Have you ever heard stories of strange things happening in Haiti?
Strange things…as in someone is buried, and they (some cemetery plot scavengers) unearth the body, bringing it back “to life” and using that person to slave off…in “zombie” form?
In 1981, Angelina Narcisse let out an attention-grabbing scream in an open market in the town of L’Estère. No, no one had grabbed her purse or anything. Just that her brother whom she had not, ahem, seen in a long time had approached her for some small talk. It would have been a most joyous reunion, except that, well, back in 1962 she and her whole family had buried this beloved brother.
Flashback to 1962! Clairvius Narcisse felt so sick that he checked himself into called Albert Schweitzer Hospital in the town of Deschapelles, miles away from his hometown. The doctors, one a doctor from the US, and the other trained in the US, diagnosed him with a combination of disorders including hypotension and pulmonary edema. Narcisse had a terrible fever, and was experiencing breathing problems, and would later say that he felt a strange sensation all over his body, something akin to bugs crawling all over his skin. Soon thereafter, he was pronounced dead by the doctors, and his sister Marie-Claire affixed her thumb print on the death certificate in lieu of signing.
Narcisse was buried. Throughout this, he (later) said, he could hear everything that was happening around him; he just couldn’t respond. He could hear his sister Angelina weeping at his bedside, and his whole funeral procession. He could feel the nail that went through his casket, and would later develop a scar on his forehead from it. A priest of the vodun religion, along with many others came to his grave site, took his body out of coffin, and beat him profusely, then tied him up, and carried him miles away from his home.
He was taken somewhere where he joined semi-stupefied people like him, and worked day and night on a large farm. There he was given some kind of concoction everyday, so that he could never regain his common sense. Eventually though, one of his fellow “zombies” beat the captor with hoe, and they all escaped. Narcisse, who had been on the plantation for two years, learned at one point that his brother was the one who had gotten him poisoned over a property dispute, so after his escape he avoided his hometown—fearing his brother—though apparently he kept close contact with people would keep him informed of the happenings in his town. In the meantime, he wandered around near the vicinity of his home, as a mandyan (a (sometimes) homeless person who begs passers-by for food and change), until he learned that his brother had died.
The fact that Narcisse was indeed the Narcisse that had died years ago, was confirmed by Lamarque Douyon, a Haitian psychiatrist. Douyon formulated a questionnaire series and Narcisse answered them all correctly to the letter. Douyon also got about 200 witnesses including friends and family members to confirm his identity. What’s more, when Narcisse had initially approached his sister in the open air market, he had used a nickname for himself that the family had for him, in his early childhood that only they would have known.
Narcisse’s case attracted a great deal of international media, including New Scientist magazine and Time magazine which both wrote feature stories in 1983. The BBC sent a crew to Haiti in 1981 to produce a documentary on his case, and ABC also sent reporters. Harvard University even sent a young ethnobotanist by the name of Wade Davis to do some studies on Narcisse. Davis’s trips to Haiti would later yield two books, one of which was The Serpent and the Rainbow, (a bestseller in the USA), the basis for a movie of the same name that was released in 1988.
Davis has said in interviews as well as in his book, that Narcisse and people like Narcisse, are somehow injected with a toxin that gives them the appearance of being dead–to the point where even the most competent medical professionals would declare them dead. After their burial, they are usually beaten (guess somehow the beating reverses the power of the toxin?), and/or then given an antidote. The toxin is reportedly made from a toad, the sapo fish, a poisonous fish in Haiti (also found in Japan, and interestingly enough is a delicacy…minus the poison), parts of human bones and skin, and poisonous plants.
Cases like that of Narcisse have been repeated over and over in Haiti, most recently that of a man name Adelin Seide in Fort Liberté. Adner had gone to a party with friends, and drunk some kleren, and felt some stomach pangs. He died that same night, and was buried. His father discovered men carrying away his body in the middle of the night, and upon seeing him, they fled, and left the body on the road.
In 2008, after a long illness, Eunide Lazare, a young woman was buried in a cemetery in Turgeau, a suburb near Port-au-Prince, only to be spotted by her family a few months later in Pétionville, her face and body in a deplorable state.
When Zora Neale Hurston visited Haiti in the 1930s, the book Tell My Horse, which she would eventually write about her journey, would include stories of a woman she had met who had been a “zombi” for 29 years.
In the late 1970s, a woman named Francina Illeus (spelled Ileus as well) was declared dead. Three years later, Illeus (nicknamed Ti Fanm) was found alive and wandering. Her mother recognized her by identifying a scar on her forehead. When her grave was dug, they found rocks in the coffin. The family said that a jealous husband had done Ti Fanm “in”.
In the book Roaming Through the West Indies, written in the 1920s, the author recounts how a young girl was buried, and years later came roaming to her family, by which time she had had three kids.
Recently, I overheard this story from this guy, concerning a man in his hometown in Haiti who had been in an auto accident. He had mild injuries and from the accident site, he was taken to the morgue. At the morgue, he whispered to the morgue owners that, “Mesye yo mwen pa mouri non”—Yo, guys, I ain’t dead. The morgue workers took a knife (hey I’m just relating a story here), and killed him. There is no way they were going to lose that funeral money! Now, when his family saw the body, and noticed the knife marks, they realized that he had still been alive when he was taken at the site of the accident.
I’ve heard other people relating similar stories. In another instance, this lady told my mother about this woman who had been “toudi” (er put in a comatose state), but at the morgue she woke up (apparently the poison wore off too early) and started talking at intervals. Not sure as to what the end story was on that one.
These are all curious cases indeed, but not so curious perhaps. Person gets slipped poisonous concoction. Declared dead, but in reality still alive. Family buries person. People who poisoned person arrive at grave, slip antidote, wakes person; takes person away.