segunda-feira, 5 de março de 2012

The zombie's beginnings can be traced back much further still, to the beautiful but troubled country of Haiti. A Caribbean paradise filled with fruit and fertile soil for farming, Haiti was introduced to the European world by the Spanish, who declared the land theirs (much to the chagrin of locals) and named it Santo Domingo. Sometime later the French took control. They were noted for shipping slaves directly from Africa to work on their plantations. Conditions and the treatment of slaves were sickeningly poor, with landowners opting to maximize profits by working them to death, literally. However, these slaves brought with them their own religious customs, which they continued to develop and expand on in their new home country. Of particular note was their practice of vodou.

Belief in vodou helped support the enslaved people in their struggle, the vodou gods protecting them from their so-called owners. As common spiritual beliefs grew among slaves, a society arose. Dances, animal sacrifices, and the beating of drums became a part of the culture. Within the community, leaders and experts gained influence, further honing the use of ritual chants, poisons, and potion making.

Through the use of these potions and rituals, a vodou priest, or bokor, was believed to be able to invoke supernatural powers. One such power was the ability to reanimate a dead human body.The resulting creature was known as a zombi, and it was characterized by slow mannerisms, low intelligence and a lack of willpower or a soul. (In reality, zombis weren't really dead people at all, simply persons who had been drugged and who then arose from a comatose state.) Often, zombis were believed to be under the control of the person who had caused them to rise from the grave.

In 1791 slaves in the northern part of the country reportedly invoked vodou to seize control of an even greater prize — their own destinies. In a massive uprising led by Haitian general Toussaint L'Ouverture, they violently rebelled against the wealthy French plantation owners. A famous local legend has it that the unrest was preceded by a vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman that united the participants against the government's continued proslavery stance. Their forces clashed with colonial armies sent to quash the unrest; the slaves were victorious. The French administration announced that it would finally abolish slavery in Haiti.

In 1802, however, Napoleon Bonaparte sent more military forces into the colony, a clear attempt by the French to reestablish slavery. While his soldiers initially made inroads, Haitian nationalists fought back and met with victory once again. By 1804 the country had won its independence from France and become the Republic of Haiti, the first black republic in history. The success of the slave revolution inspired similar rebellions in such nations as the United States and Brazil. But Haiti's troubles were far from over.

Leaders came and went during the next hundred years, and over time the country sank deeper into depression, debt, and chaos. Many leaders were assassinated, and five presidents violently rose and fell between 1910 and 1915. The last, Gen. Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, had perhaps the most tragic impact. His political opponent, Rosalvo Bobo, criticized the leader's dealings with the U.S. government and began to influence others within Guillaume Sam's administration.The fearful president began executing potential threats to his power, even going so far as to have 167 political prisoners killed. When word spread, Haitian citizens revolted, turning into an unruly mob. Gen. Guillaume Sam was taken from his palace and publicly torn to pieces, which were scattered and put on triumphant display.

This gruesome scene may have led to the birth of the zombie movie, since the death of Guillaume Sam brought Haiti into the American consciousness.The U.S. government was concerned about Bobo’s unfriendly stance toward the United States and frightened by the distant possibility that German forces could easily invade the unstable nation (World War I had begun a year earlier), so in 1915 the U.S. occupation of Haiti began.

The occupiers found a situation far more complicated than initially anticipated, and their presence did little to calm it. While U.S. forces were responsible for overseeing construction of roads and telephone cables, medical care, and educational programs, their treatment of the locals bred deep bitterness. Naturally, the citizens resented being occupied. The Americans, in turn, exhibited racist attitudes toward black and mixed-race Haitians, and many of the well-educated locals were treated with disdain. Most horrific of all, U.S. forces declared it a public duty for each and every Haitian to be subject to unpaid labor on a chain gang, enforced by armed guards who were permitted to shoot anyone who refused to participate. For Haitians this was little better than the slavery their revolutionary forces had fought to terminate more than one hundred years previous.

Nationalist sentiment erupted once again in guerrilla warfare and bloodshed. A major uprising in 1918 was extinguished by the U.S.Marines, who in the process killed over two thousand revolutionaries. Yet another tragic event occurred in 1929, when U.S.Marines opened fire on more than ten Haitian demonstrators, killing them. U.S. forces finally pulled out of the country in 1934. (Ironically, during their stay the U.S. military had trained locals in warfare. It wasn't long before future leader would decide to extend their terms of off ice and enforce their positions with military might.)

During their stay in Haiti, many U.S. soldiers and their families had been disturbed not only by the violence but also by the locals' late-night vodou practices. When they returned to the United States, they brought back stories of rituals, potions and the reanimation of dead subjects; the highly exaggerated tales were devoured by curious Americans, who eventually adjusted the spelling of vodou and zombi into the now common (and more phonetic) voodoo and zombie.

One story in particular fed the imaginations of the American public: the 1929 book The Magic Island by William Seabrook. Seabrook was an occultist (and alcoholic) who had found success traveling to various parts of the world and publishing exaggerated accounts of witchcraft and satanism. Written after a trip to Haiti, The Magic Island supposedly details Seabrook's real-life encounters with the walking dead. The section dealing with zombies is titled "Black Sorcery" and it largely deals with a story a local told to Seabrook.

According to the storyteller, groups of pitiful zombies would toil the Haitian fields in broad daylight, cattlelike, working harder and faster than other, still-living groups. When they took a break, the zombies would eat bland, flavorless food. The local described them literally as dead people who had been taken from the grave to serve the person who brought them back. Readers would be further alarmed by Seabrook's own descriptions of the voodoo practitioners responsible for zombies as "blood-maddened" and "sex-maddened" and by his claim that he visited the supposed zombies and confirmed their authenticity. It is only in the last paragraph of the section that Seabrook all too briefly suggests that drugs causing a lethargic coma may have been responsible for the zombies' condition. He follows it up by citing an odd Haitian law stating that the burial of a live person qualifies as murder, regardless of whether the victim is later revived.

No one seemed all that interested in exploring the logic behind the undead phenomenon; shocked and titillated readers made The Magic Island a success. It wasn't long before the media began circulating more stories about supposedly very real dead humans wandering about.

in Zombie Movies: the Ultimate Guide, Glenn Kay, 2008.