exist and be a useful tool within a society. Unfortunately, the film goes rather stupidly supernatural at its end and undermines any credibility. Still, I was surprised to find that the film was based on a book. Or at least shared the same title as a book. I eventually tracked down that book, as well as this one both by Davis, through PaperbackSwap.
Several things that struck me about Davis’ research. He’s very conscientious about cataloging what’s in "zombie powder" and how it might be administered, but he seems to miss a few points that play into the behavioral aspect of zombie-dom. First, that even though someone might be able to survive a fairly nasty neurotoxin as well as being interred for a length of time, brain damage is probably likely to occur. That a zombie forgets his family, past, etc. shouldn’t be surprising. Second, Davis related the myth that salt can restore a zombie to his previous levels of cognition, breaking the spell, if you will, or at least enraging the monster. Despite not finding any reasonable explanation for why this should be, salt is nevertheless withheld from the zombie. Now, it is extremely unlikely that all salt is withheld. A man can’t live without salt. But let’s think about being denied extraneous salt and being made to work out doors in a hot humid atmosphere. I’ve been mildly dehydrated and probably suffered from slight hyponatremia while watching ultimate frisbee in Florida. About all I was inclined to do by the end of the afternoon was lay in a tent and listen to Renzo heckle. Withholding salt might just be a way of keeping a man pliable.
I’m also surprised that they (academia, historians, popular media, whomever) seemed to think that if zombies could be made, they were being made in a random fashion. Random fear-inducing behaviors really don’t go over well in societies. Davis does a good job of showing how the practice is tolerated within Vodoun and Haitian society. How such a seemingly strange and terrible practice can be an accepted part of a society is valuable to me as a world builder.