Haitian Voodoo Zombies

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In Haiti voodoo is practiced by at least 50% of the population. There is a type of sorcerer Haitians call Bokor, he is a Voodoo doctor who uses his power for both good and evil. It is said that if you upset someone, they may pay a Bokor to come sprinkle zombie dust on you. The victim will fall what is perceived to be dead, with no detectible pulse. The grieving family will have a funeral, and the victim is buried in the ground.

Once the last mourner has gone home, the Bokor comes back to the grave and digs the coffin up; the victim is given something to counteract the powder. He/she comes back from the dead, able to walk, able to work, but all traces of the individual’s personality will be completely gone. These zombies are sold into slavery, and the victim remains forever in a trance.

It sounds like a fictional story meant to scare, doesn’t it? But there are actually a few documented cases from somewhat recent years.
The best known voodoo zombie case was that of Clairvius Narcisse. Clairvius was 40 years old in April of 1962 when he suddenly became deathly ill. He checked into Albert Schweitzer Hospital with a fever and hallucinations; soon Clairvius fell into a coma and 3 days later the man appeared to be dead. His corpse was taken to the morgue, where he spent the next 24 hours; a death certificate was written up. But he was not dead, Clairvius claims to remember every detail of what happened.

The man’s family laid him to rest in a cemetery near his home; after the funeral, a bokor dug him up. He was beaten, his limbs were bound, and he was forced to drink a potion. The potion made it impossible for Clairvius to resist anything the bokor did, he was merely a mindless shell. He was taken to a sugar plantation with many other zombies and forced to work alongside the others.

The Bokor gave Clairvius shots every so often to ensure he remained in the zombie like, vegetative state. He lived this way for 2 long years, until this Bokor was murdered; at this time Clairvius wandered away from the plantation. The shots eventually wore off over time, and Clairvius came back to his old self. He was free, but still too petrified to go back home to his home village; he knew that the person who paid the Bokor, a brother with who whom he was fighting over property rights, was still there. How difficult would it be to hire another Bokor? So, for another 16 years Clairvius hid himself away, until 1980 when he was sure that his brother was dead and it was safe to return home. There was no doubt that it was the same man who’d been buried nearly 2 decades before – his sister, Angelina, has no doubt as to his identity.

Clarivus isn’t the only well known zombie. In 1976 a thirty year old Francina Ileus had been in a miserable arranged marriage. She fell in love with another man, became pregnant, and decided to leave her husband for the man she actually loved. Francina suddenly dropped dead soon after, and her family buried her. After some time passed, a rumor that Francina wasn’t in her grave began to circulate; people had been saying that she was a zombie. The townspeople were curious, so they dug Francina up; when her coffin was opened, it was found that the rumors were true! The young woman’s corpse was gone, the coffin filled with stones instead. A few years later, in 1979, Francina was found walking around, she was in what is described as a zombie like state. Her mother was called, and she recognized Francina by a childhood scar. It was definitely the daughter she’d buried years before!

Photo of Francisca and Clairvius

There are a couple different theories as to what happened here. Many believe it was Francina’s husband who hired a Bokor to make her a zombie; others believe that her own family were to blame after leaving the man they’d chosen for her. There is a book (at least one book) written about Francina.

Photo of Francisca and Clairvius

So, what does a Bokor use to make his zombies? People usually believe it’s a certain mixture of puffer fish and toad. Puffer fish is known to be toxic, and causes paralysis. Then there’s Datura stramonium, which causes hallucination and memory loss. It’s believed that this is the substance which would’ve kept him in a zombie like state for a long period of time.

Many Haitians absolutely believe in the bokor’s ability to make zombies, and that the victims truly are zombies whos souls have already passed on – Clarivus himself believed that the Bokor had stolen his soul. That said, science isn’t as sure of the whole thing. Was this some elaborate hoax to scare people, or does the Bokor have access to some other chemical which could make all this possible? It’s an interesting subject.

*I am sorry I haven’t been writing, haven’t been able to think.

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