Where Zombies Come From


“Here in the beautiful island of Haiti,” “among the tobacco and cane sugar field workers,” “Black magic, voodooism, or the worship of the Serpent, honeycombed the entire country.” When the US occupied Haiti for two decades in the early 20th century It only intensified Americans’ fascination with a part of its religious culture known as voodou, spiritual beliefs and practices originating in West Africa where European colonial powers enslaved thousands and thousands of people and brought them to the island in the previous centuries That fascination, like the occupation, had a racist strain: a combination of fear, anxiety, and hostility toward the so called black magic of a primitive culture It was during this period that this guy, William Seabrook, journalist occultist and generally eccentric minor celebrity visited Haiti to report on the occupation but found himself drawn instead to voodoo resulting in a 1929 book entitled the Magic Island. Though it was and is accused of being sensational and insensitive, the book captured the public’s interest, and one chapter in particular has had a lasting impact on popular culture. In “Dead Men Working in the Cane Field”, Seabrook effectively Introduces the world to zombies. “The zombie, they say, is the soulless human corpse, still dead,” “but taken from the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical semblance of life” The zombies of Haitian folklore are controlled by a sorcerer called a “bokor” who uses them for his own ends often for menial work, resembling slave labor. and by the way, they don’t eat or crave human flesh at this point. Once in the popular imagination, It took only three years for this conception of the zombie to find its way to Hollywood to a film industry eager for another monster after the successes of Dracula and Frankenstein Drawing from the Magic Island and a Broadway play, 1932’s White Zombie became the first zombie movie ever. Set in Haiti, the story stars Bela Lugosi as a voodoo sorcerer who helps a plantation owner turn the object of his desire into a zombie so that she’ll be with him The terror here is in a white couple being controlled in the same way as the Haitians. The bigoted subtext is all too obvious. The White Zombie wasn’t as successful as Dracula or Frankenstein. It did spawn a number of zombie films along these lines in the following years and decades. Each follows from the conception that Seabrook outlined in his book: Slave-like henchmen controlled by a master. In 1966, Hammer films’ “Plague of the Zombies” created undead that look like the ones we know today, But Haitian voodoo was still the touchstone But in 1968, everything changed thanks to this man, George Romero and his skeleton crew of collaborators who made the zombie film that reinvented the genre: Night of the Living Dead. It’s impossible to overstate Romero’s impact. Every zombie film, or comic, or TV show – Whatever made in the last 50 years is a direct descendant of this film. Romero changed the rules. First and foremost, he dispensed with the master-slave dynamic; his undead aren’t under the control of anyone or anything For some unknown reason – maybe scientific,
maybe not – they are reanimated as pure instinct, scouring the earth on whatever limbs they have left seeking one thing: the living. “Medical authorities in Cumberland have concluded that in all cases,” “the killers are eating the flesh of the people they murdered.” Romero’s zombies devour living human beings. They hobble forward awkwardly, but relentlessly They’re dumb, able to use objects as blunt-force instruments, but nothing else. They can only be killed by being shot in the head or burned and if one bites or scratches you, you’ll die not long after, then transform into one and pursue whoever is nearby, family or not. If these creatures don’t resemble the zombies of Haitian Vodou, That’s because Romero didn’t think of his undead as zombies. In Night, they’re called ghouls and they’re derived more from Richard Matheson’s novel “I am Legend” than William Seabrook. How these flesh eaters came to be known as zombies is a bit foggy, But by the time Romero made the sequel, Dawn of the Dead, he adopted the name, too. Whether there are enough similarities to consider the pre-Romero and post Romero history of zombies continuous, is up for debate What is clear is that when pretty much anyone thinks of zombies nowadays They’re thinking of Romero zombies. One reason for this is that these are just creative primal monsters But another reason I think why Romero zombies have been so lasting is because his original trilogy, particularly the first two installments are really outstanding movies. Night of the Dead and its neo-realist black and white style is a smart tightly crafted story made on a shoestring budget with a third act That is an absolutely brutal and punishing even now, fifty years later. In Dawn of the Dead, his best film I think, Romero keys in to the symbolic potential of his monsters in a way that he was only hinting at in Night The film, which takes place almost entirely in a mall, uses zombies to critique consumerism as the zombies lumber through this familiar place we see our own behavior as a grotesque reflection. A zombie’s thoughtlessness, Romero understood, is the perfect mirror for our own. These days, the zombie is everywhere. You’ve seen the shows, played the games, watch the trailers. It’s more than firmly established as a horror trope, which means that it’ll likely stay with us for a very long time. Its history is complicated, a tangle of appropriation and invention, prejudice and creative genius and awesomeness. In other words, it’s a modern myth. “I’m thinking zombies” “What?” “Y-you know zombies” “ghouls” “the undead” Hey everybody, thank you so much for watching. This episode was brought to you by Squarespace If you don’t know you can use Squarespace to make beautiful websites for anything you might need a personal site, a wedding website, a site for your business or portfolio, a blog and in just a few clicks you can have that website up and running Their design team has crafted templates that work on computer browsers and on mobile so they switch perfectly between the two. You can integrate your own photos and videos And you can even link your social accounts so that you can auto post to Twitter and Facebook all from within Squarespace. Head over to Squarespace.com for a free trial, and when you’re ready to launch, go to squarespace.com/nerdwriter for 10% off your first purchase. Thanks again, guys. I’ll see you next time.

100 Replies to “Where Zombies Come From”

  1. the origin really comes from the Congolese word 'Nzambi" which means God or high creator God. It was warped by Europeans to mean undead corpse and later to mean a slow witted persons later in time. The second distorted meaning came to be around the 1930s.

  2. kaptainkristian's essay Night of the Living Dead – Horrors of Copyright is a great companion piece to this:
    https://youtu.be/UI1kqlt4vkA

  3. I always thought that zombies were a metaphor for how humans are inescapable. You can't be safe anywhere where there are humans(zombies) around. After reading "The Zombie Survival Guide" it really makes you realize that it's hard to escape to a place anywhere where there are no humans. Any place where it is safe from zombies is inhospitable. You would have know how to survive on your own which is difficult to near impossible if you aren't some survivalist/woodsman.

  4. Yooo where have you been man? These videos are becoming so spaced out that we get 2 Marvel movies for every Nerdwriter video!

  5. I'm still interested in why suddenly zombies became a big deal in about 2009-2010. I had the idea that we had to switch over from vampires to zombies because the PTB suddenly realized that rich bloodsuckers weren't a good look, around the time of the financial crisis. Better to train people to shoot the ever-hungry zombies (poors) in the head. I mean poor people are often hungry and hunger makes you act irrationally, it's not that far off. I hope that's just a silly conspiracy theory of mine.

  6. There’s one thing that I really hate and can’t stand about ALL of your videos…

    They’re always too short.

    GIMME SOME LONGER ESSAYS DAMNIT.

  7. But what about H.P Lovecrafts "The Re-animator", written over 7 years before The Magic Island? It's widely believed to be the first true modern Zombie story, in which corpses are resurrected by man-made and scientific means, as opposed to voodoo, with only the desire to consume the flesh of the living within them. Lovecraft wrote the story as a dark parody of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, but to this day the zombie mythos is often largely identicle to what Lovecraft wrote.

  8. Haiti. Took this class in college. It's a hell for Haitian slaves. The story was that slaves looked forward to death it was freedom from bondage but you had to make certain you didnt become a zombie because then you could be put back to work eternally. Night of the living dead is when they started eating people. I already know this but I'm still so excited for another nerdwriter video!

  9. Random, but does anyone have access to the Memory, Place and the Mall: George Romero on Consumerism piece and the

    DAWN OF THE DIGITAL DEAD: THE ZOMBIE AS INTERACTIVE SOCIAL SATIRE IN AMERICAN POPULAR CULTURE one as well

  10. Nerd writer isn’t aware of the zombies in 1950s horror comics. Sometimes they were close to Romero types. Also there was the ghouls that ate human flesh that zombies would get combined with.

  11. Please check out Vervaeke and Jonathan Pageau. Their zombie content would be very useful for a mind like yours. Very cool, succinct video, clicks with a lot other information I have heard over the years.

  12. Just a coment… when you say "europeans enslaved thousands and thousands of people" you should say "europeans bought thousand and thouthands of slaves"

  13. As someone who's still writing a zombie apocalypse series for my channel, this video is a godsend. Not because of it's value as inspiration, really, but because of what it means to horror as a genre. This is a celebration. Zombies were here yesterday, they're here today, and they'll be here tomorrow. "When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth."

  14. Slavery is bad, but it was Africans who sold Africans as slaves to the Europeans. The Africans enslaved their fellow Africans as well. It's not a western exclusivity

  15. The word "zombie" is NEVER mentioned in "Night of the Living Dead", not even once.
    They are ghouls.
    They are called ghouls in the movie and they are called ghouls by Romero himself.

  16. Where does the caricature come from? You know the one where they're green, rise from the grave and eat brains? Think of the Simpsons Halloween episode

  17. The Haitians killed all the slave owners during their fight for independence and left a deep fear in the hearts of all Europeans. So much so that the British empire ended slavery shortly after in fear of a empire wide slave revolt inspired by the Haitians. Also Haitians used voodoo ceremonies to plot their rebellion and avoid detection.

    The “zombie” in the white psyche represents black people who aren’t afraid of white supremacy and are bold enough to challenge it.

  18. You might be interested to know that there are pre-christian tribal legends in Ireland about a magic cauldron that would reanimate dead warriors as mindless murder slaves of the owner of said cauldron.

    Zombies have been an idea for thousands of years.

  19. Glad you touched on the actual history of “zombies” in Haitian culture, would have liked more but the fact that you touched on it at all is more than most…

  20. Frankenstein's Monster. And "Day of the Dead" ruled, and is my personal favorite of the trilogy. Otherwise, fantastic video…. Thanks!!

  21. Would you ever do a video about kingkiller chronicle it has to be one of the best book series i have ever read.

  22. Just a thought: the origin of the word alcohol comes from Arabic's (don't quote me on that) al'khol or in modern English "the ghoul" hence the naming of it as spirits.

  23. So awesome man! As always.
    Knew about the consumerism aspect, but not tge slavery aspect.. Thanks so much for bring this to light!

  24. I feel the ending of Shaun of the Dead could easily use Capitalism to bring back the Master-slave dynamic in another story. Where Zombism is a thing, but its a controlled thing, used by master capitalists to infect laborers, make them mindless, easy to use laborers for their own design.

  25. I always thought zombies were a more fictional portrayal of the consequences of cannibalism. When cannibals make the poor mistake of eating brains, they get a neurodegenerative disease known as Kuru or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. Some symptoms of Kuru include difficulty walking, poor motor control, dementia, and slurred speech. People can lose the ability to talk, and the disease also results in a behavioral shift where people stop caring about their health and wellbeing. (Most people also die from kuru within a year, so that’s a big oof.)

    Anyways, I always thought Kuru and zombieism (I just made up the word zombieism but let’s go with it) were parallels.

  26. Not a popular opinion, but Romero's Land of the Dead game was horrfying and scary af played by me as child and now an adult. Bruh, the chills.

  27. Your video has quite a few errors. N'zombi means spirit and can reference a re-animated body as much as a ghost or specter. N'zombi also are NOT part of Voodoo. The Bokor is akin to a witch and not a priest of the Loa (Vodun gods) and is considered evil by Vodou practice standards. N'zombi is a part of the wider West African diaspora folk lore but not a part of the religion called Vodou. That's like saying Vampires is a part of Christianity because of all its weeknesses to holy water and crosses.

  28. Wow Nerdwriter doesn’t show up in my feed
    But all the conspiracy theory, ufo, & socialist channels show up
    But not our boy Nerdwriter & a few woodworking channels

  29. Read Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo if you want a deadly realistic zombie scenario. Down to earth and smartly written.

  30. This gotta be one of the laziest episodes of NW1;
    This here is the original video released by "KaptaiKristian" ALMOST 2 YEARS AGO
    (minus 10 days); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI1kqlt4vkA
    THE /*REASON*/ YOU WATCHED THOSE MOVIES, VIDEOGAMES, SHOWS, ETC.
    ALONG WITH DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER AND A FEW MORE – – –
    IS BECAUSE OF THIS DIABOLICAL THING CALLED /*COPYRIGHT LAWS*/
    (BROUGHT TO YOUR IMAGINATION BY MICKEY MOUSE HIMSELF).

  31. This gotta be one of the laziest episodes of NW1;
    This here is the original video released by "KaptaiKristian" ALMOST 2 YEARS AGO
    (minus 10 days); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI1kqlt4vkA
    THE /*REASON*/ YOU WATCHED THOSE MOVIES, VIDEOGAMES, SHOWS, ETC.
    ALONG WITH DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER AND A FEW MORE – – –
    IS BECAUSE OF THIS DIABOLICAL THING CALLED /*COPYRIGHT LAWS*/
    (BROUGHT TO YOUR IMAGINATION BY MICKEY MOUSE HIMSELF).

  32. This gotta be one of the laziest episodes of NW1;
    This here is the original video released by "KaptaiKristian" ALMOST 2 YEARS AGO
    (minus 10 days); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI1kqlt4vkA
    THE /*REASON*/ YOU WATCHED THOSE MOVIES, VIDEOGAMES, SHOWS, ETC.
    ALONG WITH DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER AND A FEW MORE – – –
    IS BECAUSE OF THIS DIABOLICAL THING CALLED /*COPYRIGHT LAWS*/
    (BROUGHT TO YOUR IMAGINATION BY MICKEY MOUSE HIMSELF).

  33. This gotta be one of the laziest episodes of NW1;
    This here is the original video released by "KaptaiKristian" ALMOST 2 YEARS AGO
    (minus 10 days); https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI1kqlt4vkA
    THE /*REASON*/ YOU WATCHED THOSE MOVIES, VIDEOGAMES, SHOWS, ETC.
    ALONG WITH DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER AND A FEW MORE – – –
    IS BECAUSE OF THIS DIABOLICAL THING CALLED /*COPYRIGHT LAWS*/
    (BROUGHT TO YOUR IMAGINATION BY MICKEY MOUSE HIMSELF).

  34. What about Lovecraft's "Herbert West–Reanimator"? It was written in 1922. Not sure if the reanimated bodies are called zombies but they seem to act more like the modern zombies.

  35. There are a ton of Zombie-games and you choose The Last of Us, where it's a fungus-infection. Really, bro? Otherwise nice video!

  36. "Ghoul" is an arabic word for "monster".. It is an imaginary creature associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh..

  37. I was fully expecting some mention of "The Serpent and the Rainbow", based loosely on the true story of Dr. Wade Davis and his research into Zombinol, the drug used in Haitian rituals to "create" zombies.

  38. When I see the zombie, I think of the Muslim leader (Ganga Zombie) in Brazil who fought the Portuguese when they invaded Brazil.

  39. I recall reading a while back that Haitians referred to them as "Zhomba", or something slightly different. Furthermore I remember a description of a powdered drug, maybe a mushroom or something, which mimicked death, so a person would be buried, only to be dug up by the Voodoo practitioner, which left the victim with brain damage, thus the lumbering, slurred words, and inability to do complex tasks, essentially becoming an undead slave.

  40. Would love to see a video on the reflection of our culture and current events in the movies that are made during that time. Ex. all the recent space exploration films. cool channel

  41. You forgot to mention Zora Neale Hurston and her contribution to what we know about real (read Haitian) zombies.

  42. Romero zombies are so impactful for another key reason: they forgot to copyright the original movie. So when Night Of The Living Dead was released, Romero’s concept of the zombie immediately entered public domain. This is why other creators can reuse the same monster.

  43. Zombies have been one of my favourite concepts for a while, but there was whole lot I didn't know here. Thanks 🙂

  44. another quality video, thanks nerdwriter1, i think i watched one of these movies when i was a kid…absolute horror 😛

  45. I’d love to see a video on how James Bond films have developed over the years, I’m watching Tomorrow Never Dies and the transformation in tone/ideas over the years is so interesting.

  46. Please watch the Korean film "Parasite". This is not a request for a review, just please just watch it. No film has had such an affect on me such as this film.

  47. Interesting video. But I think you missed one of the most interesting aspects of zombies in movies today. Where they were once a slave metaphor, nowadays zombies are more often than not a refugee/immigration metaphor. In World War Z for instance, the image of zombies scrambling to scale a giant wall is loaded. It's the fear of "the replacement" and the unknown entering"our space"

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