le 25 novembre 2010
Wade Davis (WD)is a Canadian, Harvard-educated anthropologist, ethno-botanist and environmentalist. In 1982 he was asked by 2 key US scholars in psychiatry and psycho-pharmacy to travel to Haiti to find out more about `zombies', dead people alleged to have been resurrected from their graves to work as slaves. The scholars convinced WD that death is a tenuous concept and that the ultimate proof of death is putrefaction. But reports from Haiti suggested that some people declared dead (no breathing, heartbeat or brain activity) were buried and returned later to their communities without signs of putrefaction. How come? How can a death-like state be induced, sustained, and then be undone? WD thinks 2 types of poison might be responsible: one to turn the living into a near-dead capacity, another to undo the first poison to bring them back to reality.
WD's professor of ethno-botany at Harvard made his name by staying in the Amazon basin for 12 years rather than the one planned semester, collecting tons of medical plants, some of which turned out to be vital for pharmaceutical production, e.g. tranquillizers. His students were the Indiana Jones's of the 1950's and beyond, challenged to discover new plants able to serve as inputs for new medical drugs to improve anesthesia, psychiatric treatment, even space travel, by incapacitating people and resurrecting them at will.
This is an exceptionally well-written autobiographic account of research in Haiti to prove or dispel the notion of `zombies' and the poisons/pharmacology used to create and resurrect them. He does so by combining induction and deduction, testing book-based hypotheses from southern Nigeria in the late 18th century, its local botany and religious, Efik beliefs, with contemporary Haitian mindsets.
It is the journey rather than the destination that should preoccupy readers of this formidable piece of research with plenty of references to personal and written sources. Today, 25 years after the publication of WD's book, Haiti is spared no amount of suffering. Its fierce energy is reflected in many novels from the 1980s, `90s and beyond by WD himself, Mayra Montero, Madison Smartt Bell's historical trilogy, Edwidge Dantikat and others.
Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in Haiti and the powers of mind-altering drugs and rituals.