Friday, June 28, 2013

Supernatural Friday: Zombies Never Came From George Romero

Zombies are a term some reporter titled the ghouls in George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead." The zombie and the horror movie were married very early in the history of films. In fact, the 1932 movie, “White Zombie” which stared Bela Lugosi pretty much type cast the zombie as a movie monster.
Interestingly enough, zombies actually come from the Congo and not Benin where Voodoo comes from. The word, “nbzambi” refers to their primary sprit and/or refers to one’s soul. When the Trans-Atlantic slave trade mixed peoples from all over the African Atlantic Coast, the zombie found a new home in Voodoo.

Four kinds of zombies are in Voodoo; the Great Spirit, the Spiritual Soul, the Herbal Zombie, and the Bargained Zombie.

Li Grand Zombi: this is the snake spirit in Voodoo given the Congolese name for the same principal entity. The snake used by Marie Laveau in New Orleans was said to have been called “li grand zombi.” The Louisiana mud snake used in rituals is sometimes called “ouncongo.”

Now, that familiar living dead zombie of movie familiarity has two versions, one is spiritual and the other, chemical.

Spiritual Zombie: this follows an African belief that a person has two souls. One is called the Great Angle. The other one is called the Little Angle. When a person dies, the Great Angle immediately knows the person is dead and departs the body. The Little Angle, on the other hand, takes about three days to realize the body is dead (this seems to be close to how when someone passes away, it takes three days usually before they are buried. During that time, a witchdoctor may invoke the Congolese Ghédé spirit to reach the Little Angle and cause it to believe the body is not dead. The corpse is reanimated, using the Little Angle as a motor.

Herbal Zombie: The West Africans were master chemists in use of herbs and poisons.  To make a zombie chemically, it was necessary to cause the victim to have the appearance of death, then apply an antidote to revive them. The basic poison comes from the common blowfish. Dried and powdered, it is a nerve poison, and is applied mainly in one’s shoes, surreptitiously, and absorbed through the sweet glands in the feet. The poison inhibits the natural conductivity of the nervous system and causes the body to atrophy and look decreased.  This phase completes the deception of death. In the second phase the antidote, a paste from the seedpod of the angle’s trumpet flower is applied. The seedpod contains two types of active ingredients. The first is atropine to counteracts the nerve poisoning. The second is a hallucinogenic that causes both amnesia and disorientation. The final result is a person who appeared to have died, is resurrected, and is now mentally incoherent, but physically functional. A form of control.

In Haiti, which is most closely associated with the resurrected zombie, it is considered a fate worse than death to become a zombie. A zombie is supposedly an immortal slave. To become a zombie is considered a great catastrophe and a terrible fear far worse than death.

Bargained Zombie: This is a voluntary arrangement in which the volunteer bargains to have his lesser soul exorcised and keep by a Voodoo Queen. Due to this arrangement, the Voodoo Queen can protect and give advantages to the volunteer. At some point, the volunteer has to surrender the rest of his soul. This usually occurs when the Voodoo Queen dies, and is no longer able to protect the volunteer. The classic example of this the case of Jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton and his godmother, Voodoo Queen, Eulalie Hécaud.

Rougarou: Ah, this creature was used a monster of the week in a “Supernatural’ episode. There’s a swamp creature in Louisiana that is half man, half beast. It is a strong figure in Cajun folklore. Like a zombie, he is often the product of the manipulation of a deceased soul by a witchdoctor.  Although the legends of the rougarou are closely related to European werewolf tales, there are several distinctions between the European werewolf, the French loup-garou, and the night lurking, bayou-wandering creature called the rougarou. Yes, like the French loup garou (werewolf), it often has red eyes and is usually nocturnal. But just like a zombie, it is deathly afraid of frogs. 

A person who encounters the rougarou draws one or three drops of blood, that person then has the spell, and from there, the tale can be either light or dark. In the darker tale, usually the person who encounters the rougarou commits suicide. The darker tale is almost always associated with a person who told of the encounter in less than a year. According to local stories printed in several sources in the Ellender Memorial Library archives, these animals roam the streets at night. They antagonize wandering people until they attack it, stabbing or shooting it. At the first drop of blood the animal will return to its human form. The rougarou will tell the attacker who he is.  Often the rougarou is someone the witness knows or has heard of. The rougarou usually tells the witness if he informs others of this encounter within one year and a day, he too will become a rougarou.
This popular folklore creature is often used to scare small kids into good behavior. The term rougarou has even become so popular in south Louisiana that it has evolved into a descriptive adjective, "rougarouing," used to describe a person who runs around or stays up late at night. The annual Rougarou ball on deep Bayou Goula happens every St. John’s Eve and is real.  


Janice Seagraves said...

Hi Pam,

You always post the most interesting and informative articles.


Pamela K. Kinney said...

Thanks, Janice, I work hard to get some good ones. :-)