Zombies, Cannibals and Werewolves

The complexities of Haiti’s religious culture were misunderstood and exploited by imperial powers.

Entrance to a Vodou shrine, Haiti, 1908 © Harry Johnston/Royal Geographical Society/Getty Images.

Over the centuries, claims of cannibalism have been used repeatedly to justify slavery and imperialism. Indigenous Americans and enslaved Africans, it was said, were uncivilised and un-Christian people, whose savagery could be curbed only by European control.

After the Atlantic slave trade came to an end, these ideas gained in strength. In the late 19th century, as a new generation of imperialists began to push for colonial renovation, they revived older arguments about savagery and civilisation to make their case.

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