Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pittsburgh's Zombie Day, African & Caribbean Zombies

Written by Azizi Powell

October 8th was Zombie day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I missed it. My daughter called me earlier tonight and told me that she also had forgotten about Pittsburgh's Zombie day until she was driving through downtown Pittsburgh and saw a couple of folks with their faces painted like zombies. Last year we didn't even know that Pittsburgh had a Zombie day tradition until we happened upon a Zombie Parade. Here's a video of Pittsburgh Zombie day followed by the comment that I wrote on that video's viewer comment thread [Both are posted with typos uncorrected]

Pittsburgh Zombie Fest 2010

Uploaded by profmc2 on Aug 31, 2010

Commercial for Pittsburgh Zombie Fest, a celebration of zombie culture and Pittsburgh's horror heratige taking place on 10.10.10. Charity zombie walk part of World Zombie Day, all organized and sponsored by The It's Alive Show, a horror host TV show.

My daughter & I jiust happened to be driving through downtown Pittsburgh when we saw hordes of zombies -everything from brides, santa claus, ballerinas, dead Steeler fans, chain saw victims, doctors & nurses, & more. We also saw people in  Ghostbusters costumes. It was a racially diverse crowd of people-men, women, children, & babies too. Zombies were in character dragging their feet, falling, moaning, & staring straight ahead. It looked like lots of fun. Thanks Pittsburgh for a great event!
-Azizip17 ; 2010


Here's an excerpt from which explains why Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has hosted an annual Zombie fest for the last five years:

Zombie Fest is founded by Mark Menold, who also hosts the event as the undead Professor Emcee Square. With thousands in attendance, this spectacle recreates the scenes from the original zombie film classics on a grand scale.

By virtue of the success of the movies from Pittsburgh pioneer filmaker George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow), and our now world famous zombie walks, Pittsburgh has become what Mr. Menold refers to as “The Zombie Capital of the World”.

Pittsburgh has owned the Guinness Book Record for most zombies three times but currently does not hold that record. The record was broken on July 2nd, 2011 by Seattle with 4,522 zombies. When asked if that number can be topped this year, Menold said; “Zombies are our own pop-culture bragging right and are a recognized as part of our city’s heritage. I liken this to another city trying to buy one of our sports teams. It’s important that we take the world record back from Seattle, it’s a matter of civic pride.”

This year’s Zombie Fest promises to bring the world record back to Pittsburgh where it belongs. provides more information about Pittsburgh's Zombie fest and encourages people to sign up for the event.

That's right gang - this is a WORLDWIDE event meaning we are actually competing with other cities across the globe! From Adelaide, Australia to Worcester, England - the entire world is out to best Pittsburgh as the Zombie Capital of the World (which we all know isn't the case - Pittsburgh is the birthplace of the zombie!).

Pittsburgh has been my adoptive home since 1969. I love its scenic vistas and along with most Pittsburghers, I'm a fan of its black & gold sports teams. I also cheer on most of the burgh's other cultural events,including Zombie Day. But "Pittsburgh is the birthplace of the zombie"?. Well, not really.

The following quotes provide some information about the African & Caribbean origin of zombies:


Zombie (Haitian Creole: zonbi; North Mbundu: nzumbe) is a term used to denote an animated corpse brought back to life by mystical means such as witchcraft...

Since the late 19th century, zombies have acquired notable popularity, especially in North American and European folklore.

In modern times, the term "zombie" has been applied to an undead race in horror fiction, largely drawn from George A. Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. They have appeared as plot devices in various books, films and in television shows...

"Zombi" is also another name of the Vodou snake lwa Damballah Wedo, of Niger–Congo origin; it is akin to the Kikongo word nzambi, which means "god". There also exists within the West African Vodun tradition the zombi astral, which is a part of the human soul that is captured by a bokor [sorcerer] and used to enhance the bokor's power.



Zombi is the name of a snake-deity in some cults of West African Vodun and Haitian Vodou (Voodoo). Zombi is a Creole word, thought to be derived from Nzambi,[1] supreme god of the Bacongo people of Angola. The deity is connected with water and appears in different impersonations, one being Zombi-Damballah, the rainbow serpent.

I like the idea of Pittsburgh's Zombie Fest because it provides an opportunity for folks of all ages, genders, and races to gather together to have harmless fun. But I admit that a part of me has some reservations about this event because zombies used to be associated with the "Hollywoodfication" of the African (and Caribbean, and South American) religion of Vodou. But it appears to me that most people nowadays in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania don't associate zombies with Caribbean voodoo. They associate them with horror movies. So instead of being bent out of shape about the tradition of Zombie fests in Pittsburgh and other cities, I use this event as an opportunity to raise awareness about African and Caribbean religions and cultures.

The first part of this 10 minute 2005 video about the Caribbean nation of Haiti provides some information about beliefs in zombies within that nation:

Zombie - 70min documentary

Uploaded by journeymanpictures on May 7, 2008

March 2005


Visit for information about the religion of Vodou in Haiti.


Because I love oldies but goodies music from the islands, I feel I must include a Calypso version of the now almost classic song "Zombie Jamboree". That song is also known by the "Back to Back Belly To Belly" lyrics from its chorus. Calypso versions of that song may sing "Jumbee Jamboree".*

Calypso Joe - Zombie Jamboree

Here's a link to the lyrics of "Jumbee (Zombie) Jamboree":

* From

A Jumbee, Jumbie or Mendo is a type of mythological spirit or demon in the folklore of some Caribbean countries. Jumbee is the generic name given to all malevolent entities; however, there are numerous kinds of jumbees, that reflect the Caribbean’s complex history and ethnic makeup, drawing on African, Amerindian, East Indian, Dutch, English, and even Chinese mythology

For what it's worth, I'm not sure whether Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania reclaimed the title this year of The World's Largest Zombie Fest. But if we didn't do so, there's also next year.

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  1. I can respect those who believe that events like Zombie Fest disparage African or Caribbean religion or culture. I believe that such events or participants in those events could disparage those religions and cultures that included/include the belief in zombies.

    However, my position is that the social context and references for Zombies has changed a great deal for many people in the late 20th/21st centuries. Particularly among younger people, I believe that zombies are seen as fictitious monsters that have been created by horror show writers & producers. And-this point is crucial- these fictitious monstors aren't associated with any particular race or religion but are of any race.

    As a result of this position, I'd rather enjoy the sight of people of all races, genders, ages, and (probably economic classes) joining together in some lighthearted fun. And, as I have done here, I'd rather share information about African/Caribbean culture than get all indignant about the [mis]use of an African/ Caribbean cultural character.

  2. "Could" in that sentence in my previous comment means that it is possible that an individual or individuals participating in Zombie Fest might wear a racist costume. However, that doesn't mean that every individual who participates in a Zombie day event or wears a Zombie costume to a Halloween party is guilty of racial insensitivity.

    As an example of a costume that would make me cringe-because of the particular racist history of the United States-I would have a lot of problems with a Black person or a person of any race dressing up as a Black person with a lynching rope around his or her neck...

  3. OMG that's huge crowd seems people enjoy the day.