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Definition: zombie from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Corpse believed to be reanimated by a spirit and enslaved. The idea, widespread in Haiti, possibly arose from voodoo priests using the nerve poison tetrodotoxin (from the puffer fish) to produce a semblance of death from which the victim afterwards physically recovers. Those eating incorrectly prepared puffer fish in Japan have been similarly affected.


Summary Article: zombie from Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained

More fiction than fact, zombies are said to be the mindless ‘undead’.

The word ‘zombie’, like ‘voodoo’ (see voudun), has two quite different meanings: the Hollywood B-movie usage, and the reality. The reality has nothing to do with the shambling hulks seen on screen, or with fearless, mindless and utterly obedient armies of the undead.

A zombie is supposedly someone who has died and been brought back to life by arcane means, and is now a body without a mind (or a soul), completely subject to the will of his controller. But stories of encounters with real-life zombies, usually associated with voodoo, tend to fall apart on investigation.

However, in the 1980s a Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist, Wade Davis, claimed that people could be put into a zombie-like state by being given a drug, tetrodotoxin, found in species of fish related to the highly toxic puffer fish – a Japanese culinary delicacy when correctly prepared, but otherwise lethal. This drug apparently slows heartbeat and respiration to the extent that people are declared dead, even by doctors. The idea is that after the victim is buried, he is dug up again and partially revived, his zombie characteristics no doubt stemming from the trauma he has suffered.

This intriguing theory is often popularly stated as a factual explanation for zombies, but it has met with considerable scepticism in the scientific world.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2007

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