A few months ago, I read a story about voodoo, zombies, and puffer fish in a magazine. I am not sure what magazine it was, because we subscribe to and buy single issues of a lot of science-related rags at my house. But a Google search showed that this, like Zombie Jesus, is not a rare topic. I’m out of town this weekend and I don’t have time to write up a thorough post on voodoo zombies, but here are some links to check out. Enjoy!
TwoÂ interestingÂ postsÂ from Neurophilosophy at scienceblogs.com:
In Haiti, zombification is a punishment for severe crimes. Coupe poudre is the powder used by a bokur to induce zombification. The active ingredient of coupe poudre is tetradotoxin (TTX), produced in the liver and ovaries of some species of puffer fish (e.g. Fugu rubripes). TTX is a neurotoxin 500 times more potent than cyanide. It acts by blocking the sodium ion channels which enable nerve and heart cells to produce electrical impulses. In miniscule doses TTX causes a near-death state in which metabolic functions are depressed, so that breathing and pulse rate are undetectable. Total paralysis follows, although the brain and senses remain intact. The victim is thought to be dead and is buried alive.
A few days after being buried, the ‘zombie’ is disinterred and given another powder containing atropine and scopolamine. These are toxic and hallucinogenic compounds from the plants Datura metel and Datura stramonium (both known as the ‘zombie cucumber’). This powder, when administered, puts the victim into a permanent state of delirium and disorientation in which they experience delusions and hallucinations. He or she can then be made to do menial work for those against which the crime was committed.
One day in 1980, a man claiming to be called Clairvius Narcisse showed up in a rural Haitian village. This came as something of a surprise to the villagers, since Narcisse had supposedly died in 1962, and was subsequently buried. The new arrival claiming to be Narcisse said he’d been turned into a zombie after his “death,” forced with other zombie slaves to work on a sugar plantation at the behest of his “master,” a voodoo priest. He claimed his own brother had put the plan in motion, since the two had quarreled over land ownership. The brother had since died, so the sudden reappearance of Narcisse to claim the inheritance raised a few suspicions, to say the least. Yet the newcomer knew certain facts of the dead man’s life that only Narcisse himself, it seemed, could have known. He claimed he’d been drugged into submission, and when the master died, and the drugs wore off, he regained his memory and sanity.
The zombie legends portrayed in movies such as Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later follow a similar pattern to the vampire legends. Once you are bitten by zombies, while you may manage to escape immediate death, you will eventually die and turn into a zombie, yourself. Thus, this particular type of zombie legend suffers the same flaw that we previously pointed out for the vampire legend. We still have some more work to do, however. There exists a second sort of zombie legend that pops its head up throughout the western hemisphereâ€”the legend of â€œvoodoo zombiefication.â€ This myth is somewhat different from the one just described, in that zombies do not multiply by feeding on humans but come about by a voodoo hex being placed by a sorcerer on one of his enemies. The myth presents an additional problem for us: one can witness for himself very convincing examples of zombiefication by traveling to Haiti or any number of other regions in the world where voodoo is practiced.
And a few more links for your Sunday entertainment: