Zombie is a Creole word, representing an animated corpse brought back to life by mystical means. Zombie lore was imported to the United States from Haiti and was brought to Haiti from south central Africa in the days of colonial slave trade.
Medical science has suspected that the Hatian zombie is a product of drugs administered to the living, but the premise was not substantiated until the 1980s when Harvard anthropologist, biologist and ethnobotanist Dr. Wade Davis proposed the use of tetrodotoxin (pufferfish neurotoxin) and datura (toxic hallucinogen) to induce the deathlike trance of the zombie. Voodoo practicing bokors (sorcerers) are said to distill and administer the potions to the living, placing them into a deathlike trance. Victims of this condition are mistaken for being dead and are buried, only to be later reawakened by the bokors.
Zombies have been popularized in the rapidly growing horror fiction genre by George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead and its succeeding franchise series of films. The movies make the assumption that solanum, a virus transmitted through bodily fluids, is responsible for the animation of the dead. The virus is most commonly transmitted through the zombie’s ravenous bite and is sufficient to infect and “turn” a living human.
The rise of the Zombie Apocalypse movies and literature has grown steadily since the original release of the Night of the Living Dead and created a following of fans who enact a zombie culture through public gatherings for “zombie walks” where fans of the genre make themselves up to mimic the undead and walk the streets in a semi-organized rally. The first zombie walk, billed as a parade at the time, took place in 2001 in Sacramento, California and has since — almost virally — propagated across the world. In July 2011 a walk measuring a record 8,000 zombies took place in Dublin, Ireland. Zombie walks have evolved into zombie pub crawls, zombie fests (festivals) and even a ZomBcon in Seattle, Washington, where the dead can come to life.
Much like the superhero, werewolf and vampire genres, the zombie surge is showing no indication of dying down and has become a powerful commercial venture across the world.