I began these several series on zombies on January 31, 2017, with an entry called "Zombies Are Here!" (Click here to read that entry.) Not long ago, John Linwood Grant of the blog Grey Dog Tales left a comment on that initial entry regarding the origins of zombies in popular culture. Mr. Grant quoted from a work by Hesketh Prichard from around 1899:
[The Mamaloi] can produce a sleep which is death's twin brother. For instance, a child marked for the Vaudoux sacrifice is given a certain drug, shivers and in some hours sinks into a stillness beyond the stillness of sleep. It is buried in due course, and later, by the orders of the Papalois, is dug up and brought to consciousness.
The very strong implication is that this is the same process used to make a zombie. If that's the case, then the origin of the zombie as the walking dead might be pushed back a generation. Here is a lengthier and more inclusive quote from the original source:
There is another operation to which the Papalois--or more often the Mamalois--turn their power. They can produce a sleep which is death's twin brother. For instance, a child marked for the Vaudoux sacrifice is given a certain drug, shivers and in some hours sinks into a stillness beyond sleep. It is buried in due course, and later, by the orders of the Papalois, is dug up and brought to consciousness; of what occurs then I have written in another place. It is ghoulish and horrible, but beyond all question human sacrifice is offered up to a considerable extent in the Black Republic at the present time.
The quote is from Where Black Rules White: A Journey Across and About Hayti by Hesketh Prichard, published in 1900 by Archibald Constable and Company of Westminster, United Kingdom, page 93.
Hesketh Prichard (1876-1922) was Major Hesketh Vernon Prichard, an adventurer, military man, and author who is supposed to have created the first psychic detective or occult detective in literature. In 1899, he was sent to Haiti by Pearson's Magazine. According to Wikipedia: "No white man was believed to have crossed the island since 1803, and his trip provided the first written description of some of the secret practices of 'vaudoux' (voodoo)." Consciously or not, William B. Seabrook followed in Prichard's path in his trip to Haiti in 1928.
I did a search for the words zombi and zombie in Where Black Rules White and came up empty. In his book, Prichard alluded to "what occurs" after the drugged child is exhumed and revived, events about which he wrote "in another place." Well, I did a search for the word sacrifice in Where Black Rules White, too, and didn't find anything certain. I'm not sure where that "other place" is. In any case, there are differences between Prichard's and Seabrook's accounts of zombie-making. Although a kind of sorcery is used in both, the purpose is different: In Prichard, the raised dead is used as a human sacrifice in a Vaudoux ritual. In Seabrook, the raised dead--explicitly called a zombie--is used as a slave-laborer. He is raised to go on living rather than to be sacrificed.
I had hoped to find in Prichard the use of the word zombi or zombie, as I think the concept predates Seabrook, but the facts in the case of Hesketh Prichard are informative, for if no white person crossed Haiti in the period 1803 to 1899, then accounts of the zombie are unlikely to have made their way into white culture until at least 1900 when his book was published. And if didn't happen then, it would have had to wait until a subsequent account of life in the interior of Haiti was published. That leaves the period 1900 to 1928 as the only possibility unless: a) Zombies as the walking dead were elsewhere in Caribbean or black culture; or b) Zombies appeared in accounts written by black Haitians in the period 1803 to 1928. It doesn't look like zombies as the walking dead were anywhere else in Caribbean or black culture--remember Lafcadio Hearn's inquiries to Adou. That leaves a question: Was there a Haitian literature before 1928 in which tales of the zombie could have appeared?
Thanks to John Linwood Grant of the blog Grey Dog Tales.
Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley