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the body on the mind. The gwo bon anj can easily detach itself from the body…When you dream you’re in New York, in Paris, it’s the gwo bon anj who visits these places…The three-part structure of Haitian identity is difficult to comprehend and accounts are often contradictory. What matters here is that the ti bon anj remains inseparable from all that constitutes our personality—or thinking matter—and the lwa, penetrating the ti bon anj during possession, depends on its force for support. (Dayan, 1995, p. 67-68).

Under some circumstances, it is believed that a dead person may be revived by a bòkò or sorcerer as a zonbi (zombie), who remains under the control of the bòkò. Deren (1983) notes that death rituals are “primarily directed against physical resurrection” (42). Because the subject of zombies has been appropriated and sensationalized by Western popular culture and films, it is important to understand the meaning of zombification in the Haitian context. The primary purpose of zombification is to obtain labor, specifically arduous agricultural labor, harkening back to Haiti’s heritage of plantation slavery. The zombie is “nothing more than a body deprived of its conscious powers of cerebration… moral judgment, deliberation and self-control” (Deren, 1983, p. 42-43). Littlewood and Douyon (1997) studied three cases of purported zombification and found they involved individuals with intellectual disability or severe mental disorder who were misidentified as being a lost family member; in some cases, there were apparent personal, social or economic reasons why this misidentification took place.

Specific Mental Health Symptoms and Disorders

There are no reliable data on the prevalence of mental health problems in Haiti. The distribution of diagnoses seen at a psychiatric hospital has been estimated as follows: schizophrenia (50%), bipolar disorder with mania (30%), other psychoses (15%) and epilepsy (5%). This is not dissimilar to inpatient populations in other countries but gives no sense of the actual prevalence of these disorders in the community.


When people have suffered repeated psychotic episodes and their functioning is impaired, they may be labeled ‘fou’ (crazy) and viewed as permanently dysfunctional. Their cognitive ability and judgment may never be trusted again, even after a long period of remission. This is a loss for the family especially in first episode psychoses where the person had a promising future (in terms of education and career) (Desrosiers & Feurose, 2002).

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