Investigating the Haitian Zombie (Part 2/6)

Uploaded by vice on 16.11.2012


HAMILTON MORRIS: I've spent months reading every
anthropological and ethnographic report of the
Haitian Zombie, researching the pharmacology, toxicity,
and biosynthesis of TTX, poring through books on occult
magic, medicinal plants of the Caribbean, animal sacrifice,
vodou theology, and African folklore, hoping to grasp the
strange phenomenon of zombification.

WADE DAVIS: You always have to investigate the belief system
that mediates the pharmacological event or the
pharmacological possibility.
So that really led to the second phase of the
investigation, what is a zombie?
And the quintessential act of making a zombie
is a natural act.
HAMILTON MORRIS: Haiti was once one of the most valuable
pieces of land in the world, exporting well over 100
million pounds of sugar each year, in addition to the
finest indigo, coffee, and tobacco plants with the
largest leaves in the Caribbean.
Today, after centuries of kleptocratic politicians and
religious oppression, Haiti is the poorest country in the
Western hemisphere.
The city is unimaginably chaotic.
The streets, alleys, and canals are littered with the
skin of organic matter.
Peels, husks, and shells of every imaginable food line the
sides of the road, waist high, like snowbanks.
The past 100 years have been especially turbulent for
Haiti, including more than 10 US military interventions and
an occupation from 1915 to 1934.
US Marines returned home with weird tales of potions, black
magic, and the living dead.
They published their stories in pulp novels, which serve to
inspire a series of horror movies, in doing so, sculpting
the American concept of the zombie.
I arrive at my luxurious hotel.
Charles Addams was a frequent guest at the Oloffson Hotel,
and he used its architecture to inspire the
Addams Family mansion.
The Gothic gingerbread facade bursts with every sort of
Victorian ornamentation imaginable--
fretwork spandrels, dentate bargeboard pendants, openwork
lentils, turned wood balusters, gabled dormers, and
spires clad in corrugated iron.
Essentially, it looks like a giant haunted doily.

Each night, I sleep in the Jean-Claude Van Damme suite,
named in honor of the great Belgian martial artist and
of "Time Cop." [THUNDER]

I walk downstairs and meet my guide and bodyguard, Alex,
who's going to take me to a vodou ceremony deep in the
hills of Port-au-Prince.
Hey, what's going on?
ALEX LEGROS: It's a pleasure to be with you.
ALEX LEGROS: How's everything?
How are you?
ALEX LEGROS: All right.
HAMILTON MORRIS: He's a very large man.
He tells me that he was shot in the face 14 times,
twice in the eye.
And it makes it difficult for him to drink alcohol.
He also tells me Haiti is the only place on Earth where
people can fly.
What time is it that the show starts?

ALEX LEGROS: It's 10 to 7:00.
HAMILTON MORRIS: In Haiti, conversations vacillate
between rational and utterly fantastical.
WADE DAVIS: I remember the first week or so I was in
Haiti, I just felt I was just blown away by the
sense of the spiritual.
Where did we get this idea of vodou as kind of
evil or black magic?
It really goes back to the fact that, if you're to name
the great religions of the world, what do you say?
Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism,
Islam, Hinduism, whenever.
There's always one continent left out.
Sub-Saharan Africa.
And the tacit assumption being that black
people had no religion.
Well of course, by ethnographic
definition, they did.

HAMILTON MORRIS: Vodou is much more than
zombification and poisoning.
In fact, these are fringe matters most priests do not
concern themselves with.
Tonight, we've been invited to attend a bi-yearly ceremony to
celebrate Baron Samedi, the god of the graveyard.
They paint sacred symbols, or veves, on the ground with
powdered cornmeal.
Each veve symbolizes a different Loa, or god.

Each room of the peristyle has a shrine adorned with human
skulls, swords, crutches, potions, and bottles of Carlo
Rossi filled with the extract of 21 hot peppers.
The Loa must be fed.

I smoke several fat Js and begin to appreciate the power
of the music even more.
A woman straddles a child's chair, her face contorted.
She's wincing and bouncing, as if the
chair itself were possessed.

For reasons that are slightly unclear, the Loa of love,
Erzulie, asks for my hand in marriage.
I'm hesitant at first.
Alex informs me that if I ever have sex on a Thursday again
for the rest of my life, I will be killed.
I ask for a moment to consider my options, but am given no
choice and accept Erzulie's hand in marriage.

As an offering to the Petro Loa, a well fed sow is led
into the center of the peristyle.
The music stops.

They saw open the pig's throat with a dull knife, digging
around in its neck, pulling out veins and arteries like
wires from a circuit breaker, while draining its blood into
a large ceramic dish.

This is a sacred act, not of animosity but of love and
The pig is now an ambassador, serenely ascending into the
heavens with a message for the gods.

A man is mounted by a Loa.
He fills his mouth with a cheeseburger-sized pile of
burning embers and begins to wildly spit sparks with
strands of black saliva dripping down his face.
He eats not just a piece of coal but a three-course meal
consisting entirely of burning embers.

It would be a great understatement to say I am
very impressed.