Voodoo is an African influenced New World religion that originated in the slave and maroon communities of Haiti and has spread throughout the Caribbean and Southern United States. The practice of voodoo, as does most religions, gives the followers a way to understand the unexplainable, such as death and what happens to the body and soul after death. In Jamaica, duppies, the evil spirits that reside in humans and cause trouble after death, are one of the predominant beliefs that voodoo practices use to explain the unexplainable, such as sudden illnesses and evil actions done by the living. In Haitian voodoo, zombies are “either a dead person’s disembodied soul that is used for magical purposes, or an actual corpse that has been raised from the grave and is then used to perform” certain tasks “as a sort of will-less automaton” (“Voudou”, 1137). Corpse zombies are created using a special poison, but poison is also used in voodoo to protect bodies from becoming zombies.
Duppies in Jamaica
The duppy is believed to be the evil spirit that resides in a body. While a person remains alive, their brain and heart keep the duppy in check. When a person dies, the duppy becomes free of the brain and heart’s control, thus becoming able to commit the greatest evils. Because they fear what a duppy can do, the voodoo practicing Jamaicans take “extraordinary steps […] to appease a duppy, lest it return from the grave and do harm to the living” (Tell My Horse, 10).
It is believed that a duppy leaves the grave three days after the death of a person and “God gives the duppy” until the ninth day “after death to do and take with him what he wants” (Tell My Horse 47). During this period of time the duppy revisits the places he once visited when he was alive. On the ninth night the duppy returns to his home to take with him the shadow of everything he desires. On this night the whole community gathers outside the duppy’s former home to make the duppy feel welcome and appease him with singing. Within the duppy’s last bedroom the community elders gather and present a feast to appease the duppy and entertain him with Anansi stories, Jamaican folklore. At the end of the night, the leader tells the duppy to return to the grave and not come back.
Duppies are believed to remain in the grave under most circumstances after the ninth night appeasement ceremony. The main way a duppy leaves the grave is by being called from the grave in a ceremony that uses rum, money, and a calabash stick. The person that calls the duppy from the grave will send it after one of his or her enemies. In rare instances a Koo-min-ah, another ninth night ceremony, takes place a year and a half after death because the duppy, which has not been called from the grave, has not “settled down in his new home” (Tell My Horse 52). For the ceremony a new home, a cement tomb, is built for the duppy and drums are used to coax the duppy to his new home.
Zombies in Haiti
A zombie typically refers to a body that has “been called back from the dead” (Tell My Horse 182). A zombie is created when a bocor, devil worshiping priest, gives a living person a poison that causes the person to suddenly fall ill and appear to die, as the only thing left functioning are certain areas of the brain. The bocor then gives the body the antidote that restores the body to how it was when poisoned, except that it does not remember its former self, cannot speak, and lacks will power. Zombies are usually used for fieldwork, but sometimes are made to steal.
Haitians that believe in zombies fear that the body of their loved ones will be reduced to “toiling ceaselessly in the banana fields, working like a beast, unclothed like a beast, and like a brute crouching in some foul den in the few hours allowed for rest and food” (Tell My Horse 181). To ensure that this does not happen to their loved ones that have died certain measures are sometimes taken to ensure that the body cannot be brought back to life before the body is buried. They sometimes “set up a watch in the cemetery for thirty-six hours” (Tell My Horse 191), after which time there can be no revival. Other options to ensure real death are to cut open the body or to poison the body.
The use of poison in voodoo is mostly related to zombies. A secret poison is used to kill the person to create a zombie. Poison is also used to ensure that a body is dead and thus protecting it from becoming a zombie. Some of the plants used for poisons in Haiti are dogwood root, black sage, and dust of bamboo; all plants with no known cures. Poisons are also created through the use of horse hair and poisonous lizards, spiders, worms, and insects. Although a much less common use of poison in voodoo, poisons are also created in to kill enemies. The voodoo priests in Jamaica know how to use night shade, red head, and bitter cassava plants to kill, as well as how to cure these poisons using kola nuts or a clay and water mixture.
Death is an important aspect of the voodoo religion. In Jamaican voodoo the belief in duppies are used to explain what happens to a person’s soul, as well as explain unknown evils, especially illnesses. In Haitian voodoo the aspect of death mostly relates to zombies. The bocors, voodoo devil worshipping priests, are responsible for using a curable poison to create zombies that often end up doing field work. Because of the fear of a loved one’s body becoming a zombie, Haitian voodoo burial practices often involve the certain killing of the dead before burial. The most common way of ensure the body is dead is through the administration of poison that has no cure.
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