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  • Ah, Haiti.

  • One half of the island of Hispaniola, this Caribbean nation is one of the most diverse

  • nations on Earth.

  • Visitors will find a unique cultural history, a beautiful landscape, and flavorful food.

  • They'll also find a deep folklore that may hold some dark secrets.

  • Haiti is one of the birthplaces of Vodou, an African diasporic religion that combines

  • worship of Yoruba gods and Roman Catholic saints.

  • But it also has a reputation surrounding the supernatural, with legends surrounding possession,

  • exorcism, and magical healing.

  • Even possibly...zombies.

  • Zombies!

  • Well, maybe not the ones you're thinking of.

  • Most modern depictions of zombies have them as part of a fast-spreading plague.

  • When someone gets bitten by the undead, they soon become a slow-moving, hungry monster

  • themselves, seeking brains - and to spread the plague.

  • But these weren't the first zombies.

  • The zombies first mentioned in Haitian folklore were the undead, but they weren't created

  • by a virus.

  • They were brought back from the dead by magic, usually to serve as a priest's slave.

  • The fear of being turned into a zombie was widespread, and slave owners before slavery

  • was abolished used to threaten their captives that they would be kept around as a zombie

  • if they committed suicide.

  • But this isn't possible...is it?

  • The idea of raising the dead doesn't have any evidence in its favor, but another theory

  • about the existence of zombies has gained attention.

  • What if these undead weren't dead at all?

  • What if they were captive, enslaved humans who had been turned into the living dead by

  • alchemy, poisons, and maybe a little magic we didn't understand?

  • It still seems rather far-fetched.

  • Except that there's one person who may have lived this nightmare.

  • It was 1962 when a Hatian man arrived in a hospital deeply sick.

  • He was identified as Clairvius Narcisse, and it soon became clear that he likely wouldn't

  • be leaving.

  • His fever got worse, and he began spitting up blood.

  • His condition deteriorated for a few days until he passed away, and this proceeded normally

  • from there.

  • His body was placed in the morgue, and he was later buried.

  • That seemed to be the end of the story.

  • But it wasn't.

  • And eighteen years later, it took a bizarre turn.

  • It was 1980, and Angelina Narcisse had long ago mourned her brother and moved on with

  • her life.

  • She was shocked when a mysterious man arrived in the city of L'Estere and proclaimed himself

  • to be Clairvius.

  • She had no reason to believe him - until he told her his childhood nickname, and proceeded

  • to give her and other villagers information he would have no way of knowing if he wasn't

  • who he claimed to be.

  • But he had been dead and buried.

  • What could explain his bizarre resurrection?

  • The story he would tell was even stranger than his return.

  • He had been buried, but he hadn't been dead.

  • Clairvius claimed that he had undergone a mysterious illness that left him completely

  • paralyzed and appearing dead, but he was fully conscious as they buried him in the ground.

  • Then, after he was given up for dead, he had been dug up from the ground and force-fed

  • a mysterious paste by a bokor, or witch doctor.

  • The doctor had plans for him, and he was soon introduced to his new place in life - as a

  • slave on a sugar plantation.

  • But why didn't he escape?

  • The bokor kept him and all the other slaves pacified with regular doses of a mysterious

  • drug.

  • It made him hallucinate, caused him to lose his memories, and kept him in a fugue state

  • that he could barely remember - along with dozens of other captives.

  • He couldn't even realize he was a prisoner and scheme to escape, because his mind was

  • no longer his own.

  • The only saving grace?

  • The witch doctor was a mortal, and no potion could fix that.

  • Eventually, after sixteen long years of slavery, Clairvius' enslaver died and there was no

  • one left to give him the drug that took away his mind.

  • The witch doctor's wife then fed salt to the enslaved and released them from the curse.

  • Clairvius remembered everything and ran back to his hometown to find his family.

  • With such a wild story, it's unlikely people would believe him - right?

  • Surprisingly, no.

  • Many people familiar with the stories around voodoo magic in Haiti were familiar with the

  • legends around zombies and thought his story was entirely possible.

  • Complicating it, there were stories that those who violated the rules of society were more

  • vulnerable to the punishment of being turned into a zombie - and Narcisse was notorious

  • for fathering children and abandoning them.

  • He claimed his soul had been taken by the sorcerer, and even accused his estranged brother

  • of masterminding his poisoning to get an inheritance.

  • But one thing was sure - the villagers did recognize Clairvius Narcisse, and everyone

  • was sure this was actually him, returned from the dead.

  • The only question was - how?

  • While stories like this may have circulated for centuries before, this was 1980 and news

  • traveled fast.

  • The strange story of Clairvius Narcisse reached foreign shores, and doctors wanted to investigate.

  • The first to look into the case was Haitian psychiatrist Lamarque Douyon, who firmly rejected

  • the idea of any supernatural influence.

  • However, there were too many stories of zombies around Haiti for it to simply be a coincidence.

  • He believed this was a case of poisoning and kidnapping.

  • There was just one unanswered question - how did Narcisse escape death.

  • The hospital he had died in was operated by American medical staff, and there were strong

  • records of his decline, death, and storage for burial.

  • Was there a poison out there that could simulate death itself?

  • There was much debate, but one figure in particular emerged as a voice of belief.

  • Wade Davis, a Harvard ethnobotany student from Canada, had devoted his studies to the

  • unique properties of plants and how they're used in traditional medicine and religion.

  • He studied the documents surrounding Narcisse's supposed death and communicated with Dr. Douyon.

  • He knew he would have to travel to Haiti to investigate this bizarre case personally.

  • He soon developed a theory that was scary for how plausible it was.

  • Davis' background in botany led him to believe that the chemical properties of plants could

  • create a state that would duplicate the effects of supposedly supernatural zombies.

  • He met with experts in traditional medicine, listened to stories of zombie folklore, and

  • learned of a supposedzombie powderthat was used to poison people.

  • It had a bizarre list of ingredients.

  • It included puffer fish, lizards, a toad, a dried sea worm, the species of several plants

  • from Haiti, and material from a corpse.

  • Davis spoke of how he witnessed the skull of a dead infant be used in the potion.

  • However, he soon zeroed in on one ingredient in particular.

  • Pufferfish are strange creatures which are a delicacy in some cultures.

  • But they have to be eaten very carefully, because parts of them contain tetrodotoxin.

  • This highly potent neurotoxin is found in some of the most poisonous animals on Earth

  • - and even a small amount can have a devastating effect.

  • The fast-acting poison blocks the sodium channels in the nervous system, which keeps the signals

  • between the body and the brain from transmitting.

  • The victim is slowly paralyzed, with the poison eventually affecting the muscles that control

  • breathing and killing them.

  • There is no antidote, but people have recovered when medical help is available to keep them

  • alive until the poison wears off.

  • Could Narcisse's “deathhave been a close call with tetrodotoxin?

  • It's possible, because someone can be exposed through many means - through ingestion, injection,

  • through a wound in the skin, or even through breathing in a powder.

  • It's not clear if Narcisse could have survived a near-death experience without medical intervention,

  • but the symptoms were similar enough that Davis believed it was the likeliest situation.

  • Bufotoxin, a toxin derived from toads, may have also been involved.

  • Narcisse didn't waver from his story and the medical reports seemed clear - but it

  • didn't explain everything.

  • How would someone be mind-controlled for sixteen years?

  • Davis soon came to believe that Narcisse's time as a zombie may have been related to

  • another poison - one that can be found in many of our backyards.

  • Datura, a poisonous plant also known as jimsonweed, has a long history of being used as a hallucinogen

  • and a poison.

  • Many traditional religions took controlled amounts of this plant as part of religious

  • rites, despite it being a gamble every time.

  • The plant is psychoactive and can cause delirium, hallucinations, and even psychosis - and overdoses

  • can cause death.

  • Those who become intoxicated by it become unable to tell fantasy from reality.

  • Could a consistent dose of this poison, administered by someone who knew how to avoid a fatal dose,

  • keep someone in a perpetual state of delirium that would make them a zombie-like slave?

  • That depends on who you ask.

  • Wade Davis' theory of the strange case of Clairvius Narcisse made him famous, and he

  • soon published a book titledThe Serpent and the Rainbow”, which he claimed to be

  • a true story of how a man was turned into a zombie.

  • It became a best-seller and was even turned into a horror movie of the same name by horror

  • legend Wes Craven - although the movie fictionalized the case significantly and received mediocre

  • reviews.

  • But not everyone was buying Wade Davis' conclusions.

  • Scientists studied Davis' theories about tetrodotoxin and found that there was very

  • little evidence of the presence of the poison in the samples he brought back from Haiti.

  • While in theory it could have the effect he claimed, there have been no studies due to

  • the extremely dangerous nature of experimenting with the poison.

  • Likewise, there are no studies on the long-term impact or survivability of datura poisoning,

  • and no other reports of people being kept in dreamlike states indefinitely.

  • Kao and Yatsumoto, a pair of researchers who studied the case after Davis, believed that

  • Davis had falsified many of his conclusions in order to write his book.

  • He was also criticized for ethics breaches in his investigation in Haiti, for taking

  • extreme measures like being involved in the exhumation of an infant corpse for the making

  • of the powder.

  • The case is debated to this day, and no one really has an answer to the question - do

  • zombies exist?

  • It turns out, the answer is yes - but maybe only in the animal kingdom.

  • In recent years, scientists have made some disturbing discoveries about organisms that

  • can enslave other beings to their will.

  • One such slaver isn't an animal at all - but a fungus.

  • Massospora cicadina is a spore that has a very limited target - periodical cicadas that

  • only emerge every thirteen or seventeen years.

  • These spores can go dormant with the cicada and infect the abdomen of the insect.

  • The spores eventually grow and take over the whole abdomen of the cicada, turning the back

  • half of the insect into a chalky plug.

  • As the cicada flies around, it spreads the fungus.

  • Studies even show that the cicada drags its abdomen more than usual, making sure it sheds

  • as many spores as possible.

  • While the cicada is still alive, the fungus seems to compel it to do whatever it can to

  • make sure it infects others.

  • But this fungus isn't the only being that can create its ownZombies”.

  • University of British Columbia researchers who were observing spiders discovered something

  • disturbing when they noticed spiders abandoning their colony and spinning strange webs.

  • They discovered that the spiders were infected with parasitic larva of a Zatypota wasp.

  • These newly discovered wasps would lay an egg on the stomach of the spider, which would

  • hatch and attach itself to the spider.

  • As it grew, the spider would be compelled to spin a web around itself, containing it

  • for the larva to consume it before it turned into an adult.

  • Thesezombie spidersnot only were made to do their bidding by the wasp, but to essentially

  • commit suicide.

  • Not the undead, but nature is scary.

  • But did we ever get answers about what happened to Clairvius Narcisse?

  • After his brush with fame, Narcisse faded into obscurity and little is known about his

  • later days.

  • He lived another fourteen years after his shocking return, but he eventually took the

  • secrets of his mysterious absence with him to the grave.

  • And this time, it's unlikely dead men will be telling any tales.

  • For more on the walking dead, check outCould You Survive a Zombie Attack?”, or for more

  • on unusual poisons, why not watchDeath Apple - The Most Dangerous Tree in the World”?

Ah, Haiti.

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