The English word “zombie” was first recorded in 1819, in a history of Brazil by the poet Robert Southey, in the form of “zombi”. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of the word as West African, and compares it to the Kongo words nzambi (god) and zumbi (fetish).
Origins of zombie folklore are featured widely in Haitian culture as dead persons physically revived by the act of necromancy of a bokor, a sorcerer or witch. The bokor is opposed by the houngan or priest and the mambo or priestess of the formal Voodoo religion. A zombie remains under the control of the bokor as a personal slave, having no will of its own.
The Haitian tradition also includes an incorporeal type of zombie, the “zombie astral”, which is a part of the human soul. A bokor can capture a zombie astral to enhance his spiritual power. A zombie astral can also be sealed inside a specially decorated bottle by a bokor and sold to a client to bring luck, healing or business success. It is believed in Voodoo that God eventually will reclaim the zombie’s soul, so the zombie is a temporary spiritual entity.
It has been suggested that the two types of zombie reflect soul dualism, a belief of Haitian Voodoo. Each type of legendary zombie is therefore missing one half of its soul (the flesh or the spirit).
Over the centuries, the depiction and representation of zombies has evolved in fiction through art, literature, film, and other media. One of the first and most well known literary works is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is widely accepted that, although the monster in the story is a creation of Dr. Frankenstein, the overall monster is, in fact, a zombie.
As time moved on, the legend of the zombie was adapted to cinema. In 1968 George A Romero’s Night of the Living Dead gave birth to the modern conception of zombies. Since then, a surge of zombies depicted as ravenous flesh hungry creatures, the result of an apocalyptic virus or plague. To this day, zombies still remain a popular genre in all media. Their popularity enhanced by cable shows, such as The Walking Dead, and in cinema with films such as World War Z.