A horrible living dead creature who has a strong appetite for human flesh. Those descriptions perfectly matched the zombies that we know from pop culture. However, historically, the origin of zombies is much bleaker than what we know today. It originates from slavery and voodoo practice. So, without further ado, here is the bleak history of zombies.
The origin of zombie
The origin of zombies goes far back in the 17th and 18th century in a country called Saint-Domingue. Saint-Domingue was Haiti under colonization of the French empire. During the French occupation, African slaves were transported into the country as workers in sugar plantations. The working conditions under French rule are very brutal. As a result, most of the slaves from Africa were dead after a few years of work.
Due to the frequent death, there were no other option than importing more slave into the country. Most of the imported slaves were the result of massive capture by the French empire. The zombie that we know today is the projection of misery that the slave must endure. For them, death was the only way to escape their unfortunate fate.
The Haitian Revolution in 1804 marked the end of French colonialism. From then, zombies became a folklore and myth among Haitians. They believed that zombies were the result of shamans and voodoo practitioners. Many people who practice the religion of voodoo was able to revive the dead through a ritual called bokor.
Bokor tradition involves the use of herbs, shells, fish, animal parts, and bones to create a potion-like substance. In reality, this substance contains tetrodotoxin, a deadly toxin commonly found in pufferfish. This toxin is able to induce coma and paralysis. Using this substance, voodoo shaman could make someone appear to be dead. Later, the ‘dead’ body is revived to enact various evil tasks.
Pop culture zombie
Zombies first appeared in a fiction book called The Undead Eighteenth Century by Linda Troost. In the book, zombies were described as ghosts rather than cannibal creatures. The adaptation of zombies in cinema was initiated by a 1932 movie called White Zombie. However, depictions of cinema zombies were not as popular as today.
In 1968, zombies became a cultural phenomenon after the release of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Over the next 15 years, Romero released other zombie movies entitled Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. The release of the film also marked the everlasting reign of zombies in cinema.
Countless zombie movies were produced from the 1980s. The popularity of zombies in popular culture fueled the creative mind of the game developer ZX Spectrum. In 1984 a game called Zombie Zombie was released in Europe. However, zombie games became more popular after the release of Resident Evil/ Biohazard by the Japanese game developer Capcom in 1996.
History of the zombie is surprisingly bleak. Stemming from African slaves, zombies has gone through the process of whitewashing, making them more appropriate for wider culture. Therefore, it is understandable that most people today didn’t really understand the real origin of zombies.
Despite all that, zombies become one of the most significant pop culture phenomenons. This is shown by the massive collection of movies, TV shows, and video games that uses zombies as their marketing point.