View Full Version : Clinical findings in three cases of zombification

04-10-2011, 12:23
Interesting read if you have time !


Zombification became a subject of popular Western interest during the occupation of Haiti by the USA between 1915 and 1934.

The current United Nations intervention has again focused attention on a phenomenon regarded as exotic and improbable by the media, yet one which is taken by most Haitians as empirically verifiable. Along with the related religious practice of vodu, it has been implausibly related by US physicians to the current epidemic of AIDS in Haiti.

Haitian medical practitioners regard zombification as the consequence of poisoning; the clergy as the product of sorcery. Zombis are frequently recognised by the local population, and estimates of their number are of the order of up to a thousand new cases per year (L P Mars, personal

Zombification is a crime under the Haitian Penal Code (Article 246) where it is considered as murder although the zombified individual is still alive. Local interpretation is that either by poisoning or sorcery, a young person suddenly and inexplicably becomes ill, is subsequently recognised by their family as dead, placed in a tomb, stolen by a boko (sorcerer) in the next few days, and secretly returned to life and activity but not to full awareness and agency.

Haitians are seldom buried but placed in painted concrete family tombs above ground which in country areas are on family land next to the houses; they are vulnerable to being broken open.

Explanations as to how a zombi cadavre may escape back to its original family suggest that either the bottle containing the zombi astral breaks; or the boko inadvertently feeds his zombi salt; or he dies and the zombi is liberated by his family; or, rarely, the zombi may be released through divine
intervention. On release, their mental and physical status remains the same, and they are vulnerable to recapture and
continued enslavement; few bokos or doctors claim to be able to return a zombi cadavre to its original state of health
and agency, and the matter is reserved for the mercy of Le Grand Maitre (the rather remote God recognised by vodu
practitioners who is only invoked briefly through Latin prayers before they begin their ceremonies). Zombis are
recognised by their fixed staring expression, their nasal intonation (which they share with manifestations of the
spirits of the dead); by repeated, purposeless, and clumsy actions; and by limited and repetitive speech. They are
regarded with commiseration; fear is reserved for the possibility of being zombified oneself. Concern that a
deceased relative may be vulnerable to zombification justifies prevention through decapitation of the corpse
before burial, or poisons and charms placed in the coffin. Anthropological accounts of zombification usually just
detail local explanations or follow them to explain sorcery as a psycho-social or biological phenomenon.

There has been medical interest in the possibility that zombification may be an empirical state—catalepsy or motor paralysis—
which is induced by neurotoxins followed by retrieval and revival of the “dead” person extracted from the tomb.

Among the poisons which have been implicated is tetrodotoxin (from the puffer fishes Sphoeroides testudineus and Diodon hystrix) with Datura stramonium used to revive and then control the zombi.

Tetrodotoxin has been studied biomedically in Japan where the puffer fish is a delicacy whose consumption may result in apparent but
temporary death.

Other ingredients mentioned by Haitian bokos as zombifacients include human remains, a polychaete worm, toads, lizards, and tarantulas.

No in-vivo research has been carried out with the suggested toxins, and whilst Haitian medical practitioners are familiar with the
phenomenon of zombification, they have not published its clinical characteristics. Studies of the one well-documented instance of a returned zombi
concentrated on his symptoms at the time of presumed death, little on his mental and physical state at the time of the post-return
interview (although a lay observer did not remark any abnormality at this interview). Another well-known case who was hospitalised has been argued as an instance of mistaken identity.

Local doctors suggest that zombification can be recognised only by the absence of any characteristic features of mental illness and by verbal and
motor preservation. Do zombis manifest any characteristic clinical pattern? Are they the deceased individuals their relatives claim to recognise?

04-10-2011, 12:31

Case reports

FI was around 30 years old when she died after a short febrile illness and was buried by her family the same day in the family tomb next to her house. 3 years later she was recognised by a friend wandering near the village; her mother confirmed her identity by a facial mark, as did her 7-year-old daughter, her siblings, other villagers, her husband, and the local priest. She appeared mute and unable to feed herself. Her parents accused her husband of zombifying her (he was jealous of her after she had had an affair).

After a local court authorised the opening of her tomb, which was full of stones, her parents were undecided whether to take her home and she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital in Port-auPrince.

On examination, she looked much younger and thinner than in an earlier family photograph. She kept her head in a lowered position, and walked extremely slowly and stiffly, barely moving her arms. On examination, her muscles had reduced tone, but there was no waxy flexibility. Apparently lacking motivation and unable to signal any wishes, she did not reply to questions but would occasionally murmur some incomprehensible but stereotyped words, and was indifferent to passing events. She required assistance to feed herself. Electroencephalogram and central nervous system examination were unremarkable. She did not co-operate with a psychological assessment, nor with attempts at social rehabilitation. She did not respond to neuroleptics. On
being taken to a market for an outing, she was immediately recognised by the crowd as a zombi.

The presumptive diagnosis was catatonic schizophrenia (which is locally a not uncommon psychiatric illness).