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Halloween The black history of zombies

The zombie myth is more than a product of the creative minds in Hollywood. It actually has a black origin.

  • Published:
Black zombie play

Black zombie

(Deviant Art )

Zombies, we have all heard about the living dead or the walking dead that roam the streets and feast on the flesh of human beings.

My first encounter with zombies was when I watched Michael Jackson in his classic music video 'Thriller' circa 1990. As a matter of fact, the short Michael Jackson film was my introduction to the Horror genre.

Watching Michael Jackson turn into a werewolf in front of Ola Ray was scary enough. By the time the zombie crawled out from their graves and crypts I had lost my mind. To make matters worse, Michael Jackson turned into a zombie. I really didn't know what they were but I knew they were scary.

Michael Jackson with his zombies play

Michael Jackson with his zombies

(Wenner Media )


My next encounter with the zombie phenomenon was sometime in 1993 when TV ads for the early Nollywood horror flick 'Witch Doctor of the Living Dead'.  I never watched the movie because the advert was scary enough.

Poster of 'Witch Doctor of the Living Dead'. (The movie was originally released in 1986) play

Poster of 'Witch Doctor of the Living Dead'. (The movie was originally released in 1986)



By the time Sony had revolutionized the gaming industry with Play Station, zombies had become a mainstay. Resident Evil, the popular game would later be recreated into several movies. The franchise has been so successful that the last instalment 'The Final Chapter' will be released January 2016, in Japan.

The poster for the final Resident Evil movie play

The poster for the final Resident Evil movie

(Coming Soon )


Today, the average Nigerian kid has consumed so much of zombie media from movies such as 'Shaun of the Dead', '28 Days Later', the sequel '28 Weeks Later', and the hit TV series 'The Walking Dead'.

The Walking Dead" renewed for eighth season play

"The Walking Dead" renewed for eighth season


As Nigerians begin to celebrate Halloween, it is fitting to say that zombies have a black origin, Haitian to be specific.

Nzambi is the Haitian word for zombie and it is the Kongo word for 'soul'. The dark art of reanimating dead corpses started in Haiti when African slaves who still maintained their traditional practices used voodoo to bring back the dead.

The Haitian zombie is not as sensational as the ones we see on TV. They are docile and weak but they do not have a hunger for human flesh.

A painting depicting Haitian zombies play

A painting depicting Haitian zombies


ALSO READ: Life lessons from 'The Walking Dead'

It was believed that the notorious Haiti dictator used zombies as members of his feared Tontons Macoutes to clamp down on those who opposed him.

Scientists have travelled to Haiti to try to understand the components of the zombie powder but none of them has been successful so far.

Another point where black culture intersects the zombie myth is the movie 'Night of the Living Dead'. The seminal flick released in 1968 featured a black actor Duane Jones as the leading actor. This was unusual at the time. Many black actors weren't given leading roles.

A scene from 'Night of the Living Dead' play

A scene from 'Night of the Living Dead'

(blum house )


'Night of the Living Dead' would go on to be a success. With a meagre budget of $114, 000 the film would go on to rake $18m internationally.

In Nigeria, we have our own fair share of myths such as bush babies and Madam Koi Koi, but the zombie myth is one of those universal myths that haunt us like vampires and werewolves.

Happy Halloween.

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