Where do zombies come from? No, not from an animal bite or some sort of outbreak but where, historically, has the origin of zombies as a horror lore come from: that is the question I am asking.
While some might want to say that the resurrection of Jesus or Lazarus are the first incarnations, the history is much more sordid – and based in racism. This truth has emerged many, many times but the always fantastic PushBlack summed it up the truth best.
Zombies emerged as a part of Haitian folklore, where persons enslaved in 17th and 18th century were quite literally worked to death by their French rulers. PushBlack explains.
Enslaved Haitians believed when they died, they were released to lan guinée – Guinea – in the afterlife to forever roam free.
Many committed suicide, presumably, to have freedom in the afterlife, but there was a caveat to this belief. If an enslaved Haitian took their own life, they wouldn’t go back to lan guinée. Instead, they were condemned to roam the Hispaniola plantations for eternity.
The zombie was born out of this belief and thought to be a manifestation of enslaved Haitians’ relentless misery. After the Haitian Revolution, the newly freed Haitians feared slavery would be reinstated, and the zombie came to represent the agony of enslaved Haitians.
This is truly, truly awful. While some films have wandered around the subject of race and zombies – particularly the crass Black Demons and the slightly more “with it” The Serpent and The Rainbow – there doesn’t appear to be a film to have tackled this literally. Not that we should mine the truth for “entertainment” horror but there is the potential for something profound here, to wake people up – to show them the truth behind the popular trope.
Zombies are scary, yes, but the truth of them is scarier because it represents just how fucked up people are. That, friends, is what should horrify you.