I am more of a werewolf movie guy myself, but Zombies are very in right now. From the Walking Dead to World War Z, they are at the forefront of public consciousness. Zombies are something I know a little about as I once conducted an independent study on Zombis while in College. Not the walking dead mind you, but a phenomenon in rural Haiti where an individual is turned into a Zombi through pharmaceutical means. This is the difference between Zombie and Zombi.
Why is this important to the paranormal field? Well, it shows that no matter how outlandish a mystery may seem, if looked at from the proper perspective a solution can present itself. Also, it demonstrates how a phenomenon can be perfectly real, just not what we thought it was. I cannot overstate the importance of these two points when it comes to paranormal, or even cryptozoological studies.
The Albert Schweitzer Hospital In Deschapelles is an American institution in the Artibonite Valley of West Central Haiti Founded in 1956 its doors are still opened today. On the 30th of April 1962 at precisely 9:45 PM a man walked in spitting blood. For the next two days he would suffer hypothermia, paresthesia, cyanosis, hypertension, loss of weight and a difficulty in breathing all from an unknown source.
At 1:15 PM on May 2, Clairvius Narcisse would be declared dead, and in the morning of May 3 Narcisse was buried in his native village of L’Estere Angelina Narcisse was the last person to see her brother alive, as she was present at the hospital when he died Angelina Narcisse would also be the first person to see Clairvius alive eighteen years later.
A regular at the Lester marketplace Angelina was shopping when a man approached her and introducing himself by a nickname they had used as children. The man was Clairvius Narcisse. He would later tell his full story, claiming that he had been made a Zombi because of a land dispute with his brother, when Clairvius had refused to share inherited land.
It is said in Haiti, that the country is one hundred percent catholic and one hundred and ten percent voodoo. Haiti is the land of dichotomy and contradictions. That one hundred and ten percent follows certain protocols set by the Bizango society, the real power in rural Haiti. A secret society that isn’t particularly that secret Voodoo and the society are not inherently evil, that’s a misconception. Voodoo is a powerful force; but a force in itself is directionless. It is only when applied to a goal that it may become good or evil.
Narcisse’s brother sold him to a Bokor who in turn made him into a Zombi. A Bokor is a sorcerer in Haiti, and the only one who knows the secret of Zombification. At this point it would be wise to forget all that you know about Zombis from television and the movies. The reality is that the fear is not of Zombis, but the fear is of becoming one. In rural Haiti, Zombification serves as a punishment, a death penalty if you will, courtesy of the Bizango Society.
Obviously, not all transgressions lead to Zombification. There are various punishments set by the Bizango society, but the more serious offenses can lead to Zombification. These are, material advancement at the expense of others and lack of respect towards fellow Haitians.
Taking another man’s woman, causing harm to one’s family, defaming the Bizango society and cheating in regard to land issues are all considered serious offenses (Davis, 1985). Clairvius Narcisse had at one time or another committed many of these crimes he had a reputation for being greedy, had refused to share his land with his brother, and had refused to help his family out financially on several occasion. To add to his growing shaky reputation, he had fathered children with a number of women and had refused to take responsibility, financial or otherwise.
On the Bizango’s ten most wanted for Zombification list, Clairvius Narcisse was at the top of the list. As I alluded to briefly, the official religion of Haiti is Catholicism This is what the outside world sees of Haiti.
On the inside, it is a country run by much older traditions. Voodoo is a religion, and like all religions it serves a dual purpose; a religious one and a political purpose. Zombification and thus the Bizango society, expresses this model quite well. The act of becoming a Zombi is equivalent to the death penalty, and the fear of such a fate is a form of social control.
Narcisse, was aware of being declared dead completely paralyzed and unable to do anything about it He was also aware of being buried and the nail that pierced his skin as it went through the cheap wood of the coffin. The scar still visible 18 years later. He remained in that coffin, buried for 72 hours; and then he was taken out, taken away to work at a plantation.
This is standard protocol, apparently Zombis are used as slave labor as a way to repay society with the production of goods. In Narcisse’s case, he escaped when the plantation’s owner died. The case was investigated by his immediate family, the BBC and head of the Centre de Psychiatrie et Neurologie in Port-au-Prince, lamarque Douyon It was declared a legitimate case of Zombification by all involved.
Narcisse wasn’t the first or last individual case of Zombification; but before Narcisse, it wasn’t taken seriously outside of Haiti I was told personally of a case that took place in the 1960’s where an American while in the military found himself in Haiti visiting a plantation.
The plantation owner had a number of individuals working for him that seemed to be in a strange stupor like state. He called them Zombis. In fact it wasn’t until Harvard ethnobiologist Wade Davis came back from Haiti with samples of the Zombi powder, that scientists were even aware of the concept of Zombification.
Davis wrote a book entitled “The Serpent and the Rainbow” and in detail explained that Zombis were not the living dead, but rather under the influence of a drug. What remains a mystery is how the inflected remain in that Zombi state for years, and what occurs from a physiological standpoint when they “snap out “ of it. What triggers their release?
Paresthesia (tingling sensation of the skin), cyanosis (oxygen deficiency in the blood leading to a bluish tint to the skin), respiratory failure, uremia (toxins in the blood), vomiting, general weakness, complete paralysis while remaining conscious are all symptoms associated with Zombification.
All these symptoms were experienced by Clairvius Narcisse and others before their deaths. Narcisse also complained that his skin felt like it was on fire. Studies on the Zombi powder indicated that the ingredient responsible for the majority of the conditions listed above is tetrodotoxin, or TTX for short.
The drug tetrodotoxin comes from the following marine species; Crapaud du mer ( Sphoeroides testudineus), the poisson fufu ( Diodon hystrix) , and the bilan (Diodon holacanthus). All three of these are species are puffer-fish. Tetrodotoxin is found in the intestines, ovaries, testicles, liver, and in the skin of these animals. Pure tetrodotoxin is 160,000 times more effective in axonal blockage than cocaine. It is also 1000 times more potent than sodium cyanide. Half a milligram is all that is needed to kill a grown man. Used in proper dosage the drug causes complete neuromuscular paralysis.
Axons relay nerve impulses between the central nervous system and neuromuscular junctions. The relay or inhibition of these impulses depends on the concentration of sodium and potassium ions inside and outside the axon. Most drugs make an axon equally permeable to both, resulting in the inhibition of nerve impulses Tetrodotoxin doesn’t affect the flow of both sodium and potassium, instead it inhibits the flow of sodium alone. The result is complete neuromuscular paralysis.
Case studies of Tetrodotoxin poisoning reveal identical symptoms to the effect of the Zombi powder. These symptoms include nausea, vomiting, paresthesia, hyper-salivation, extreme sweating, weakness, headache, pulmonary edema, cyanosis, dilation of the pupils and hypothermia. Individuals affected by the Zombi powder claim that they remain conscious through out the entire episode. Again, case studies in tetrodotoxin poisoning confirms this fact. The victims retain complete awareness but otherwise show no signs of life. Tetrodotoxin is topically active meaning that just handling the toxin can induce some of these symptoms.
It was assumed by Davis that and another drug was administered to the Zombi upon “resurrection”. I’ve thought about this at length and discussed it with my professor back in school; and I have to agree. Yet the drug has never been identified There are several reason for this. For one, there has been a serious lack of interest, and thus funding in regards to the Zombi phenomena.
Even with the successful acquisition of the Zombi powder by Davis; academia still retains a very skeptical view of the phenomena. It’s association with Voodoo, certainly does not help matters. The only location investigation that I’m aware off within the last twenty years have been from free-lance writers and various film crews. Those were much more interested in Voodoo and the sensational then the pharmacological aspect of Zombification. Furthermore, none of these later investigations have produced a Zombi.
Tetrad toxin is without doubt responsible for the onset of zombification but in theory the afflicted should come out of its spell once he or she is unburied, or shortly thereafter. Yet Zombis remain in their state for an undetermined amount of time, which can be years or decades. Lore has it that the death of a Zombis master, usually the plantation owner, results in the Zombi regaining. It’s human” faculties More than superstition, this may point to the existence of another drug, a maintenance drug. Once a Zombi’s owner dies, and no one continues to administer the maintenance drug, the afflicted simply snaps out of it.