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7434: RE: Zombie powder-- 7424: 7410: 7383: and 7409: (fwd)
From: "Desmangles, Leslie" <Leslie.Desmangles@trincoll.edu>
Bob Corbett's description of toxicologists' inability to dose tetrodotoxin
is correct. That is precisely the problem with asserting that zombies exist
in Haiti. If the scientist in the laboratory cannot find the proper dosage
for tetrodotoxin to create a zombie, can the "boko" (or zombie maker) do it
with less sophisticated means? I don't know the answer to that question, but
I am merely raising it for the purpose of discussion. In my own field
research, I did not observe the phenomenon of zombification.
I might also mention that all six samples that Wade Davis brought with him
from Haiti were examined by Dr. Kao at the Downstate Medical Center in New
York and Dr. Yasomuto in Japan. All of them were reported to contain traces
of tetrodotoxin, the active ingredient purported to create lethargy in
humans -- a required condition for zombification. But both scientists agreed
that there were such small traces of tetrodotoxin in these samples that 25
kilograms of zombie powder would have to be administered directly into the
bloodstream of a subject to create a lethargic effect. Moreover, these
samples contained other active and unknown ingredients that would likely
kill the person if 25 kilograms of this powder were to be injected
intravenously into a person's bloodstream. I am not a toxicologist and would
not pretend to be one, but I base my information related here on the article
in "Science" (Spring 1988), and on my own ongoing conversations with Dr. Kao
regarding Wade Davis' samples.
I have posted several comments about Wade Davis' research on this listserve
in the past. I have pointed out that I found serious flaws in Davis' method
of field research. I noted earlier that it was important to check and
cross-check one's field information carefully in different communities that
one studied. Haitian culture, like many others in the world, is an "oral"
culture, and stories abound throughout the country. These need to be studied
carefully and substantiated by careful, scientific observation in various
communities of Haiti (and with other parts of the world such as Japanese
cases for comparison), and by well documented cases described in the
I should add that Davis has often been criticized by Haitian on the basis of
the film "The Serpent and the Rainbow", and not on his books. Let me make it
clear that his writings are quite different from the film. One should
suspend judgment of him until we've read both books, "Passage of Darkness"
and "The Serpent and the Rainbow".
Leslie G. Desmangles
Department of Religion and
International Studies Program
Hartford, CT 06106
(860) 297-2407 desk
(860) 297-5358 fax
From: Bob Corbett [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, March 21, 2001 11:52 AM
To: Haiti mailing list
Subject: 7424: Re: 7410: Re: 7383: and 7409: (fwd)
From: Sean Harvey <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I would also point out that debate over the existence of zombis as a
physical reality entirely misses out on what I think is their profound
cultural importance as a story, i.e. how they capture magnificently the
tragic and heartbreaking experience of Haitian ancestors (as well as
African-Americans from all over the Americas) who were transported to the
"New World" as slaves. The parallels are so striking at each stage of the
story that I can't help but think that this is their true significance.
Like the Africans that were sold into slavery, the zonbi is torn from
his/her family and is essentially dead to them. The zonbi spends a time
within a casket, just as these Africans were forced to lie prone within
the belly of the slaver ships. The zonbi is then resurrected, beaten and
forced to work as a slave on a plantation for his master.
The poignant plight of a zonbi as expressed in folklore is then a
graphic, terrifying memory of the horrific life that St Domingue's
enormous slave population was subjected to. As long as the legend of the
zonbi exists within Haitian culture, their story will never die. We
therefore need look no further to find a "real" zonbi -- they are none
other than the ancestors of African-Panamericans.
This holds for other Haitian figures as well, such as papa makout, who
carries off small children in satchels, and other figures that carry off
children. During the colonial era, both Spanish and French mercenaries
would regularly steal free Africans (notably children) from the Spanish
and unclaimed sections of the island and sell them into slavery in St
> Corbett replies: I think the question of the existence of zombies,
> especially the status of the powders is not as clear as Caroline and
> Sarah suggest.
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