From Olympus to Ife

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I don’t think I can remember a year gone by where there wasn’t at least one film (if not 2 or 3) film released that was inspired by Greco-Roman Mythology. In fact I think that this trend goes beyond film and extends into all areas of storytelling whether it is gaming, fiction or comics. We have direct adaptations such as 300 or God of War however, the real volume lies in more subtle adaptations like the Hunger Games, inspired by the legend of Theseus or  O Brother, Where Art Though where the Cohen brothers re-imagine Homer’s Oddysey.

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A similar trend follows with Egyptian mythology which is perhaps the most popular collection of African myths and legends. However, the Orisas, a group of Yoruba deities that hail from Nigeria have become very popular in recent decades. Have the Orisas begun to influence modern storytelling in a manner similar to their Greek and Egyptian counterparts? Certainly not to the same extent however, these deities have begun to crop up in music, film, tv, comics and gaming.

Oya Rise of the Orisa


This was perhaps the first title that drew my attention to the intersection between Yoruba beliefs and modern cinema. This short film follows Oya: Orisha of the wind. Oya enters the modern world in human form and goes on a mission to stop a occultic practitioner, intent on killing an innocent girl in order to gain power. This narrative will continue with Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha.

Besouro


It’s not very often you hear African Martial Arts Fantasy in the same sentence but Besouro is the rare (perhaps only) exception. Based on the life of a legendary capoeira fighter from Bahia,Besouro Mangangá, This film spins a fantastic tale of a young Brazilian man of African descent who is bestowed with mystical powers that allow him to defy the laws of physics.

Orisha’s Journey

Moving on from film to animation, Orisha’s Journey is about a little girl  who doesn’t believe in fables finds herself in one. After meeting a lost flower spirit, she must journey though the world of spirits and the depths of her imagination to return the lost flower to the ‘Walking Forest!’

Nyambe

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In the world of gaming Nyambe is the most impressive title inspired by the Orishas. Developed by Atlas games, Nyambe is a vast land of exotic creatures and wide expanses, where ancestral orishas cry for brave tribal warriors to carve out the hearts of foul mchawi wizards, and where dragon-blooded sei sorcerers once joined the fierce Amazons of Nibomay in the bloody Rebelling Time to win their freedom. This eagerly anticipated campaign setting for the SRD rules brings together high fantasy and African myth, legend, and history in a landscape of epic proportions. There are three different titles all set in the world of Nyambe that are available for download on the official Atlas Games website.

Shango

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Of all the Orishas Shango is probably the most popular. With control over fire and thunder he is thought to be one of the most powerful Orishas which is probably while he appeals to such a massive audience. Although we are yet to see an epic story that revolves around Shango he has been used by both Marvel and DC comics where he appeared in both Dr Stange and Justice League respectively in addition to a couple of other titles. Unfortunately Sango, played a bit part role in his Marvel and DC cameos however, it seems like it will only be a matter of time before we see an epic Sango narrative.

So far most modern narratives involving the Orishas have been on a relatively small they have at least succeeded in helping us re-imagine how we could retell the story of the Orishas through the most popular storytelling mediums. Therefore, despite the fact that we are yet to see a big budget production that involves the Orishas perhaps this is only the beginning. I have no doubt that we will see more of these Yoruba deities in film, TV, gaming, comics and books.

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4 thoughts on “From Olympus to Ife

  1. Excellent article. Like you said, the power of our storytelling lies in our traditional cultures. My ideal situation is to blend Sci-Fi with this stuff and have a unified perspective on science like our ancestors did. The study of the physical realm was the study of the metaphysical was the study of the physical. Both are intertwined, so why specialize in one?

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    1. Thank you! You also bring up a great point regarding the interrelation between science and spirituality and there’s no reason why this cant be reflected in these modern retellings of our traditions. Are there any good examples of how this is being done?

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      1. I cannot recall any but I will be doing it in my novel. Honestly I believe most people just don’t know. White folk got the world believing high spirituality and high technology have always been mutually exclusive.

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