The 1932 movie, White Zombie, was written by Garnett Weston. It was, however, based upon a book penned by a man named William Seabrook. The latter was, to say the very least, quite a character.
Seabrook was someone who traveled the world having all sorts of Indiana Jones-style adventures, and mixing with voodoo practitioners, witch-doctors, head-hunters and occultists. Seabrook was far more, too, however: he was, very briefly, a fully-fledged member of the cannibal club. In other words, the man who wrote about voodoo and the undead succeeded in becoming just about the closest thing one can to the real thing.
Born in Maryland in 1884, and having fought bravely for his country during the First World War – for which he was deservedly decorated – Seabrook went on to become a noted journalist. It was Seabrook’s love of two issues that really defined his life, however: world-travel and new and novel experiences. On one particularly memorable occasion, both of those matters crossed paths in controversial and noteworthy fashion.
With his wartime career behind him, Seabrook chose to head off to the wilds of Africa for a life of adventure. It was while specifically in West Africa, in the early 1920s, however, that Seabrook developed a distinct taste for a certain type of meat that it’s most unwise to get acquainted with: human meat.
In an effort to try and understand what life was really like in the region, Seabrook spent time with, and gained the confidence and friendship of, a group of people called the Guere, who just happened to be cannibals.
Not wishing to offend the Guere, when it came to feasting on the body of a member of the tribe who was newly dead, Seabrook wasted no time in tucking in heartily. Seabrook’s own words on the near-unique experience – extracted from his 1931 book, Jungle Ways – make for eye-opening, and even amusing, reading:
“It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal.
“It was mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game, and pork have. The steak was slightly tougher than prime veal, a little stringy, but not too tough or stringy to be agreeably edible.
“The roast, from which I cut and ate a central slice, was tender, and in color, texture, smell as well as taste, strengthened my certainty that of all the meats we habitually know, veal is the one meat to which this meat is accurately comparable.”
Just to confuse matters, however, there is a story that Seabrook only watched the Guere devour the body and that his own experience with cannibalism occurred not in Africa, but in France, several years later.
So the story goes, Seabrook succeeded in getting hold of a fresh corpse – all thanks to the help of an intern at the Sorbonne, which Seabrook roasted on a spit and devoured eagerly. We may never really know where, precisely, Seabrook dined on the dead, but by all accounts, his description of the texture and taste of cooked, human meat was right on target.
Seabrook was far from finished with the domain of the dead, however: as well as having become acquainted with arguably the world’s most famous occultist, Aleister Crowley, Seabrook took a lengthy trip to the heart of Haiti to investigate Voodoo lore.
It was his experiences and research into the realm of the undead, the reanimated, and the hypnotically-controlled that led Seabrook to write two books that detailed his experiences and thoughts on the matters of Voodoo, cannibalism and zombies.
Although William Seabrook was a skilled and atmospheric writer, one with a distinct flair for telling a wild story, his life was not destined to be a long one. He was dead at sixty-one, by his hand no less, and after years spent fighting both mental illness and alcoholism.