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Zombies in Folklore and Mythology

Thanks to television shows like The Walking Dead and Zombie Nation, and movies like World War Z, Dawn of the Dead, and 28 Days Later, the zombie was here, there and everywhere for years – even though, technically-speaking, the rampaging things in 28 Days Later were not really zombies. Granted, that mania has dropped off significantly in the past couple of years (and it may drop even more with the imminent departure of Andrew Lincoln’s character of Rick Grimes in the aforementioned The Walking Dead). It’s a little-known fact, though, that throughout history accounts can be found of creatures that sound very much like the undead. And, just like the less-than-living in The Walking Dead, these ancient monsters savagely fed on the human race. In many cultures, they still do.

For the people of the many islands that comprise the Philippines, its resident zombie is the Aswang. It has two alternative monikers: the Tik-Tok and the Sok-Sok. The names are taken from the odd noises the creatures make when they are on the hunt for human flesh. The Aswang has another string to its bow – if that’s the appropriate terminology to use. As well as lusting after human flesh, the Aswang is also a monster that thrives on human blood. In that sense, the beast is half-zombie and half-vampire. And all-predator.

The Aswang makes for a grim picture: it is skinny in the extreme, is as white as a ghost – which is more than appropriate – and its eyes are pale and bulging. As for its clothes they are typically torn and ragged and they give off a nauseating stench of rotting meat. And, it’s an extremely fast runner. No wonder the zombie parallels are so in evidence. Like just about all zombies, the Aswangs live on the flesh of people. Horrifically, they consider newborn babies to be the most prized meal of all – something which has led pregnant women in the Philippines to ensure that their homes are well-protected and in locked-down mode at night. Interestingly, the Aswang, just like the Middle Eastern Djinn, can take on the form of a large black dog. A connection, maybe?

Aswang drawing

Moving on, there is the matter of the Ghoul. It’s a deadly and predatory creature that has a particular penchant for lurking around graveyards. There is a very good reason for this: just about all the other paranormal parasites described in this book target the living. The Ghoul, however, is a monster that craves the flesh, bones and blood of recently deceased people. It will dig in crazed fashion when its acute sense of smell alerts it to the fact that there is a fresh (or fresh-ish…) corpse in its midst. The creature will use its hands to dig deep into the ground, throwing dirt here, there and everywhere – until it gets what it seeks and then feeds savagely on the rotting body of the poor, unfortunate soul it has targeted.

Gambia has its very own cursed thing which has zombie-like overtones attached to it. Its resident member of the undead is the Kikiyaon. This diabolical West African terror physically resembles a gargoyle, or a Harpie, of both Roman and Greek lore. A relatively short, humanoid creature with bat-like wings and fiery red eyes, the Kikiyaon is a monster that has a long and horrific history – and for a good reason. In English the word itself, “Kikiyaon,” translates to “soul cannibal.”

The Kikiyaon typically dwells in caves, usually ones which are well hidden in the jungle environment. When the sun has set and darkness is upon the landscape, the Kikiyaon will soar into the night sky, seeking out the vulnerable, the weak and the unwary. When it has found its target, the Kikiyaon will stealthily creep into the home of its victim and softly nip their skin – very often on the neck, which of course inevitably provokes vampire-like imagery. Now, we get to the zombie comparisons.

In no time after the person is bitten, their character changes – and hardly in what we would call a positive way. The person loses their character, and their face takes on a blank appearance – not unlike that of the old-school type of zombie most associated with Haitian voodoo traditions. There is another zombie angle to all of this: after a person is bitten by the Kikiyaon, the victim becomes ill, his or her skin starts to smell of decaying flesh, and finally they die. But, they don’t stay that way: the bite of the Kikiyaon ensures that they will soon return to the land of the semi-living and go on a ferocious spree of killing and eating.

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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