You can’t have Halloween without seeing a zombie or two, but have you ever wondered where the term or idea of a “Zombie” came from? The first time I had ever heard the term zombie was from a 1968 classic movie called, “Night Of The Living Dead” (watch here). In the movie dead people come to life. Well it turns out the term zombie comes from Haiti – spelled zombi and the story is quite fascinating.
While there are a few differing opinions of the origin of zombies, the facts surrounding life in Haiti in the 1800’s are well documented. The word is believed to be of West African origin and was brought to Haiti by slaves from that region. The Haitian slaves were under the oppressive rule of the French until the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). The slaves were so mistreated that they often died before ever reaching adulthood. Their spirit was so broken that they lost their will to live until their bodies gave out and died.
When we lose the will to live, our inner light goes out, and we are in effect living without a soul. The Haitian slaves were so badly treated they were soul-less workers. In other words, the living dead. Suicide became the escape and this posed a problem for slave owners. The concept of zombies would evolve further with the creation of the voudou religion.
According to UC Irvine professor, Amy Wilentz, because slavery in colonial Haiti was so viciously brutal, death was the only real escape. As she writes: “Suicide was the slave’s only way to take control over his or her own body … And yet, the fear of becoming a zombie might stop them from doing so … This final rest — in green, leafy, heavenly Africa, with no sugarcane to cut and no master to appease or serve — is unavailable to the zombie. To become a zombie was the slave’s worst nightmare: to be dead and still a slave, an eternal field hand.
The term became more mainstream in America in 1932 with the release of the film White Zombie which was as the title suggests about white, rather than African, zombies.
And now you know the rest of the story.