It is believed that the word zombie has derived from West African languages:
- Ndzumbi, Mitsogo language of Gabon translates as corpse.
- Nzambi, which is Kongo language means spirit of a dead person.
Zombies back then were believed to be made by a booker or a witch-doctor in which they would bring a body back from the dead with the use of magic, a secret potion or powerful hypnotic suggestion. They would revive them to use as their personal slaves, because in bringing them back they have captured their soul or will. Originally a zombie was a slave, without will, without name and being trapped in a living death of unending labour.
You can then begin to explore the notion of a slave, and how they would work the fields and how in literature, specifically The Magic Island by William Seabrook and how he visits a plantation of the Haitian-American Sugar Corporation and sees the zombies working the fields at night.
“They were plodding like brutes, like automatons. The eyes were the worst. They were in truth like the eyes of a dead man, not blind, but staring, unfocused, unseeing.” Seabrook panics, momentarily, that all the superstitions he had heard are true, before plucking for a rational explanation: they were “nothing but poor ordinary demented human beings, idiots, forced to toil in the fields.” – Taken from Chapter, Dead Men Working in Cane Fields.
In this text you can see he begins to doubt himself, and tries to see reason and come up with a logical answer. It is this chapter that inspires the movie White Zombie.