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Davis, Wade.

Toronto, Stoddart, c1985. 297pp, paperbound boards, $22,95, ISBN 0-7737-2073-1. CIP

Grade 12 and up
Reviewed by Anne Locatelli

Volume 14 Number 4
1986 July

First published in the United States in 1985 by Simon and Schuster, The Serpent and the Rainbow tells about a first-hand scientific quest to discover the truth behind the zombi phenomenon and the method used to produce it in certain segments of Haitian society. Born in British Columbia, Wade Davis has worked as a logger, a surveyor, a hunting guide, and a park ranger. He holds degrees in anthropology and biology and is presently completing his PhD in ethnobotany at Harvard University.

His interests as a plant explorer caused him to travel and research extensively in South America and in particular in the Amazon; in 1982 he accepted a delicate assignment to investigate two documented zombi cases in Haiti. Both zombis had officially been declared dead and had been buried. Then they had both unexpectedly reappeared, years later, in their familiar communities, half living, their mental capacities considerably altered.

As the quest unfolds, many interesting people are introduced and interviewed, while unfamiliar aspects of Haitian society are revealed and described. Through his contacts, Davis is helped to discover some powerful qualities in both the plant and the animal worlds of Haiti and to delve deeper and deeper into the secret ceremonies and meanings of the vodoun religion. Many myths are dispelled by the knowledge Davis uncovers and reveals, while a colourful, appealing picture emerges of a society rich in traditions and spiritual religious experiences.

A disturbing history of bondage, submission, and suffering also comes gradually to light. The play between the fitualistic vodoun religion and the powers of Haitian politics and Christian churches are placed in a multifaceted perspective that provides a valuable background for the understanding of the turmoils Haiti is undergoing today.

Davis is not only an enthusiastic and proficient scientist, he is also a writer par excellence. His command of the English language, his feeling for the right word in the right place, and his keen perception, combine with a stunning power of description that fascinate and compel one to read on to the end of the book as fast as possible. Although the final secret of the zombification techniques is not fully revealed, many possible theories are presented and much light is shed on the subject in this well-documented study. Not only did Davis manage to obtain the formula of a zombi drug, he also brought back the necessary ingredients to the United States for testing. He further managed to penetrate the deep roots of the vodoun religion and to place zombification in its proper context.

Science and high adventure intermingle in this compelling account that traces the origins and history of the Haitian people to their African beginnings. Among Davis's valuable contacts were Max Bouvoir, a noted authority on the vodoun religion, and Marcel Pierre, a vodoun priest, or houngan. A section devoted to "Acknowledgments" at the back of the book gives credit to these and to many other helpers who inspired and assisted the author in carrying out his rewarding investigation. Special recognition is given to the Social Science and Research Council of Canada for its valuable support.

A very useful glossary, an annotated bibliography, and an index complete this extraordinary work. Flawlessly presented, with a stunningly meaningful jacket, this interesting book is dedicated to Davis's parents, to Professor Richard Evans Schultes, who made it possible, and to John Lennon. The Serpent and the Rainbow will appeal to many people because of the richness and variety of topics it explores. It can be read as a suspense story, as a history, or as a research project, which in the final analysis, it is.

Anne Locatelli, Elliot Lake S.S.. Elliot Lake, Ont.
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