The first Zombie

How an obscure Haitian bogey rose from the dead to conquer literature and popular culture


Journalist William Seabrook introduced zombies to the American mainstream in his 1929 best seller "The Magic Island," which purported to be an eyewitness account of Haitian voodoo practices. Seabrook was a larger-than-life adventurer-explorer-drunk-blowhard: He joined the French army for World War I, was awarded the Croix de Guerre, hung out with Aleister Crowley, dabbled in witchcraft and indulged in minor cannibalism (if you must know: "like good, fully developed veal").

In "The Magic Island" he reported on how in Haiti, "a soulless human corpse . . . is taken from the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical semblance of life" for the purpose of "setting it dull heavy tasks, and beating it like a dumb beast if it slackens." In Seabook's story the entity profiting from the necromancy wasn't some witch doctor, but an American sugar company, whose cane fields were tilled by the undead. The critique of such companies' treatment of Haitian labor could hardly have been sharper. The original zombie wasn't a predator, but a brutalized laborer.


The first zombie movie, "White Zombie," premiered in 1932 (zombies were thought of as black, so a white zombie was a novelty).

Comment: I'm not a fan of Zombie movies but I have seen one and I thought it was funny: Shaun of the Dead

1 comment:

  1. Another article on White Zombie

    I probably saw this when I was a kid. I used to stay up late and watch horror films on Friday nights.


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