Though it is difficult to pin down an exact origin, the zombie myth likely originates from Caribbean slave culture and the origins of the Vodou religion in Haiti. The word "zombie" likely derives from an African language's word for soul, "nzambi."
The harsh conditions surrounding slavery may be connected to the development of a myth of tortured souls being enslaved against their will, which is the original form the zombie myth took before it evolved into the horror-story fodder it has become today. The word "zombi" first appeared in the English language in the early 1800s in reference to a West African god.
While zombies have become something of a pop culture joke in the United States, some cultures take the idea of zombies very seriously thanks to the connection these mythical creatures have with religious belief systems. In Haiti, people are afraid not of actual zombies but of becoming zombies because, typically, becoming a zombie means involuntary enslavement and forced labor at the hands of an unscrupulous magic master. These beings are not the subjects of gore and violence that most Westerners associate with zombies, but rather are essentially just mindless souls. However, for the most part, zombie beliefs are a fringe aspect of the Haitian Vodou religion.