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The Dead Walking in Haiti: The Scary Story of Clairvius Narcisse

The story of Haitian Clairvius Narcisse is one of the few stories about real zombies that most researchers consider completely true, despite the fact that there was no evidence other than the words of the victim himself.

Zombies have captured the spirit of cultural times in recent years. They have become the most popular horror movie monster, dominating the media from video games to commercials and TV shows.

Journalists actively exaggerate the topic of zombies, constantly using this word in articles about various dangerous viruses and parasitic diseases. 

It got to the point that there are people, and there are many of them, who seriously believe that an outbreak of zombies, similar to those they saw in the films, can happen in reality. 

This, of course, does not mean that the phenomenon of zombies should be taken lightly and that they do not exist. There are enough stories from eyewitnesses who saw real zombies, and below is one of them.

The Dead Walking in Haiti: The Scary Story of Clairvius Narcisse

Clairvius Narcisse’s Scary Experience

On April 30, 1962, a man named Clairvius Narcisse came to the Albert Scheitzer Hospital in Deschapel, Haiti. He complained of recently appeared incomprehensible body aches and fever, but when he started coughing up blood right in the doctor’s office, it immediately became clear that he was far from having a cold.

When he started coughing up blood, his general condition deteriorated sharply and he was put to bed. He began to suffer from many dangerous symptoms: pulmonary edema, hypothermia, shortness of breath, hypotension and digestive problems. At some point, his lips turned blue, and he said that he felt like his whole body was being pricked with needles.

In just two days, Clairvius Narcisse’s condition became so bad that on May 2, he passed away. He was posthumously examined not just by a local doctor, but by a doctor from the United States, and another doctor trained in the same USA, and both of them admitted that Narcisse did not fall into a strong coma and does not suffer from lethargy, but is really dead.

To identify the patient, Clairvius Narcisse’s older sister, Angelina, was invited to the hospital, who confirmed that the deceased patient was in fact her brother. Next, Narcisse’s family took his body from the hospital morgue, and the very next day he was buried according to all the rules at the local cemetery.

The Dead Walking in Haiti: The Scary Story of Clairvius Narcisse

It’s been 18 years. One day Angelina went shopping at the local market and suddenly a man came up to her and told her that he was her brother Narcisse. Angelina did not believe him, but then the man gave her a childhood nickname, which Angelina once called her brother and which was completely unknown to anyone outside their family.

Further, the man who identified himself as Clairvius Narcisse began to tell many other things related to Angelina’s family, about which it was also completely impossible for some outsider to know. 

For all intents and purposes, the man claiming to be Clairvius Narcisse really was who he said he was. In the end, Angelina and her family accepted this man as Narcissus, and then he told them his story, which was very strange and shocking. 

According to Clairvius Narcisse, he didn’t actually die 18 years ago, but was turned into a zombie .

Narcisse said that when he suffered from various symptoms in the hospital, he was actually fully conscious. And even when he stopped breathing for everyone around him and his heart stopped beating, he was actually alive and aware of everything that was happening around him.

The same thing happened to him when his sister came to his identification, and when his “corpse” was taken to his village, and when he was buried in the ground. Remaining outwardly a complete corpse, Narcisse heard and felt everything, but could not move.

The Dead Walking in Haiti: The Scary Story of Clairvius Narcisse

After lying in the grave for a while, Narcisse felt that he was being dug up and taken out of the grave. Then he gained the ability to move and see and saw in front of him a voodoo sorcerer – bokor, along with his assistants. They pounced on him, beat him, and then dragged him away and took him to a distant sugar plantation.

There, this plantation was full of other “zombies” who, like Narcisse, toiled in the fields from sunrise to sunset, unable to resist and disobey the orders of the bokor. There he spent two years, after which one of the “zombies” suddenly “disenchanted” and attacked the bokor, killing him with a hoe. 

After that, all the “zombies” from the plantation threw off their witchcraft chains and fled away from this terrible place. Narcisse also fled with them and for the next 16 years wandered around Haiti, afraid to appear in the eyes of his family. 

The fact is that Narcisse was sure that his older brother was involved in this whole story, with whom he often had conflicts, and that it was he who “ordered” his bokor. Only when the elder brother died, Narcisse dared to return to his relatives.

Zombie culture

It’s easy to dismiss Clairvius Narcisse’s wild story as fiction, but to do so is to demonstrate a serious misunderstanding of both human psychology in general and Haitian culture in particular. 

The zombie belief originated in Haiti about five hundred years ago and is derived from much older African spiritual beliefs. The word zombie comes from the word Nzambi, which means “the spirit of a dead person.” This complex folk tradition was carried over to Haiti with slaves, mixing with Catholic beliefs and other fragments of spiritual traditions to evolve into a voodoo cult.

Raised in this environment since the 1600s, Haitian slaves believed that after death their spirit would return to their idealized homeland of Africa, but those who commit suicide to escape the horrors of slavery will become zombies, trapped in the undead and bound an even more terrible form of slavery than what they have endured in life.

After the Haitian Revolution of 1804, the French were expelled from the country, and slavery, which had been practiced for over 200 years, came to an end. However, the practice of voodoo cast such a long shadow that it manifested itself in the updated zombie folklore, where the bokor-voodoo sorcerer took the place vacated by the French, becoming the one who revived corpses with his magic and used them as slave labor. 

This was the cultural environment in which Clairvius Narcisse grew up. He knew what a zombie was and what it meant to be a zombie, even temporarily, for his society – it essentially meant becoming a social outcast forever. Therefore, he had no reason to lie about his terrible experience. 

The Dead Walking in Haiti: The Scary Story of Clairvius Narcisse

How Are Zombies Created?

When Dr. Nathan Kline, a pharmacologist specializing in mental illness, heard about the case, he tried to find confirmation of Clairvius Narcisse’s words. He sent Harvard graduate student Wade Davis to Haiti to find out what substance the Bokor sorcerers use to create their undead servants.

Davis was able to obtain samples of zombie powder from several boors. Their recipes varied, but three ingredients remained unchanged: shredded human bones, plants with irritating hairs, and dried puffer fish body parts.

The bones and plant hair were supposed to irritate the skin of the victims, causing them to scratch themselves until they bleed, so that through these scratches the active ingredient of the powder could enter their bloodstream. The active ingredient is tetrodotoxin, a deadly poison found in the skin and organs of blowfish.

It is a poison five hundred times more powerful than cyanide, which blocks nerve impulses, causing the same symptoms that Clairevius Narcisse had in the hospital the day he was pronounced dead. Depending on the dosage, it also causes a state of paralysis that is difficult to distinguish from actual death. However, during this poisoning, the victim is fully aware of himself.

Zombie powder is usually blown directly into the victim’s face or applied to scratched skin. Sometimes, due to the difference in the amount of tetrodotoxin concentration between individual puffer fish, multiple applications of zombie powder are required to obtain the desired effect. In these cases, they try to quietly sprinkle the powder into the victim’s clothes.

As soon as the victim is paralyzed and buried alive, the bokor goes to the grave and digs up the “corpse”, which may have received some brain damage due to oxygen deprivation in the grave and certainly suffered psychological trauma during this entire period of harsh tests.

These factors may make a newly discovered zombie more malleable, but the next sure step for a bokor is to feed his new zombie servant a paste of sweet potatoes, cane syrup, and dope.

Datura contains atropine and scopolamine, hallucinogens that cause various psychological effects such as confusion, psychosis, and amnesia. The hallucinogenic drink keeps the victim under the yielding will of the bokor. To deprive zombies of strength and will, they are further kept on a salt-free diet.

Zombies as punishment

Haitian folklore claims that the Bokors used their zombies as slaves for free labor on their plantations. However, people who have gone through zombification are unlikely to make a good employee. Many of them became practically “vegetables” due to psychological trauma and the use of dope. 

It is clear from Narcisse’s account that the bokor he encountered clearly used the manual labor of slaves, but given the high unemployment rate in Haiti then (and now), cheap labor that did not suffer from the effects of zombification was not in short supply. That is, spending a lot of energy and effort to create zombies as a labor force in the presence of extremely cheap ordinary workers was simply unprofitable. 

The motivation for creating zombies, by no means for economic reasons, stems from the social norms of Haitian culture. Rooted in ancient memories of the horrors of slavery, becoming a zombie for Haitians means becoming an absolute slave.

It is literally to lose yourself and become a puppet of flesh ruled by others. Thus, zombies are mainly created not to create a labor force, but to punish those who violate social norms. This is the ultimate punishment for those who refuse to play by the rules of society.

Clairvius Narcisse himself is a good example of this. Because of his extraordinary history, it is natural to see him only as a victim of violence, but those who knew Narcisse before his untimely “death” probably did not share this feeling. 

Narcisse was difficult to deal with, to put it mildly. He regularly quarreled with family members. He had children out of wedlock and refused to take responsibility for them. He became wealthy at the expense of others and aroused much envy in his village for being one of the first to rebuild his house from a thatched roof to a tin roof.

None of this in itself required the punishment of zombification, but his most serious violation came when he refused to give his share of the family land to his older brother, who was trying to feed his large family.

Haitians living in an island nation that historically relied primarily on agriculture to support themselves take issues related to land rights very seriously. These things can literally be life or death for a family that cannot access the land they need to support themselves. 

Thus, it turns out that when Clairvius Narcisse refused to give his land to a needy brother, he crossed the red line, and the brother decided to punish him by turning him into a zombie. 

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