Okay, now for Part II of our three-part series on Zombie History!
Last week in “Zombie History: Part I,” we introduced Wade Davis, the Harvard ethnobotanist who 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).
Zombie History with Dr. Wade Davis
Davis traveled to Haiti (map) in 1982 and, as a result of his investigations, claimed that a living person can be turned into a zombie through two special powders being introduced into the blood stream (usually via a wound). The first, coup de poudre (French: “powder strike”), includes tetrodotoxin (TTX), a powerful and frequently fatal neurotoxin found in the flesh of the pufferfish (order Tetraodontidae). The second powder consists of dissociative drugs such as datura. Together, these powders were said to induce a death-like state in which the will of the victim would be entirely subjected to that of the bokor.
Davis also popularized the story of Clairvius Narcisse, who was claimed to have succumbed to this practice.
The process described by Davis was an initial state of death-like suspended animation, followed by re-awakening — typically after being buried — into a psychotic state. The psychosis induced by the drug and psychological trauma was hypothesised by Davis to re-inforce culturally-learned beliefs and to cause the individual to reconstruct their identity as that of a zombie, since they “knew” they were dead, and had no other role to play in the Haitian society.
Societal reinforcement of the belief was hypothesized by Davis to confirm for the zombie individual the zombie state, and such individuals were known to hang around in graveyards, exhibiting attitudes of low affect.
Davis’ claim has been criticized, particularly the suggestion that Haitian witch doctors can keep “zombies” in a state of pharmacologically induced trance for many years. We’l learn more about this next week, and introduce you to a Scottish psychiatrist by the name of R. D. Laing, as well. The story continues!
So what do you think about Dr. Wade and his studies and claims concerning zombies? In your opinion, was he on the right track, or was he misleading all of us zombie fans (and himself)?
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Thanks, and stay tuned next week for Part III, the final installment in our series!
- Zombie History, Part I (carlplumer.com)
- The Science of Zombies (umbrellabrain.wordpress.com)
- Heads of the Living Dead : Many Mouthed Zombie Mutant (zombiedaily.com)