Zombi: A New Anthropological Hypothesis Concerning the Greatest Mystery of Haitian Vodou

Expedition Haiti
Allentown, Pennsylvania
Raised of $4,265 Goal
Ended on 4/02/17
Campaign Ended
  • $24
  • 1%
  • Finished
    on 4/02/17

About This Project

This project will draw on anthropological and ethnographic methods to collect data on the black magic rites of the Bizango cults, whose devotees are the direct descendants of the very slave ancestors who brought magic of zombificasyon to Haiti over 250 years ago. I intend to demonstrate that the zombi concept, and the beliefs and rites surrounding it, are of far greater cultural significance to the Vodouist than simply serving as a poison process.

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What is the context of this research?

There is a dearth of anthropological study of Haitian Vodou and the zombi, and what there is of any substance is variously antiquated (e.g., Hurston 1938; Métraux 1959; Courlander 1960), cursory (Desmangles 1992; Bellgarde-Smith & Michel 2006), or sensationalist (Seabrook 1929; Williams 1932). The last researcher to study the zombi was Dr. W. Davis in the early 80s, who described a pharmacological poison process. His work has been criticized as “arrogant and aggravating” (Corbett 1990), “without factual foundation” (Kao & Yasumoto 1986), fraught with “major problems with using appropriate sources in his arguments” (Lawless 1989) and “assertions [that] are bunk and methods unscientific” (Booth 1988), and “a carefully planned, premeditated case of scientific fraud” (Kao 1989).

What is the significance of this project?

This project will deploy sound, ethnographic methodologies in order to advance a new hypothesis concerning the zombi of Vodou. After 23 years of prior field research in Haiti, I argue that the zombi rites and the beliefs surrounding them, carry a far deeper cultural meaning for Haitians than simply an ethnopharmacological poison process. My prior research (National Geographic Society, 2017) has found that "zombi poisons" exist, but are peddled by fraudulent malfacteurs and are outright lethal concoctions that fail to bring on the state of apparent death claimed by Davis (1985). I argue that the zombi rather serves as a powerful means of social control in the Haitian interior, where there are no agents or adjunct of social control save that provided by the framework of Vodou.

What are the goals of the project?

The specific goals of this project are threefold:

1. to document and record the oral tradition and folklore concerning the zombi in and around Lakou Soukri;

2. to observe, describe and document the rites of zombificasyon as they are conducted in the temple at Soukri and among the bush priests of the Bizango cult near Leogane; and,

3. to use this project as the preliminary, foundational research upon which a later, longitudinal study of black magic (including zombificasyon) for inclusion in my forthcoming next book on Vodou in Haiti.


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All budgetary considerations are based on the Principal Investigator's (PI) record of over 23 years of ethnographic fieldwork in Haiti. Transportation, room, board and meals include provisions for PI and field assistant/fixer, as well as secure storage of supplementary field gear and documents not carried on daily expeditions. Research will be conducted deep in the Haitian interior, and far from modern medical facilities, necessitating the team to be prepared with a full field trauma kit. It is customary in the field of cultural anthropology to compensate those with whom we work in the field for their participation in the research.

Endorsed by

This project would finally shed light on the mystique surrounding Vodou and the Haitian culture as a whole. There is no one better to lead such an endeavor than Dr. Kovats-Bernat who has intimate knowledge of the culture and it's people.

Meet the Team

J. Christopher Kovats-Bernat, Ph.D.
J. Christopher Kovats-Bernat, Ph.D.
Professor J. Christopher Kovats-Bernat, Ethnographic Explorer-in-Residence with the National Geographic Society


The National Geographic Society; The American Anthropological Association; The American Ethnological Society; The Bureau of Ethnology at the State University of Haiti
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J. Christopher Kovats-Bernat, Ph.D.

I am presently an Ethnographic Explorer-in-Residence with the National Geographic Society and hold a Ph.D. in Anthropology (Temple University, 2001), with a specialization in Haitianist anthropology. have conducted fieldwork in Haiti on a continuous basis for over 20 years, primarily focusing on issues ranging from Vodou to childhood, violence, and gun proliferation in the capital of Port-au-Prince. My research into Haitian Vodou commenced in earnest in 2009, and received a boost when I was named a recipient of a generous grant from the Waitt Foundation to conduct preliminary field research in to the ritual process of zombificasyon. Since that time, I have been fully initiated into the Kongo cult of Haitian Vodou in the hamlet of Soukri, where in July 2014 I completed my ceremonial induction with the high rite of "lave tet", when I was 'baptized' into the temple, tattooed on my arm with the symbol of my spiritual protector (Papa Wangol), and granted formal authorized access to all knowledge associated with the Kongo cult of Soukri.

In 2015 and 2016 two National Geographic Explorer Expeditions were launched that took the research team deep into the Haitian interior where I made contact and established rapport and a trusting relationship with the Grand Priest of All Bizango in the Republic of Haiti, and documented the results of that work - and its relationship to zombification - on my website at www.kovats-bernat.com.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

Prior preliminary research for this project has been conducted between 2014-16 under a grant provided by the Waitt Foundation and the National Geographic Society (NGS). The PI is a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology and a NGS Explorer-in-Residence with over 23 years of field experience in Haiti studying folklore, witchcraft, magic and Vodou. This research agenda will provide the final and conclusive ethnographic data required to establish the first truly scientific, anthropological explanation of the Haitian zombi ever published.

Project Backers

  • 2Backers
  • 1%Funded
  • $24Total Donations
  • $12.00Average Donation
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