Zora Neale Hurston discusses her research into actual zombies in Haiti
Zora Neale Hurston was a fascinating woman. In the late 1920s and through the 1930s, she traveled throughout the Caribbean studying various aspects of their culture and society.
Part of that study included the study of voodoo and of zombies. One story includes a woman named Felicia Felix-Mentor of Haiti. She died of a sudden illness in 1907. But, she was found walking the streets in 1936. Zora Neale Hurston photographed her and interviewed her. The photograph appeared in Life magazine and introduced the American public to zombies.
Hurston’s interview with Felix-Mentor is included in her book Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica.
We’ve recently come across a fascinating interview with Zora Neale Hurston on YouTube. The interview (audio only, unfortunately) was recorded from the Mary Margaret McBride show on January 25, 1943.
In the interview, Hurston says that she believes that voodoo zombies were never dead. Instead, she says that people are buried alive after being put in some type of drug-induced state of suspended anmiation. They are buried in crypts (not underground) are not embalmed – these are common practices in the Carribean. They are then “reanimated,” sometimes with their bodies intact but missing their minds.
Here descriptions are very similar to the way that zombies are shown in many of the early zombie stories, novels, and movies. (For example, in both White Zombie and The King of the Zombies, the zombies are not created from dead corpses, but from living people. In White Zombie especially, we see an example of a person “buried alive” in a crypt, then removed by the “witchdoctor,” played by Bela Lugosi.)
Here is the interview: