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   Chapter 59 No.59

Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 5629

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


... Here a doubt occurs to me,-a doubt regarding the precise nature of a word, which I call upon Adou to explain. Adou is the daughter of the kind old capresse from whom I rent my room in this little mountain cottage. The mother is almost precisely the color of cinnamon; the daughter's complexion is brighter,-the ripe tint of an orange.... Adou tells me creole stories and tim-tim. Adou knows all about ghosts, and believes in them. So does Adou's extraordinarily tall brother, Yébé,-my guide among the mountains.

-"Adou," I ask, "what is a zombi?"

The smile that showed Adou's beautiful white teeth has instantly disappeared; and she answers, very seriously, that she has never seen a zombi, and does not want to see one.

-"Moin pa té janmain ouè zombi,-pa 'lè ouè ?a, moin!"

-"But, Adou, child, I did not ask you whether you ever saw It;-I asked you only to tell me what It is like?"...

Adou hesitates a little, and answers:

-"Zombi? Mais ?a fai désòde lanuitt, zombi!"

Ah! it is Something which "makes disorder at night." Still, that is not a satisfactory explanation. "Is it the spectre of a dead person, Adou? Is it one who comes back?"

-"Non, Missié,-non; ?é pa ca."

-"Not that?... Then what was it you said the other night when you were afraid to pass the cemetery on an errand,-?a ou té ka di, Adou?"

-"Moin té ka di: 'Moin pa lé k'allé bò cimétiè-là pa ouappò moun-mò;-moun-mò ké barré moin: moin pa sé pè vini enco.'" (I said, "I do not want to go by that cemetery because of the dead folk,-the dead folk will bar the way, and I cannot get back again.")

-"And you believe that, Adou?"

-"Yes, that is what they say... And if you go into the cemetery at night you cannot come out again: the dead folk will stop you-moun-mò ké barré ou."...

-"But are the dead folk zombis, Adou?"

-"No; the moun-mò are not zombis. The zombis go everywhere: the dead folk remain in the graveyard.... Except on the Night of All Souls: then they go to the houses of their people everywhere."

-"Adou, if after the doors and windows were locked and barred you were to see entering your room in the middle of the night, a Woman fourteen feet high?"...

-"Ah! pa pàlé ?a!!"...

-"No! tell me, Adou?"

-"Why, yes: that would be a zombi. It is the zombis who make all those noises at night one cannot understand.... Or, again, if I were to see a dog that high [she holds her hand about five feet above the floor] coming into our house at night, I would scream: 'Mi Zombi!'"

... Then it suddenly occurs to Adou that her mother knows something about zombis.

-"Ou Manman!"

-"Eti!" answers old Théréza's voice from the little out-building where the evening meal is being prepared over a charcoal furnace, in an earthen canari.

-"Missié-là ka mandé save ?a ?a yé yonne zomb

i;-vini ti bouin!"... The mother laughs, abandons her canari, and comes in to tell me all she knows about the weird word.

"I ni pè zombi"-I find from old Thereza's explanations-is a phrase indefinite as our own vague expressions, "afraid of ghosts," "afraid of the dark." But the word "Zombi" also has special strange meanings.... "Ou passé nans grand chimin lanuitt, épi ou ka ouè gou?s difé, épi plis ou ka vini assou difé-à pli ou ka ouè difé-à ka màché: ?é zombi ka fai ?a.... Encò, chouval ka passé,-chouval ka ni anni toua patt: ?a zombi." (You pass along the high-road at night, and you see a great fire, and the more you walk to get to it the more it moves away: it is the zombi makes that.... Or a horse with only three legs passes you: that is a zombi.)

-"How big is the fire that the zombi makes?" I ask.

-"It fills the whole road," answers Théréza: "li ka rempli toutt chimin-là. Folk call those fires the Evil Fires,-mauvai difé;-and if you follow them they will lead you into chasms,-ou ké tombé adans lab?me."...

And then she tells me this:

-"Baidaux was a mad man of color who used to live at St. Pierre, in the Street of the Precipice. He was not dangerous,-never did any harm;-his sister used to take care of him. And what I am going to relate is true,-?e zhistouè veritabe!

"One day Baidaux said to his sister: 'Moin ni yonne yche, va!-ou pa connaitt li!' [I have a child, ah!-you never saw it!] His sister paid no attention to what he said that day; but the next day he said it again, and the next, and the next, and every day after,-so that his sister at last became much annoyed by it, and used to cry out: 'Ah! mais pé guiole ou, Baidaux! ou fou pou embeté moin conm ?a!-ou bien fou!'... But he tormented her that way for months and for years.

"One evening he went out, and only came home at midnight leading a child by the hand,-a black child he had found in the street; and he said to his sister:-

"'Mi yche-là moin mené ba ou! Tou léjou moin té ka di ou moin tini yonne yche: ou pa té 'lè couè,-eh, ben! MI Y!' [Look at the child I have brought you! Every day I have been telling you I had a child: you would not believe me,-very well, LOOK AT HIM!]

"The sister gave one look, and cried out: 'Baidaux, oti ou pouend yche-là?'... For the child was growing taller and taller every moment.... And Baidaux,-because he was mad,-kept saying: '?é yche-moin! ?é yche moin!' [It is my child!]

"And the sister threw open the shutters and screamed to all the neighbors,-'Sécou, sécou, sécou! Vini oué ?a Baidaux mené ba moin!' [Help! help! Come see what Baidaux has brought in here!] And the child said to Baidaux: 'Ou ni bonhè ou fou!' [You are lucky that you are mad!]... Then all the neighbors came running in; but they could not see anything: the Zombi was gone."...

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