Zombies Are Totally Real and Are Not That Scary

Posted on September 12, 2011

The Serpent and The Rainbow by Wade Davis

What if I told you that it was possible to bring a man to the precipice of death, for weeks at a time, only to bring that man back to life. In essence, that it is possible to create a zombie. This is done by a certain class of people in the nation of Haiti. In ‘The Serpent and The Rainbow’, Wade Davis travels to the island nation to discover the pharmacological basis for the walking dead. And he discovers more than he ever imagined.

On 2 May 1962, Clairvius Narcisse was declared legally dead. Later that week he was buried. 18 years later he stunned his friends and family by walking back into his hometown saying that he had been kept as a zombie slave for a number of years after his burial only to escape and wander the countryside with no memory of his home. He even had a scar on his face caused by a nail being driven into his coffin.

Enter Wade Davis, Harvard ethnobotonast. His job is to find out how the zombies are made and to figure out a way that his lab can make money off of it. He goes down there and finds that getting the ingredients is not all that difficult. In fact, in one of my favorite passages, he returns through JFK with a suitcase (handmade out of aluminum cans) stuffed with preserved fishes, the remains of some lizards, a ton of seeds, human bones and two skulls. The customs official takes one look and says ‘I don’t even want to know.’

It turns out that one of the main ingredients in the zombie poisen is pufferfish, which excretes a neurotoxin that, while paralyzing the victim, leaves them completely aware of their surroundings. Survivors of the ordeal have vivid recollections of hearing themselves declared dead, having the blanket pulled over their faces, hearing their loved ones weep and being unable to do anything about it. Eventully they regain the use of their limbs but have lost a bit of themselves, as part of their brains have died due to anoxia.

And here’s where it gets weird and becomes a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. Only a select few people in Haiti know how to create this poison. Why? Because they are part of a secret society. A secret society that has existed since the plantation era of the late 18th century. A society that is literally the de-facto government for the rural population (roughly 80% at the time) of the country. A society that is so powerful that, if you get it its way you can literally be turned into a zombie, sold into slavery at the whim of a sorcerer. Yes, a sorcerer.

Wade Davis is a larger than life character and his writing turns an extraordinary story into something that feels like fiction. But it’s real. Summary: He finds out how to make zombies and infiltrates a secret society that controls an entire country. ‘The Serpent and The Rainbow’ is exciting in ways that are barely possible to explain and does a great job of bringing to light the religious fervor of Africans that were ripped from their homeland.

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