We live in a world full of unexplained mysteries. For example, no matter how much you know the person next to you, there will be things we cannot comprehend about that person.
If you live in Oman, the word mughayyab (walking dead, or zombie) will not be a new addition to your vocabulary. Previous studies on the subject has shown that mughayyab is an exaggerated form of denial of reality of the death. People believe that a mughayyab is a person by which a magician has cast a spell on him, appears dead, but is actually alive in a different form, thus making him a 'walking dead'. The family grieve for the deceased but at the same time believe he is out there somewhere and might return home.
In a movie 'The Serpent and the Rainbow' which was shot in Haiti, the stories are quite similar but take a different form. The magicians have a powerful poison which when administered to the individual that person will appear dead. They have another medicine to counter the poison and bring a person back to life. Now, after a person is buried, the magicians will go at night and dig him out of the grave, making him sniff the medicine and bring him back to life. Timing is quite important here, because the medicine will counter poison in speficied time only.
Two me, the second scenario looks more convincing, but what has led us believe in Mughayyab in the first place? Dr Samir Al-Adawi from SQU suggests that "... the Mughayyab belief or the denial of the reality of death in the Omani society may be mainly related to culture-specific stressors."
During Oman's shipping industries and sea faring adventures there were a number of tragedies where young lives were lost. Since there was no communication, there was no way of knowing the fate. Occasionally a survivor might return home to his family giving hope to others. This was perceived as mughyyab, a family member abducted by some sort of witchcraft and later escaped and returned home.
In its present form, the belief of mughyyab maybe tied with a sudden death. Thereby the grieving family live in a hope that their loved one might return home someday.
In a traditional Omani family, mughayyab must have brought some hope, helped in reducing stress, and facilitated in a long but painful transition of bereavement.
Dr Samir concludes that: ... mughayyab’s prolonged denial of death did (and does) have an adaptive function, and therefore, in a way, is beneficial.