Originating in the West Indies of Haiti during the French Colonial period, Voudou is still widely practiced in Haiti today. The foundations of the religion lie in West Africa and were brought by slaves to Haiti during the 17th century. Surrounded around beliefs in the worship of spirits and ancestors, singing, drumming and dancing in rituals and the possession of practitioners by spirits. Once brought to Haiti voudou provided slaves with spiritual mode for resisting the hardships of enslavement. Viewing voudou as exotic, barbaric and frightening, white plantation owners often forbade and punished its followers and baptized them into Catholicism. In response voudou was often practiced in secret and the tradition handed down orally through the generations.
Historically, zombification through voudou in both Haiti and the United States represented the fear of eternal enslavement. The threat of zombification was similar to the threat of hell where the zombie would be forced into eternal servitude. McAlister comments, “Just as slavery depended on capturing, containing, and forcing the labour of thousands of people, so does this form of mystical work re-enact the same process in local terms” (McAlister). It is important to note, however, that the only one who would zombify another was the voodoo priestess, controlling one’s own race and culture rather than another’s. So zombification in its original context was also about independence from the white man, emphasizing the importance of freedom.
Voudou, however, has been sensationalized by Western popular culture and transformed into “Voodoo” which is a highly racialized version of voudou that remains ignorant to the historical and social context from which this religion emerged. Instead, voodoo is a capture which represents voudou as uncivilized and beneath the level of white Christianity and white culture. Just as the golem was captured in such a way that the term became synonymous with monstrosity and stupidity, the voodoo has become synonymous with barbarism.
“AFRICAN VOODOO | Vodun African Religion | Spirituality.” AFRICAN VOODOO | Vodun African Religion | Spirituality. Maafa: African Holocaust, n.d. Web. 01 May 2014. .
McAlister, Elizabeth. “Slaves, cannibals, and infected hyper-whites: the race and religion of zombies”. Anthropological Quarterly 85.2 (2012): 457+. Academic OneFile. Web. 13 Jan. 2013.