CAHSS Faculty Articles

Zombie Occupation

Publication Title

The Caribbean Review of Books (CRB)



Publication Date




Zombies are generally understood as beings trapped in limbo between life and death, and have historically been associated with the Haitian practice of Vodoun. They are considered the products of the work of a bokor (magician), who maintains control of the zombie. In his book The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985), later made into a movie, the American ethnobotanist Wade Davis claims that zombification of a living person is indeed medically possible, through the use of tetrodotoxin, a chemical derived from the pufferfish. In Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie (1988), Davis cites a variety of theories about the origin of the word “zombie,” including possible derivation from the French les ombres, or shadows; from jumbie or duppy, Caribbean words for “ghost”; and the Arawak term zemis, “souls of the dead.” However, Davis believes the term is African in origin, most likely deriving from the Kongo word nzambi, which refers to the spirit of a dead person.



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