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1938 (pre): The Girl Died Twice

In 1938, the following account was published that was told by a resident of Gonaïves, Haiti. A girl who was the daughter of a cousin of the storyteller died one night after watching a 'RaRa' band go by  (a group that plays music in a festival parade). That night she fell ill, vomited, and died. After she was buried, her father went to discover who had killed his daughter; and when he discovered this person's identity, the father in turn killed their daughter.

        Five months later, the storyteller and a friend were going to a funeral, but when they arrived they discovered chaos: police were just arriving to take control of a commotion at the funeral. The reason, the storyteller discovered, was that the funeral turned out to be for the girl who had died after seeing the RaRa band pass by five months earlier! No one explained why the girl had somehow returned from the grave... but people were saying she had died because a 'great light' had come upon her. The official reason given for her second death was lightning strike; but the storyteller was told the girl had no signs of being burnt and that a child who had been sitting in the girl's lap at the time was completely unharmed. So it was said that the actual cause of her second death was an expédition... a death spirit.

Understanding the Tale

        The relation of the above story to the idea of zombies in general -- that the girl was pronounced dead, yet turned up again later -- is only one layer of what is shown here of Haitian belief. In the Voudon religion (what outsiders typically call 'Voodoo'), priests and magicians are able to control ethereal spirits and human souls. The father of the girl acted on the belief that his daughter's soul had been stolen by someone, and punished them for it.

        Because we know nothing of the girl's life for the missing five months, it is hard to say if she had been turned to a zombie or if she had been resurrected (had her soul returned). In the end, however, a priest or magician still wanted her dead, so they sent a spirit to kill her. So it's not a tale about zombies so much, as a tale about how those who control spirits attack people. We're never given a reason for the events; and, since the storyteller tells the tale as if its true, then presumably they just never learned this part of the story.

My Source's Source

        I found this legend in Wade Davis' 1988 book Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie... Davis, in turn, claims his source to be a 1938 book by Edna Taft titled A Puritan in Voodooland. I've been unable to track this earlier book down yet; I've seen enough references to know it exists, but it appears to have been a small print run that was never republished... so I'll likely have to track it down in a university library. I need to check that the above story is actually in the 1938 book and is essentially the same.

        In addition, though the story is told as if a true event, we are not given enough details to double-check the account; for this reason, I'm marking this as 'Unreliable.' Nonetheless, it's still good evidence of what Haitian beliefs are for mystic and practical matters regarding death.