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                A selection from Chapter 2 of The Magic Island by W. B. Seabrook

Published: January 1st, 1929

**Note from John: This is an extensive section about zombies. Don't feel like you have to use all of it, but it should have enough content to let you play with HTML and CSS. Feel free to add editing tags, tables, accordion menus \ and other tags even if they wouldn't normally appear in fiction/in this text.

To use this for your project and be able to save your changes hit the "fork" button above and save it to your account.

Also delete this note before you publish your project UNLESS you mark it up properly with HTML :)**

Chapter II 


Pretty mulatto Julie had taken baby Marianne to bed. Constant Polynice and I sat late before the doorway of his caille, talking of fire-hags, demons, werewolves, and vampires, while a full moon, rising slowly, flooded his sloping cotton fields and the dark rolling hills beyond. 

Polynice was a Haitian farmer, but he was no common jungle peasant. He lived on the island of La Gonave, where I shall return to him in later chapters. He seldom went over to the Haitian mainland, but he knew what was going on in Port-au-Prince, and spoke sometimes of installing a radio. 

A countryman, half peasant born and bred, he was familiar with every superstition of the mountains and the plain, yet too intelligent to believe them literally true—or at least so I gathered from his talk. 

He was interested in helping me toward an understanding of the tangled Haitian folk-lore. It was only by chance that we came presently to a subject which—though I refused for a long time to admit it—lies in a baffling category on the ragged edge of things which are beyond either superstition or reason. He had been telling me of fire-hags who left their skins at home and set the cane fields blazing; of the vampire, a woman sometimes living, sometimes dead, who sucked the blood of children and who could be distinguished because her hair always turned an ugly red; of the werewolf—chauche—in creole—a man or woman who took the form of some animal, usually a dog, and went killing lambs, young goats, sometimes babies. 

All this, I gathered, he considered to be pure superstition, as he told me with tolerant scorn how his friend and neighbor Osmann had one night seen a gray dog slinking with bloody jaws from his sheep-pen, and who, after having shot and exorcised and buried it, was so convinced he had killed a certain girl named Liane who was generally reputed to be a chauche that when he met her two days later on the path to Grande Source, he believed she was a ghost come back for vengeance, and fled howling. 

As Polynice talked on, I reflected that these tales ran closely parallel not only with these of the negroes in Georgia and the Carolinas, but with the mediaeval folklore of white Europe. Werewolves, vampires, and demons were certainly no novelty. But I recalled one creature I had been hearing about in Haiti, which sounded exclusively local — the zombie. 

It seemed (or so I had been assured by negroes more credulous than Polynice) that while the zoinhie came from the grave, it was neither a ghost, nor yet a person who had been raised like Lazarus from the dead. The zombie, they say, is a soulless human corpse, still dead, but taken from the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical semblance of life — it is a dead body which is made to walk and act and move as if it were alive. People who have the power to do this go to a fresh grave, dig up the body before it has had time to rot, galvanize it into movement, and then make of it a servant or slave, occasionally for the commission of some crime, more often simply as a drudge around the habitation or the farm, setting it dull heavy tasks, and beating it like a dumb beast if it slackens. 

As this was revolving in my mind, I said to Polynice: “It seems to me that these werewolves and vampires are first cousins to those we have at home, but I have never, except in Haiti, heard of anything like zombies. Let us talk of them for a little while. I wonder if you can tell me something of this zombie superstition. I should like to get at some idea of how it originated.” 

My rational friend Polynice was deeply astonished. He leaned over and put his hand in protest on my knee. 

“Superstition? But I assure you that this of which you now speak is not a matter of superstition. Alas, these things — and other evil practices connected with the dead — exist. They exist to an extent that you whites do not dream of, though evidences are everywhere under your eyes. 

“Why do you suppose that even the poorest peasants, when they can, bury their dead beneath solid tombs of masonry? 

“Why do they bury them so often in their own yards, close to the doorway? 

“Why, so often, do you see a tomb or grave set close beside a busy road or footpath where people are always passing? 

“It is to assure the poor unhappy dead such protection as we can. 

“I will take you in the morning to see the grave of my brother, who was killed in the way you know. It is over there on the little ridge which you can see clearly now in the moonlight, open space all round it, close beside the trail which everybody passes going to and from Grande Source. Through four nights we watched yonder, in the peristyle, Osmann and I, with shotguns — for at that time both my dead brother and I had bitter enemies — until we were sure the body had begun to rot. 

“No, my friend, no, no. There are only too many true cases. At this very moment, in the moonlight, there are zombies working on this island, less than two hours’ ride from my own habitation. We know about them, but we do not dare to interfere so long as our own dead are left unmolested. If you will ride with me tomorrow night, yes, I will show you dead men working in the cane fields. Close even to the cities, there are sometimes zombies. Perhaps you have already heard of those that were at Hasco. . . 

“What about Hasco?” I interrupted him, for in the whole of Haiti, Hasco is perhaps the last name anybody would think of connecting with either sorcery or superstition. 

The word is American-commercial-synthetic, like Nabisco, Delco, Socony. It stands for the Haitian-American Sugar Company — an immense factory plant, dominated by a huge chimney, with clanging machinery, steam whistles, freight cars. It is like a chunk of Hoboken. It lies in the eastern suburbs of Port-au-Prince, and beyond it stretch the cane fields of the Cul-de-Sac. Hasco makes rum when the sugar market is off, pays low wages, twenty or thirty cents a day, and gives steady work. It is modern big business, and it sounds it, looks it, smells it. 

Such, then, was the incongruous background for the weird tale Constant Polynice now told me. 

The spring of 1918 was a big cane season, and the factory, which had its own plantations, offered a bonus on the wages of new workers. Soon heads of families and villages from the mountain and the plain came trailing their ragtag little armies, men, women, children, trooping to the registration bureau and thence into the fields. 

One morning an old black headman, Ti Joseph of Colombier, appeared leading a band of ragged creatures who shuffled along behind him, staring dumbly, like people walking in a daze. As Joseph lined them up for registration, they still stared, vacant-eyed like cattle, and made no reply when asked to give their names. 

Joseph said they were ignorant people from the slopes of Morne-au-Diable, a roadless mountain district near the Dominican border, and that they did not understand the creole of the plains. They were frightened, he said, by the din and smoke of the great factory, but under his direction they would work hard in the fields. The farther they were sent away from the factory, from the noise and bustle of the railroad yards, the better it would be. 

Better indeed, for these were not living men and women but poor unhappy zombies whom Joseph and his wife Croyance had dragged from their peaceful graves to slave for him in the sun — and if by chance a brother or father of the dead should see and recognize them, Joseph knew that it would be a very bad affair for him. 

So they were assigned to distant fields beyond the crossroads, and camped there, keeping to themselves like any proper family or village group; but in the evening when other little companies, encamped apart as they were, gathered each around its one big common pot of savory millet or plantains, generously seasoned with dried fish and garlic, Croyance would tend two pots upon the fire, for as every one knows, the zombies must never be permitted to taste salt or meat. So the food prepared for them was tasteless and unseasoned. 

As the zombies toiled day after day dumbly in the sun, Joseph sometimes beat them to make them move faster, but Croyance began to pity the poor dead creatures who should be at rest — and pitied them in the evenings when she dished out their flat, tasteless bouillie. 

Each Saturday afternoon, Joseph went to collect the wages for them all, and what division he made was no concern of Hasco, so long as the work went forward. Sometimes Joseph alone, and sometimes Croyance alone, went to Croix de Bouquet for the Saturday night bamboche or the Sunday cockfight, but always one of them remained with the zombies to prepare their food and see that they did not stray away. 

*End section* Full chapter available at

This Sample Post published May 1, 2019 at 8:21AM