An Anthropological Investigation of the Living Dead
Philippe Charlier, translated by Richard J. Gray II
“A compelling account of the zombi as an anthropological reality and evocative symbol of a state of dispossession, desperation, and death.”—Roger Luckhurst, author of Zombies: A Cultural History
“An adventurer’s anthropological quest offering a novel description of the contemporary zombie.”—Sarah J. Lauro, author of The Transatlantic Zombie: Slavery, Rebellion, and Living Death
“Displays an empathy for the cultural reality of the zombie in Haiti that delivers important insight on the island nation’s people and their lived realities.”—Christopher M. Moreman, coeditor of Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition
Forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier—dubbed the “Indiana Jones of the graveyards”—travels to Haiti where rumors claim that some who die may return to life as zombies. Charlier investigates these far-fetched stories and finds that, in Haiti, the dead are a part of daily life. Families, fearing that loved ones may return from the grave, urge pallbearers to take rambling routes to prevent the recently departed from finding their way home from cemeteries. Corpses are sometimes killed a second time…just to be safe. And a person might spend their life preparing their funeral and grave to ensure they will not become a wandering soul after death.
But are the stories true? Charlier’s investigations lead him to Vodou leader Max Beauvoir and other priests, who reveal how bodies can be reanimated. In some cases, sorcerers lure the dead from their graves and give them a potion concocted from Devil’s Snare, a plant more commonly known as Jimsonweed. Sometimes secret societies use poudre zombi—“zombie powder”—spiked with the tetrodotoxin found in blowfish. Charlier eagerly collects evidence, examining Vodou dolls by X-ray, making sacrifices at rituals, and visiting cemeteries under the cloak of night. Zombies follows Charlier’s journey to understand the fascinating and frightening world of Haiti’s living dead, inviting readers to believe the unbelievable.
Philippe Charlier, a researcher at Raymond Poincare University Hospital and researcher-teacher at Paris Descartes University, is a forensic medical examiner, anatomopathologist, and paleopathologist, specializing in the study of ancient human remains and mummies. He is the author of When Science Sheds Light on History: Forensic Science and Anthropology.
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A vivid and thought-provoking look at a little-studied aspect of Caribbean culture that has evolved into the source of some of modern moviemakers’ most frightening images.