"Wade Davis, a Harvard ethnobotanist, presented a pharmacological case for zombies in two books, The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) and Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie (1988). Davis traveled to Haiti in 1982 and, as a result of his investigations, claimed that a living person can be turned into a zombie by two special powders being introduced into the blood stream (usually via a wound). The first, coup de poudre (French: “powder strike”), includes tetrodotoxin (TTX), a powerful and frequently fatal neurotoxin found in the flesh of the pufferfish (order Tetraodontidae). The second powder consists of dissociative drugs such as datura. Together, these powders were said to induce a death-like state in which the will of the victim would be entirely subjected to that of the bokor. Davis also popularized the story of Clairvius Narcisse, who was claimed to have succumbed to this practice.

The process described by Davis was an initial state of death-like suspended animation, followed by re-awakening — typically after being buried — into a psychotic state. The psychosis induced by the drug and psychological trauma was hypothesised by Davis to re-inforce culturally-learned beliefs and to cause the individual to reconstruct their identity as that of a zombie, since they “knew” they were dead, and had no other role to play in the Haitian society. Societal reinforcement of the belief was hypothesized by Davis to confirm for the zombie individual the zombie state, and such individuals were known to hang around in graveyards, exhibiting attitudes of low affect.

Davis’ claim has been criticized, particularly the suggestion that Haitian witch doctors can keep “zombies” in a state of pharmacologically induced trance for many years. Symptoms of TTX poisoning range from numbness and nausea to paralysis — particularly of the muscles of the diaphragm — unconsciousness, and death, but do not include a stiffened gait or a death-like trance. According to psychologist Terence Hines, the scientific community dismisses tetrodotoxin as the cause of this state, and Davis’ assessment of the nature of the reports of Haitian zombies is viewed as overly credulous.

Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing highlighted the link between social and cultural expectations and compulsion, in the context of schizophrenia and other mental illness, suggesting that schizogenesis may account for some of the psychological aspects of zombification.”


This passage was taken from a source that addresses the concept of zombies (pronounced ZAHHHN-BI in Haiti). When I read Roxane’s “There is no ‘E’ in Zombie”, I honestly didn’t realize that the powders, the “coup de poudre” from the poisonous skin of a pufferfish, were actually real or used as a means to control human beings- putting them into a near-death trance because of the TTX in the poisonous powder.

Wade Davis, this Harvard ethnobotanist (ethnobotany is the study of the relationships between culture and botany, or plants) who studied this “zombie” culture in Haiti during the 1980’s and 1990’s has since influenced the production of “The Truth Behind Zombies” by National Geographic. 

This description of Wade Davis and of the actual act of zombification is meant to provide a greater background for some of Gay’s short stories. As I read through “There is No “E” in Zombi Which Means There Can Be No You Or We” which is a story about the process of zombification by a woman to her male lover. In the end, she makes her lover completely dependent on her and has in essence, turned him into a zombi. When I began reading this story and the narrator provided a recipe for zombification (“You need a pufferfish, and a small sample of blood and hair from your chosen candidate”, page 25) I honestly read it as complete fiction. Little did I know, that zombification is a real thing that exists and is practiced sometimes on the farms or labor intensive areas in Haiti as a means of controlling the workers or employees.

-SNS