Harvesting Haiti—Led by the Master

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His death had been recorded by doctors at the American-directed Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles. He was feverish and full of aches. His doctors could not diagnose his illness, and his symptoms grew steadily worse. Three days after he entered the hospital, according to the records, he died. The attending physicians, an American among them, signed his death certificate.

His body was placed in cold storage for twenty hours, and then he was buried. He said he remembered hearing his doctors pronounce him dead while his sister wept at his bedside. Though convinced zombies were real, he had been unable to find a scientific explanation for the phenomenon. He did not believe zombies were people raised from the dead, but that did not make them any less interesting.

Harvesting Haiti-Led by the Master : John and Joyce Hanson :

He speculated that victims were only made to look dead, probably by means of a drug that dramatically slowed metabolism. The victim was buried, dug up within a few hours, and somehow reawakened.

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The Narcisse case provided Douyon with evidence strong enough to warrant a request for assistance from colleagues in New York. Douyon wanted to find an ethnobotanist, a traditional-medicines expert, who could track down the zombie potion he was sure existed.

The Underlying Logic

Aware of the medical potential of a drug that could dramatically lower metabolism, a group organized by the late Dr. Nathan Kline—a New York psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of psychopharmacology—raised the funds necessary to send someone to investigate. Its director, Richard Evans Schultes, Jeffrey professor of biology, had spent thirteen years in the tropics studying native medicines. Refined into a powerful muscle relaxant called D-tubocurarine, it is now an essential component of the anesthesia used during almost all surgery.

Schultes would have been a natural for the Haitian investigation, but he was too busy. He recommended another Harvard ethnobotanist for the assignment, Wade Davis, a year-old Canadian pursuing a doctorate in biology. Davis grew up in the tall pine forests of British Columbia and entered Harvard in , influenced by a Life magazine story on the student strike of Before Harvard, the only Americans he had known were draft dodgers, who seemed very exotic.

And I wanted to go to Harvard because of that Life article. Davis took a course from Schultes, and when he decided to go to South America to study plants, he approached his professor for guidance.

He had lived alone for years in the Amazon. During that expedition and others. Now, in early , Schultes called him into his office and asked if he had plans for spring break. His letters of introduction opened up a whole world. He certainly did not believe in zombies. Davis landed in Haiti a week after his conversation with Schultes, armed with a hypothesis about how the zombie drug—if it existed—might be made. Setting out to explore, he discovered a country materially impoverished, but rich in culture and mystery.


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He was impressed by the cohesion of Haitian society: he found none of the crime, social disorder, and rampant drug and alcohol abuse so common in many of the other Caribbean islands. During the French occupation of the late eighteenth century, , African-born slaves were imported to Haiti between and For the next hundred years Haiti was the only independent black republic in the Caribbean, populated by people who did not forget their African heritage.

Davis discovered that the vast majority of Haitian peasants practice voodoo. Going around the countryside, I found clues to a whole complex social world. Vodoun society is a system of education, law, and medicine: it embodies a code of ethics that regulates social behavior.

In rural areas, secret vodoun societies, much like those found on the west coast of Africa, are as much or more in control of everyday life as the Haitian government. Although most outsiders dismissed the zombie phenomenon as folklore, some early investigators, convinced of its reality, tried to find a scientific explanation. The few who sought a zombie drug failed. Zora Neale Hurston, an American black woman, may have come closest.

Harvest Moon Drumming

An anthropological pioneer, she went to Haiti in the Thirties, studied vodoun society, and wrote a book on the subject, Tell My Horse , first published in She knew about the secret societies and was convinced zombies were real, but if a powder existed, she too failed to obtain it.

He arrived in Haiti with the names of several contacts. For now, they are able to send him enough money so he can keep buying roots and planting them. On a recent weekday, a rooster crowed as women carried buckets of water on their heads and workers hunched over hundreds of thousands of grass-like vetiver plants. The plant is in the same family as corn and sugarcane, and it grows up to 5 feet 1.

Some workers hacked the growth with a machete while others pulled up roots that were then beaten with a wooden club to clear the dirt. Before the oil can be bought by top perfumers, roots must also be distilled to their essence in a process that takes more than 24 hours. Thomas Absolue, 64, leaned against a bale of roots as he ate rice from a small, recycled plastic tub.

Haiti’s Troubled Path to Development

He used to harvest sugarcane in the Dominican Republic before returning to Haiti in , lured by the essential oil. Media Book. Format Paperback. Year Publication Date Illustrations Yes.

Imprint Westbow Press. Place of Publication Nashville, TN.