Oxóssi, a spirit associated with the hunt, forests, animals, and wealth
You don’t have to be anthropologist Clifford Geertz to make the connection that the superheroes developed in comic books in the middle of the last century function something like a new American mythology. The Greeks had Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, and Aphrodite; the Romans had Mars, Minerva, Janus, and Juno; and the Norse had Thor, Odin, Loki, and Frigg. In America we have Iron Man, Spider-Man, Flash Gordon, and the Silver Surfer (oh, and Thor too, right). Unlike Zeus and Minerva, our mythological heroes are currently drawing millions of people to multiplexes the world over, for whatever that’s worth. Mythology is breaking box office records!
A artist named Hugo Canuto has recently looked to his own African-influenced culture in Brazil to make a similar connection for figures from African mythology, depicting them as ass-kicking superheroes drawn in the style of the legendary Jack Kirby. Many deities of modern-day Afro-Brazilian religions find their roots in the mythologies of Nigeria and Benin, and these covers reflect that, using specifically local, that is to say Portuguese, spellings of the names.
For instance, the water deity Yemo̩ja is rendered here as Yemanjá, as she is known in Brazilian culture. Oshunmare, god of the rainbow, here pops up as Oxumaré. And Oya, a major Orisha governing death and rebirth, can be found here as Iansã, for that is what she is called on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Avengers No. 4 (1963)
Last year Canuto reworked an iconic early cover of The Avengers to showcase the major Orishas, called Orixas in Portuguese, which are key elemental spirits of the Yoruba religion. So “The Orixas” is the umbrella category, like “The Avengers,” that houses all of the mythological figures that followed.
Interestingly, in the early 1990s, DC Comics had a line based on Yoruba mythology, called Orishas—it was also known as “Gods of Africa” and featured characters such as Eshu, Ogun, Erinle, and Oshunmare. Anybody out there a fan of that series? I don’t remember it.
You can purchase prints of Canuto’s covers on Facebook.
Yemanjá, major water deity, mother of all 14 Yoruba gods and goddesses
Omolú, an Orisha strongly associated with infectious disease and healing, originally called Babalú-Ayé
Elegbá, related to Eshu (Echú or Exú in Latin America) and is considered the messenger for all Orishas
Oxúm, based on Oshun, deity of the river, pleasure, sexuality, fertility, beauty, and love
Iansã, the Orisha of winds, lightning, and violent storms, death and rebirth
Obá, a title for a major chieftain in West Africa
Ogún, warrior and sort of the patron saint of craftspeople who work with metal
Xangô, related to Shango, god of thunder, lightning, justice, dance, virility
Ossaím, a healing spirit
Oxumaré, god of the rainbow
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Classic Marvel comics covers remixed to showcase old school rap legends