Watch out! This
zombie is hungry

General Knowledge

Origins

The idea of flesh-eating zombies may have been nothing more than monsters that were made up for the silver screen, but real life zombies have a history that is deeply rooted in Haitian and Voodoo culture. That’s right. Zombies are real, in a sense, although they aren’t exactly what you might be familiar with.

Zombie folklore can be traced back to West Africa, but it really took off in Haiti during the slave trade. It starts with a priest or priestess called a bokor. The bokor controls the zombie after putting the subject under a spell.

The zombified individual is actually more brain dead than deceased. Therefore, they lack complete control of their freewill and must submit to the bokor who will use them as slave labor in most cases.

Western researchers have explored these legends with great interest. Most notably, Wade Davis, an anthropologist from Canada, discovered that certain chemicals cause zombification. These include the toxins found in puffer fish and a chemical derived from the datura plant.

There remains great speculation regarding the true existence of zombies. Even so, zombies will always be a vital part of Voodoo and the Haitian imagination.


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Interview with an Expert

This is an interview with Mr. White, an expert in Haitian culture and Voodoo, discussing the origins of zombies and their connection to zombies in American cinema.

Note: A pseudonym was used to maintain the privacy of the speaker.

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In Pop Culture

So how did zombies go from religious myth to cheap thrill for the masses? It was a long journey, but very interesting nonetheless.

Tales of the vengeful dead out to kill the living have graced the pages of good literature over the years from Mary Shelley’s iconic “Frankenstein” to the dark novellas of H.P. Lovecraft.

It was Lovecraft who catapulted zombies into the mainstream and helped define what we consider the modern day zombie. But it was the film industry that made the living dead legendary among Americans.

Early film portrayals of zombies stayed fairly true to Haitian tradition as seen in films like “White Zombie” and “Revolt of the Zombies.” Then came George A. Romero and his 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead.”

Night of the Living Dead

Up until “Night of the Living Dead,” zombie films were getting more and more sinister with each passing year. Romero created a monster unlike any other. The monsters were your family, your neighbors or your friends, except they were out to eat you. Once bitten, you would become one of them.

Romero was a pioneer in the world of zombies. His film ushered in a slew of similar zombie gore-fests and slasher films. It also paved the way for zombies to reach audiences in a multitude of ways.

Besides the countless movies - most of them terrible - zombies have been featured in various other forms of media such as video games and music. The Capcom video game series “Resident Evil” is a favorite among gamers and has produced several sequels and even a movie trilogy. And everyone has seen Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” In fact, I’m sure most people know the dance by heart.

The most recent zombie pop culture phenomenon is something called a zombie walk where large groups of people dressed as the undead get together and roam through city streets and shopping malls.

It is undeniable; zombies have become a mainstay of American culture.

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Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

You’ve learned about the history of zombies and their impact on pop culture. But what will you do if one day the dead rise from their graves in search of brains?

Have no fear. There are ways to prepare for a zombie apocalypse in case we have to experience one. I taught you how to create zombies using Photoshop. Now I will teach you how to survive the denizens of undead.

Students at the University of Florida should read this zombie attack disaster plan that was made available this year.

According to Max Brooks, author of “The Zombie Survival Guide,” there are ten lessons for surviving a zombie attack. I will list them below with my personal take on his suggestions.

Lesson 1: Organize Before They Rise

You never know when the dead will rise, so be on guard no matter what. Always expect the unexpected. Those naysayers who are unprepared will be the first to go. But remember that each human lost is another zombie you have to deal with. Raise awareness for zombie prevention.

Lesson 2: They Feel No Fear, Why Should You?

Don’t be afraid of the undead. They’re nothing but slow-moving, rotten sacks of flesh. Be brave and be strong. Unless they’re running zombies…then you might have something to worry about.

Lesson 3: Use Your Head: Cut Off Theirs

Most people know that to destroy a zombie you must first destroy its brain. Always think of the best way to get rid of a zombie’s head. Even if they don’t die instantly, they can’t eat you.

Lesson 4: Blades Don't Need Reloading

Guns are loud, dangerous and require ammunition to work. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re backed in a corner fumbling around for ammo. A machete or any good melee weapon will always be ready to protect you.

Lesson 5: Ideal Protection = Tight Clothes, Short Hair

Loose, baggy clothes offer the undead an easy grab for an easy meal. The same goes for long hair. Wear tight clothes so you are agile, and make sure your hair is taken care of.

Lesson 6: Get Up The Staircase, Then Destroy It

This is good only in certain situations and for a limited time. I recommend a more nomadic approach. Avoid being contained in any way, shape or form.

Lesson 7: Get Out Of The Car, Get Onto The Bike

Once again, I have to disagree with Mr. Brooks. Although bicycles are good for quick escapes, and are often times more reliable than cars, bikes leave you open and vulnerable. Get a sturdy car with good gas mileage and a lot of fuel, and then get out of town.

Lesson 8: Keep Moving, Keep Low, Keep Quiet, Keep Alert

This should be rule number one and the motto for zombie survival.

Lesson 9: No Place is Safe, Only Safer

The zombie population is infinite and ever growing. Their numbers are far too vast for you to ever be considered safe. You must move from place to place in search of a barricade that will protect you from the hoards of undead and move on when the time is right or when your safety has been jeopardized.

Lesson 10: The Zombie May Be Gone, But The Threat Lives On

Once mankind faces a zombie apocalypse, there is no turning back. There is no cure for zombies, and their food supply will never run out unless all of humanity has been devoured. But that doesn’t mean you should give up. With your knowledge of zombies and Photoshop, you can take on anything.

Source: "The Zombie Survival Guide" by Max Brooks, 2003


© 2009 John A. Lockett. All rights reserved.