The History of Zombies


What is a Zombie? For many of us, a zombie is a mythological undead creature revenant created through the reanimation of a corpse. This in easy language means the ‘undead’, those who live past their death. The term Zombie has often been described as a flesh-eating decaying corpse that does not possess a brain has surged to its popularity in the recent era. With movies like Walking Dead, Zombie apocalypse, and Dawn of the dead, the term Zombie doesn’t seem to be alien anymore. It has become a popular antagonist gaining recognition from its folklore importance.

Despite this global fame, ‘Does Zombie exist?’- is a tough question. Since none has witnessed the undead personally; many answers would seem to be a ‘no’. However, this product of superstition has its own fascinating piece of history that explains a lot about their existential significance. Let’s take a look at the beguiling history of the undead, the Zombies.

The Origin of Zombies

The first tales of Zombies appeared in Haiti in the 17th and 18th centuries with the advent of the slave trade in English and French colonies. Zombies are mentioned in the Haitian rural folklore as an undead creatures revived by the acts of necromancy and also seek connection with the atrocities faced by the slaved Africans and their treatment at work. The cruel conditions of black people longing for their freedom serve as the basis of the zombie origin.

The slaves in the 17th century faced severe traumatic and inhumane experiences with little to no access to their own will are remembered as people for whom committing suicide seems to be the easiest solution. But the solution that for us seems easy was the toughest for the victims of slavery. There’s a belief in Africa that if these slaves die a natural death, their souls will finally be free and return to their homelands. They believe that the freedom they haven’t received while living will be served after death. However, in the case of suicides, the belief is a bit different. They believe that if a person commits suicide, their soul would not be freed from the torture they’ve been suffering from instead their souls will forever be captivated in the land of un-free. And they will never return to their homeland.

Historians believe that the word Zombie is derived from an African word called ‘Ndzumbi’ which means corpse whereas in the Congo language the word ‘Nzambi’ means the spirit of the dead. Thus, such words fit the state in which the African slaves were entangled. Where suicide was the only way for them to free themselves from such brutal surroundings, the fear of becoming a Zombie surpass their will to escape and to become the undead was their worst nightmare.


This slavery was ultimately marked an end with the French revolution. Many slaved Africans were housed on the island and created their own religion known as Voodoo. The historical importance of Zombie is associated with the mythological believes of this religion. The people then began noticing zombies as the undead creatures revived by the acts of necromancy. These zombies remain loyal to the person who revived them and follows their orders. Such people were known as Boxor and were feared more than the undead because they use zombies for their own good. With time, though the origins of zombies lost with the passing dusks and dawns, the fear for Boxor or witches remained.

The First Incident of Zombies

The first medical case of Zombie was reported in 1983 by Wade Davis, a Harvard ethnobotanist. Though there wasn’t any specific case but just the hypothesis of Davis. Davis claimed that a mixture of two powders if released into the human bloodstream can transform humans into zombies. The first potion was tetrodotoxin, found in the flesh of pufferfish and the second was the deliriant drugs. Together these powders can make a person a zombie. He also claimed though these two drugs can do the magic, the zombie will remain loyal to the Boxor, similar to Haitian mythology. This claim of Davis was debunked later by the many doctors and scholars stating that the symptoms of tetrodotoxin poisoning could be dangerous but that doesn’t induce a death-like state.

Other than this, several Haitian people claimed zombie sightings. In 1977 a woman was declared dead and thus was buried by her family. Surprisingly she returned after three years and her grave was found to be filled with rocks and stones. Similarly, a Haitian man too was believed to be a zombie when he returned 18 years after his death. Later, through an investigation, it was revealed that he was trafficked for slavery.

Not only the Haitian culture, but the tales of zombies also echoed in Scotland when a Scottish painter told that one of his students confirmed a zombie visited him in the night to work on his painting. This story was published in the newspaper in several versions and the term Zombie was coined throughout the world. By the 19th century, zombies became an integral figure of several mythologies and imaginative aspects of the mighty writers.

The Zombies Modernization

The modernization of zombies directly comes from frantic fiction and romantic sitcoms. The first central figure came in 1929 in a book by W. B. Seabrook ‘The Magic Island’. This book heavily influenced the idea of the undead walking freely in civilized societies. The author has personally encountered many Haitian cults of Voodoo religion from where he derived the inspiration for this novel. The book was widely popular and also introduced zombies to the US speech. Following the success of The Magic Island, many authors started writing novels on zombies, vampires, and other mythological characters. Among all, the zombies were the main protagonist of television and dramas; vampires on the other hand gained huge popularity among the novelists.


Since the 1930s the modern approach of zombies in the cinema is quite often. The earliest example was White Zombie directed by Victor Halperin in 1932. Voodoo-related zombie themes have also appeared in many movies of the 20th century. However, this theme saw a dramatic twist with the next 21st century. The movies and series made on the outbreak of undead today have their own masala twitch into it. The concept of zombies now is more idealistic with having their own little consciousness and power in terms of catching the prey.  The movie ‘Warm Bodies’ released in 2013 shows a romantic relationship between a human and a zombie. Debunking the traditional theories, this movie was a hit with $114,834,312 in pocket. Later many versions of the movie were adapted by several Asian cinemas following the same theme.

The recent release of Army of the Dead directed by Zack Synder proved to be a standout with the debunking theories. The concept follows the story of Zeus Alpha who transformed Las Vegas into zombies to create his own little world. The story is an exception as it portrays the pregnancy factor among the undead and how an alpha zombie possesses a similar consciousness to that of a human. 

Thus, whether you are a fan or scared of zombies, the addiction to zombies in the cinema cannot surpass your expectations about the undead.   


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