The African origin of heroes, super and otherwise

July 7, 2011

by J.D. Jackson

[1]Historically, heroes – super-powered or not – come in all shapes and sizes. But what about colors? If we allow your standard history book and Hollywood small and silver screen productions to answer that question, the overall answer would be that the color is only one – white. Black heroes, it seems, do not exist.

But nothing could be further from the truth, especially for the sharp-witted student of world history or even popular culture. For such a person – though not without long-lived hard work and patience, intense study and research, and steel-spined dedication – would discover that throughout time immemorial, the Black hero – real and imagined – repeatedly appears and impacts culture as well as individuals who either welcome or disregard his or her heroic appearance, words and/or deeds.

Speaking of words, some scholars now agree that the very word “hero” comes from an African (Black) word and an African god. The 19th century scholar, Gerald Massey, states that the word “hero” comes from the Egyptian, “ma haru,” meaning “the typical warrior” or the “true hero.” Whereas another scholar states that the word “hero” is derived from the Latin name of a Greek word for the African god, Heru or Hor, who most Egyptologists call “Horus the hawk, the avenger.”

Interestingly enough, the hawk is an ancient and sacred bird of Africa, particularly Ethiopia, and what the late but legendary African world history scholar, Dr. Chancellor Williams, calls “Ethiopia’s oldest daughter, Egypt.”

Furthermore, based on the testimony of the Greek historian, Herodotus – often dubbed the “father of history” – and other scholars past and present, the very names – if not the very same gods, Greek then Roman, under different names – of the gods from Greek and Roman mythology came from, or were heavily influenced by, the ancient Egyptian and African mythology which predated them.

Those African-derived Greco-Roman gods would consequently serve as the backbone of today’s multi-billion dollar superhero comic book and movie industry.


Obatala, God of Yoroba mythology.

But the unmatched impact of Black heroes, real and fictional, would not stop in Greek and Roman mythology or even in Western society today. It would encompass both Asia and the Far East too. Whereas there is little, if any, hardcore evidence that King Arthur truly lived, in the Asian country of Saudi Arabia, there is evidence that over 1,500 years ago, there lived a courageous, 6th century, Black or Afro-Arabic warrior-poet and lover named Antar.

History has dubbed him the “father of knighthood … [and] chivalry” and “the king of heroes.” Greatly admired by the founder and prophet of Islam, Muhammad, he is still widely celebrated for his poetry and warrior spirit throughout the Arab world today.

Those African-derived Greco-Roman gods would consequently serve as the backbone of today’s multi-billion dollar superhero comic book and movie industry.

Then, in the Far East – China, specifically – during the 9th century, there lived a writer named Pei Xing. Although there is virtually no proof that he was Black, during the Tang Dynasty of said century he wrote what some have called “China’s first martial arts short story,” entitled “Kunlun Nu.” It means the “Negrito,” “little Negro” or “little Black” slave and its hero is an enslaved Black man who can fly and has incomparable martial arts skills – just as in the traditional Chinese martial arts films of the 1960s and ‘70s, if not in earlier and even in modern-day movies.

Then there’s Japan, where this ancient but little-known proverb was found: “For a samurai [warrior] to be brave, he must have a bit of Black blood.” Another version says: “For a samurai to be brave, he must have half Black blood,” meaning one of his parents must be Black.

We also find in Japan a noted Black warrior who historians have called “the paragon of military virtue,” a Japanese general and the first person to bear the Japanese title of sei-i tai shogun – meaning “barbarian-subduing generalissimo.” His name was Sakanouye Tammamura Maro, sometimes spelled Sakanouye No Tamuramaro.

Furthermore, let’s not forget about the only “thoroughly documented amazons in world history [3],” the women warriors of Dahomey, who were West African women often serving as the king’s bodyguards and who, unlike the Grecian “amazons” and the comic book “amazon,” Wonder Woman, truly lived.

And what about the beautiful, fictional or factual, Black warrior-queen, Califia – after whom the state of California is said to be named; or Nzinga, a lioness-hearted Angolan warrior-queen, who fought against the Portuguese for decades to keep them from enslaving her people? Nzinga lived. Xena, the warrior-princess, did not.

[4] [5]Nor let us ignore the Black steel-driving man, John Henry, who not only – according to legend – beat a steam-driving machine with his hammer in his hand, but – according to one scholar – serves as the model for both Superman and Captain America, who is called the “first avenger” in the trailer [6]for the movie to be released July 22.

Then there’s the Black Frenchman, Alexandre Dumas père, who wrote both “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” which both influenced fictional characters such as Mickey Spillane’s private eye, Mike Hammer, Ian Fleming’s super spy, James Bond, and characters created by the cowboy novelist, Zane Grey.

But what about the gun-slinging, outlaw-catching – catching between 3,000 and 4,000 outlaws – greatly feared, highly respected, often disguised, Black deputy marshal – serving for over 30 years – Bass Reeves? Says one scholar, Reeves may have served as the model for both the Lone Ranger and the Rooster Cogburn characters in the novel and movie, “True Grit.”

And let’s not fail to acknowledge the literal and literary hijacking, if not outright theft, by movie productions of African people’s centuries-long struggle against racial oppression, especially the Civil Rights Movement. Examples of such productions, if not parodies, are the “Planet of the Apes,” “Matrix” – an idea which allegedly was written by and stolen from a Black woman named Sophia Stewart – and “X-Men” movies.

And not one movie has been made about the late Henrietta Lacks, whose legendary cells are considered to be the world’s “first immortal cell lines [7],” reproducing on their own, adding billions to the coffers of medical researchers and research companies, and having been instrumental in the developments of the polio vaccine, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping and the possible cure for cancer, if not AIDS. It’s her mutated cells – the He-La cells, if you will – that should be the subject of a major motion picture, or several of them.

Truly heroic, African-centered people should make movies about her, her poverty-stricken family and the other Black heroes and she-roes, real and imagined, that may or may not have been mentioned.

For they, like Robert F. Williams – the Black, Marine Corps trained weapons expert and stalwart, armed self-defense advocate and major but little-known Civil Rights Movement activist – clearly indicate that Black heroes do exist, should be studied and known and their lives should be written about and filmed for the small or silver screen by African people. It’s important for us to restore what the Afro-Puerto Rican bibliophile, Arthur Schomburg, once said “slavery took away” – our sense of humanity, self-worth and undying willingness to work together and improve the overall dismal plight of the world’s 1 billion-plus African (Black) people – as crafted by anyone’s hand, mind or faith – come hell or high water. Such people are the real heroes – walking, talking and doing superheroes.

This is dedicated to Brother Obadela Williams, who suggested research on this topic over 20 years ago.

© 2011 by J.D. Jackson, better known as Hawk, a priest, poet, soloist, journalist, historian and African-centered lecturer who can be reached at [8].

Posted on THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY VIEW, a national Black  Newspapers.

Hmmmm, how did Joseph Campbell manage to miss all this?

Listed below are the books assigned by Sun Ra for his lecture course, African-American Studies 198: The Black Man in the Universe. The classes were offered as part of the regular Spring semester at the University of California, Berkeley, 1971.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead


Alexander Hislop: Two Babylons

The Theosophical works of Madame Blavatsky

The Book of Oahspe

Henry Dumas: Ark of Bones

Henry Dumas: Poetry for My People eds. Hale Charfield & Eugene Redmond, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press 1971

Black Fire: An Anthology of Afro-American Writing, eds. Leroi Jones & Larry Neal, New York: William Morrow 1968

David Livingston: Missionary Travels

Theodore P. Ford: God Wills the Negro

Rutledge: God’s Children

vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring 1971), Temple University

John S. Wilson: Jazz. Where It Came From, Where It’s At, United States Information Agency

Yosef A. A. Ben-Jochannan: Black Man of the Nile and His Family, Alkibu Ian Books 1972

Constantin Francois de Chasseboeuf, Comte de Volney: The Ruins, or, Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires, and the Law of Nature, London: Pioneer Press 1921

The Source Book of Man’s Life and Death (Ra’s description; = The King James Bible)

Pjotr Demianovitch Ouspensky: A New Model of the Universe. Principles of the Psychological Method in Its Application to Problems of Science, Religion and Art, New York: Knopf 1956

Frederick Bodmer: The Loom of Language. An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages, ed. Lancelot Hogben, New York: Norton & Co. 1944
Blackie’s Etymology

Do your Homework, Peoples!

This list is posted on the New Day Blog

The Black Metropolis Research Consortium awards research fellowships to fortunate artists and scholars. The thing that really excited me about the fellowship is that it welcomed research from visual artist and filmmakers. After meeting the director, Vera Davis, and learning that she herself is a filmmaker, this made more sense and speaks the the institutional importance of interdisciplinary scholars and artists – you never know where we’ll end up and what doors out special pockets of knowledge might open. The fellowship has been fantastic. Aside from meeting the other scholars and hearing a little about their fascinating projects, we’ve breakfasted in The Quadrangle Club and feasted on huge quantities of beef at a Brazilian BBQ restaurant. Hospitality is a particular form of grace of which Dr. Davis abundantly practices.

Anyway, I’m spending most mornings in the Special Collections of the University of Chicago Jazz Archive.

The papers stored here were donated by writer, scholar and art facilitator John Corbett (see earlier post). He describes his acquisition of the papers as one of the many undeniable “coincidences” one experiences when one orbits around Sun Ra. After culling through the material for a couple of years, he decided that the world should have access to this amazing cache of ephemera from Sun Ra’s life and the life of his business partner, Alton Abraham. As I go through the sketchbooks, letters, receipts, poetry revisions, etc, I am overwhelmed by the depth and scope of Sun Ra’s practice and the dedication exhibited by ALton Abraham in supporting and facilitating this (initially) shy and reclusive genius’ career.

My main interest in the papers are the ways in which Sun Ra’s recordings were produced, pressed, and distributed by hand – DIY punk rock style.  I am investigating his production processes, aesthetic patterns and the scope of his collaborative research with other members of the Thmei (or El Saturn) Research Group. I have drooled over a hand screenprinted LP jacket for Silhouettes in Jazz and teared up over the revisions and corrections scribbled in the margins of typed  poetry manuscripts. Sun Ra was a serious and committed writer. The vivid and hyperbolic rants that appear in his early broadsheets later evolved into very nuanced poems culminating in an entire second volume of the Immeasurable Equation series.  I have taken loas so snaps of papers in the archive, but it’s the little things that really move me.

Sun Ra's signature on a sheet of paper with lists, doodles and notations. From the Alton Abraham / Sun Ra Collection at the University of Chicago Special Collections.

John Corbett’s book, EXTENDED PLAY, contains, “Brothers From Another Planet: The Space Madness of Lee “Scratch Perry, Sun Ra, and George Clinton,”  a very influential essay which firmly identifies said artists  as the holy trinity of afro-futurism in contemporary culture. There are many other insightful essays and engaging interviews in the book. Looking forward to a long ride on the Red Line this morning  I grabbed Mr. Corbett’s book and settled on revisiting “Anthony Braxton: From Planet to Planet.” An awesome and provocative interview. I so admire the artist who can remain steadfastly wide open, compassionate, and engaged, while still crafting the ways and means of intensely considered and deliberate creative production. This is not as easy as it sounds!

Anthony Braxton. photo by Peter Gannushkin

At the end of the interview Mr. Braxton offers readers his suggested list of tracks. Since this blog focuses on the production and research revolving around Sun Ra, Marching Bands, Creative Music, and insurgent art, this list seemed apt:

1. The Florida State University Marching Band School Theme

2. Sun Ra, “Brainville” (from Sun Song)

3. Sun Ra, “Bygone” (from Mayan Temples)

4. Paul Desmond (w/Brubeck) “You Go to My Head”

5. Frankie Lymon, “The ABC’s of Love”

6. Ornette Coleman, “Peace” (from The Shape of Jazz to Come)

7. Alban Berg, Lulu (conducted by Pierre Boulex)

8. Richard Wagner, Parsifal and The Ring

9. Charlie Parker, “Donna Lee”

10. Lee Konitz/Warne Marsh, “Sax of a Kind”

11. Dinah Washington, “You Go to My Head”

       **12. William Grant Stills,  A Bayou Legend

13. Cecil Taylor, Akisakila

14. Sal Mosca/Warne Marsh Quartet, “Steady As She Goes” (from Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. II)

15. John Coltrane, Central Park West”

~ Extended Play, by John Corbett, pg 217.

** Amazing.

Yup. Another grand offering from Destination OUT.

Out, indeed.

This SITE is doing great work.

National Public Radio reflects on Sun Ra. Click HERE to read.


Much has  happened the past few months. Velvet Room Closed. Margaret Burroughs passed on. I don’t have words for that stuff.

But soon this blog will re-activate.

I’m coming back to Chicago.

ETA July 1!

I cannot wait.  This time I’m staying a while.

In the meantime I was listening to Lester Bowie. And I got infected. This song, makes me think of the way Sun Ra. as a master of all African-American and experimental  musical forms, could inhabit the past, present, and future of music all at once.

Maestro Bowie and his ensemble do the same with this super-sublime  rendition of The Pretender.  Oh, how I love this track.

Sorry about the terrible youtube video. It’s the most legal way I can share the sixteen minutes of gorgeousness that will wash over you once you press play.

The skyscraper establishes the block, the block creates the street, the street offers itself to man.
~Roland Barthes

UCSD tracking huge solar flare that might cause aurora

By Gary Robbins

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 6:58 p.m.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory took this image of a solar flare erupting 21 degrees south of the sun's equator on February 15th.  


NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory took this image of a solar flare erupting 21 degrees south of the sun’s equator on February 15th.

The largest solar flare to erupt on the sun since December 2006 has sent plasma streaming toward Earth, a usually benign but sometimes troublesome phenomenon that’s being monitored by a sophisticated satellite instrument developed by UC San Diego.

Such flares can disrupt telecommunications on Earth, in addition to setting off the wondrous aurora borealis.

“The plasma from the flare contains ionized particles that could cause an aurora borealis in the northern latitudes,” said Bernard Jackson, a research scientist at UCSD’s Center for Astrophysics and Space Science. “The plasma should hit Earth’s magnetosphere on Thursday.”

The flare erupted on Feb. 15th, producing plasma that was imaged today (Wednesday) by the Solar Mass Ejection Imager (SMEI), an instrument that Jackson designed at UCSD. SMEI is traveling aboard Coriolis, a satellite that’s in polar orbit around Earth. The Sun is centered in this image of the whole sky made from a composite of 1500 smaller portions over one 102-minute orbit. The yellow arrow points to an area of brightness that is the plasma ejecta on its way toward Earth.

“This is one of the largest flares of the current solar cycle,” Jackson said on Wednesday night. “It is exciting because the sun is really waking up and coming to life. We’re now able to forecast the arrival of the ejecta in a pretty robust way.”

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory took this image of a solar flare erupting 21 degrees south of the sun's equator on February 15th.  

– UCSD Center for Astrophysics and Space Science

This image of the sky was taken on Wednesday. The yellow arrow points to the plasma flowing toward Earth. The image was taken by the Solar Mass Ejection Imager, an instrument designed by UCSD’s Bernard Jackson.