The island of Haiti is rich with legends of the dead being brought back from the grave, but these were thought to be nothing more than myths until a remarkable story started to unfold. in fact, There have been legends about zombies for centuries, but it was only in 1980 that a real-life case was documented.
In May 1962, a man turned up at an American-run hospital in Haiti sick with fever, spitting up blood and suffering terrible body aches. His condition deteriorated and he was declared dead several hours later. The doctors noted that he had very low blood pressure, hypothermia, respiratory failure and numerous digestive problems. His sister identified the body and made arrangements for his burial.
In 1981, the sister was approached by a man at her village market who introduced himself using the boyhood name of her dead brother. She was stunned. This was a name that only she and a few family members knew.
The man said that he’d been made into a zombie and forced to work on a plantation until his zombie master died. The media went crazy over the story and Dr Lamarck Douyon, director of the Psychiatric Institute in Port-au-Prince, made up his mind to test whether this zombie tale could possibly be true. Extensive psychiatric tests proved that the man really was the brother.
This led Douyon to conclude that there had to be something real about zombie mythology something must have made the man appear dead when he actually was not. So he contacted then the Harvard ethnobotanist Edmun Wade Davis – currently the explorer in residence at National Geographic – to investigate what it was that these zombie masters were actually doing.
Having carried out numerous interviews with the masters, Davis discovered that they were developing complex poisons from local ingredients ( with a mixture of toad skin and puffer fish), which the victim inhaled or absorbed through their skin. The victims soon appear dead, with an incredibly slow breath, and an incredibly slow and faint heartbeat. In Haiti, people are buried very soon after death, because the heat and the lack of refrigeration makes the bodies decay very rapidly. You have to dig them up within eight hours of the burial, or else they’ll die of asphyxiation.
These poor souls were then buried alive and later dug up. The zombie masters told Davis that they then had to beat the zombie to drive off its old spirit, tie it to a crucifix, feed it a paste made from made from datura (Jimsons Weed), which will break their links with reality and then baptise it with a zombie name. Davis realised that after this ordeal, victims were so mentally damaged that they would do whatever they were told. And while they were not the undead, they might as well have been.
Datura (Jimsons Weed, Angel’s Trumpet, Brugmanisa candida) contains the chemicals atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine, which can act as powerful hallucinogens in the appropriate doses. They can also cause permanent memory loss, paralysis and death.
The person who applies these chemicals to a victim has to be quite skilled, so that they won’t kill them. There is a very small gap between appearing-to-be-dead, and actually being dead.