There are 197 countries recognized by the United Nations or, in the case of 2 we included, the majority of the UN. I took a look at each country’s cultural history and pop culture to determine the most iconic hero to come from each nation. Sometimes the country does not have many fictional characters so they honor folks heroes. Whenever possible, I selected a character that appears more than once and that has been exported in some form of media to the rest of the world. This represents the 3rd quarter of our comprehensive list.
The film Before the Rain got a lot of international acclaim. It follows three people in love stories while Macedonia stands on the brink of a civil war. Aleksander, a disillusioned war photographer unites the three stories.
Ibonia is a folk hero from ancient Madagascar days, a type of classic trickster hero. There’s very little literature in Madagascar and they use a type of poetry that’s called Kabary that involves call and response answers. Not much is written about Ibonia but scholars have researched it and learned about Madagascar culture through the stories.
John Chilembwe was a real life missionary who resisted colonialism in his country (today known as Malawi) and is celebrated as a national hero. There is very little literature produced from Malawi. John Chilembwe is seen on their printed money and they have a holiday in his name.
Hairi is a loser. One day, while living his loser life, he drinks coffee that has been contaminated by a virus-carrying gecko. As a result, he transforms into a bug-eating, wall-crawling mutant. He calls himself Cicak-Man (Gecko Man).
Ali Fulhu is a mythical hero whose beautiful wife is kidnapped by an evil King. Ali rescues her but they are pursued by the King and each opt to commit suicide rather than be separated.
In the early thirteenth century, the exiled prince Sundiata Keita led a revolt which led to Mali being formed more or less as it exists today. Sundiata was a real person but exists as a cultural hero through Mali art.
The movie Gagga based on a famous Maltese novel “Il-Gagga ta’ Frans Sammut” earned a lot of acclaim for being the first full-length movie shot in Malta in Maltese. The movie focuses on Maltese life in the 1960s, where people were blinded by religious and political fanaticism, and of the effects of these on the main character Fredu. He has to endure rantings, heartbreak, hallucinations and tragedy, until the time comes when he does not care about anything anymore.
In their folklore is a story about how their reefs were formed on Majuro by a man named Letao who was a famous trickster as well as having great strength.
There’s very little in the ways of any arts or humanities in Mauritania other some some crafts. Many Mauritanians have faith in the supernatural powers of holy men called marabouts. It is believed that their baraka,or divine grace, allows them to perform miracles.
J.M.G. LeClezio is a celebrated author who claims Mauritius citizenship, though he lives in France. He has won awards from other nations for his work. His first novel in particular is highly celebrated. It is titled “Le Proces-Verbal”. The novel is about Adam Pollo, a loner man who had been marginalized from society. His long hair and his beard make him appear a beggar. Pollo is a former student who suffers from amnesia. He does not know whether he was perhaps a deserter from the army or if he has escaped from a psyschiatric ward.
Rodolfo Guzman Huerta, known to fans only as Santo, took on zombies, vampires, martians and evil scientists. A luchador superhero.
Perhaps the most important trickster and cultural hero in Micronesian mythology was Olifat. The son of the god Lugeilan and of a human woman, the mischievous Olifat was a contradictory figure torn between two worlds. He sometimes rose to heaven on a column of smoke and other times descended to earth on a bolt of lightning.
Miorita is an old Romanian pastoral ballad and is considered to be one of the most important pieces of Romanian folklore. It tells the story of a Little Ewe who warns a shepherd that two other shepherds plan to murder him. He asks the Little Ewe, if that happens, to tell them to bury his body near the sheep’s pen and to tell the other sheep that he married a princess.
As the second smallest state in the world after Vatican City, Monaco’s biggest cultural event is easily its Formula-1 race, the Monaco Grand Prix. It’s what the rest of the world knows the tiny nation for. In 1931, local Louis Chiron< won the race, making him a bit of a national hero.
No one is more famous from Mongolia than Genghis Khan, the famous conqueror. His influence has spread to characters from Star Trek to Game of Thrones and many novels and movies have been created based on his stories.
“The Mountain Wreath” is a poem and a play, a masterpiece of Montenegrin literature, written by Prince-Bishop and poet Petar II Petrovic-Njegos. It deals with a fictionalized version of Metropolitan Danilo I Petrovic-Njegos, working to regulate relations among the region’s warring tribes.
Youssef Fadel is one of many acclaimed modern authors. He’s written plays, films and novels. His book “A Rare Blue Bird that Flies with Me” revolves around the disappearance of Aziz, who leaves his young wife Zina one morning and does not return. Her hunt for him lasts for the next 18 years when a message from a mysterious stranger leads her to discover her husband crouched on the floor of in a prison cell in Southern Morocco, just another casualty of Morocco’s brutal recent history.
Because of its low literacy rate, there is not much published literature from Mozambique. But its Makonde people have many folklore tales to pull lessons from. Arguably its most famous is that of Elephant who used to have a short nose but had to bend at the knee to eat. One day Crocodile grabbed his nose and pulled and pulled but Elephant was so strong he won, but now had a long snout. Initially embarrassed, he realized it was more useful and the other elephants soon followed his lead.
The Belu creatures are very popular in Burmese mythology due to the popularity of the Yama Zatdaw, a national epic. Belu are basically vampires or ogres but there are two kinds. The Panswé Belu is generally benevolent and its hooked fangs eat from flowers and fruit. Popa Medaw is one of the most popular of these. She is seen as an important spirit to the people of Myanmar.
Namibia’s literature scene is really only just beginning. One popular and well-respected novel is “The Purple Violet of Oshaantu” by Neshani Andreas. While most of the Namibian literature focuses on its struggle for independence from South Africa, “Purple Violet” is about Mee Ali, and issues that face her including women’s rights, domestic violence, friendship, marriage, romantic love, AIDS, crop growing, African Christianity, and traditional customs as they relate to widowhood.
As the smallest island nation in the world, their literature output is quite small. Still, their origin story for their island is part of their mythology and has been written in books shared in the wider world. The island is said to have had three giants and the youngest giant learned magic from his mother and created the islands.
Nepal is primarily Hindu and they adapted the “Ramayana” for their region. Therefore Rama is an important character, the 7th incarnation of Vishnu and his life on Earth living by the concepts of dharma. He is put through many trials and even goes to war to rescue his wife.
Douwe Dabbert is the name of the title character from fantasy comics that were published from 1975-2001. Douwe is a bearded gnome that wanders around with a knapsack that he can magically pull out pretty much whatever tool or item he needs.
New Zealand has a robust film industry. Popular movies like Heavenly Creatures, What We Do in the Dark, Once Were Warriors and Whale Rider are all hit movies from the country. The Piano may be the best known movie thanks to its many awards and huge box office against a small budget. It follows Ada McGrath, a mute Scotswoman sold into marriage to a New Zealand man and her tough life in a loveless marriage with only her daughter and her piano to comfort her.
The Nicaraguan folkloric legend of La Mocuana is believed to be based on genuine history. La Mocuana was a beautiful Indian princess. Her father, the chief, resisted Spanish invasion for their gold. Later, a Spanish soldier returned and fell in love with La Mocuana but when she revealed where their gold was kept, he greedily took it and ran away, leaving her heartbroken and alone.
The Yoruba tribe of Niger worship the storm god Shango, which is a fairly well known name that in turn found its way into various voodoo in the Caribbean. Shango has four wives, each named after one of Niger’s main rivers. There are other, more powerful and popular gods but they aren’t necessarily as well known to outsiders.
Nigeria’s most famous writer is probably Wole Soyinka, who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for literature. “The Lion and the Jewel” is a comedy play that’s been performed in England. Baroka is the main character, a 62-year old crafty chieftain spars with the modern, Westernized Lakunle for the heart of Sidi.
I’m not going to justify North Korea by listing their dictators. Instead, I’ll point you to the autobiographical novel Pyongyang by Guy Delisle. He’s a Canadian animation producer who lived a year in North Korea supervising an animation team. It’s very enlightening.
Nemi is the titular character from a long-running comic strip. She’s a 25-year old goth outsider that loves animals and heavy metal music, chocolate and Coke. The strip features a deep supporting cast and covers all types of cultural and political issues.
Darab is a popular Persian hero sent down a river as a baby but who grows in power and goes on all sorts of adventures, ultimately becoming King. Oman is entering a modern period where they are embracing more heroes, some of which interact with updated Arabic mythology. Darab is an example of a popular one.
A girls’ schoolteacher by day, and superhero by night, the Burka Avenger is Pakistan’s first animated female superhero. Versed in the fictional art of takht kabbadi, which essentially uses books and pens as deadly projectiles, protagonist Jiya fights people who rail against those performing their duty of educating the youth
Orachl is a demi-god hero going back to Palauan cave paintings. He was the god of carpentry and also wealth. He was especially revered by fishermen. He also represented the future and coming changes, and was a prophet who fortold the coming of the written word.
Handala by cartoonist Naji al-Ali is a very important cultural touchstone and a symbol of defiance. The artist explained that the character had his turned back and clasped hands to symbolized the character’s rejection of “outside solutions”. Handala wears ragged clothes and is barefoot, symbolizing his allegiance to the poor. In later cartoons, he is actively participating in the action depicted not merely observing it.
Rogelio Sinán’s Plenilunio is an acclaimed novel in one of Panama’s favorite genres: the psychological thriller. It follows Elena, a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage with the evil Crispin, a former butler that stole a fortune.
Papua New Guinea:
The Wahgi people of Papua New Guinea are known for making enormous shields from tree trunks as a form of ritual artwork. In the late 20th century, many of these Papua New Guinea highlanders began incorporating “new ideas” into their traditional works: soccer stars, beer brands and The Phantom, a pulp comic hero originally created by Lee Falk in the U.S. But Papua New Guinea have adopted him and made him their own. As a character who protects his home and “can’t” die he’s become a popular subject to decorate their shields with.
Since 1983, Dago has been a popular monthly comic that is published throughout South America and Spain. Dago tells the story a 16th-century Venetian nobleman who is betrayed and stabbed in the back by his best friend as part of a political plot during which his family is murdered and framed for treason. He is found adrift in the sea with the dagger still in his back by an Ottoman ship whose crewmembers save him, enslave him and baptize him “Dago” in reference to the dagger that, like a mother, gives him a new life as a slave. As he realizes he’s still alive, he swears vengeance on the four men that took part in the conspiracy to destroy his family.
Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has been called the conscience of Peru and won the Nobel Prize in 2010. His 1963 novel “La ciudad y los perros” was also adapted into a film in 1985. It follows several military academy cadets in a fierce society where they haze and punish one another. The theft of a chemistry test leads to detention which The Slave can’t endure because he wants to see his girlfriend. His classmate and friend The Poet is sent in his place and has to deal with a crisis of conscience.
Flash Bomba is a weird comic book superhero. He lost his legs but trained his upper body to compensate. When he learns of a mythical creature called the Tikbalang, he challenges and defeats it to get the use of his legs back. Instead, Tikbalang gives him comically large hands and feet along with other abilities. Flash Bomba uses these powers to fight crime.
The Witcher (aka Geralt of Rivia) comes from Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski. He is a monster hunter who developed supernatural abilities at a young age. The character has appeared in novels, comic books, a movie and a very popular video game series.
José Saramago won the Nobel prize in literature in 1998. His novel “Blindness” is very popular and was even made into a big-budget movie. It’s about an epidemic that spreads across the earth causing people to become blind or only see a “milky sea”. The Doctor and the Doctor’s wife (who is immune) work to cure people.
The new sci-fi TV series Medinah is an attempt at making a TV show popular in the West as well as across Arab countries. It follows a rocket launch that goes awry. A group of strangers find themselves stuck in a cave in the desert trying to survive while the corporation that launched the rocket attempts to figure out what went wrong. English actress Charlotte Salt will play Maya, a Brit living in Doha in the near future.
Although vilified by the western world, and further transformed into a monster thanks to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula“, Vlad Tepes is still considered a folk hero in the eyes of Romanians. Unlike the Dracula of fiction, Vlad the III was a ruler of Wallachia, not Transylvania, and stood up for his countrymen during the incipient Ottoman conquest of Europe.
Regarded as the greatest of Russia’s bogatirs (warriors or knights), Ilya Muromets is a massive warrior sitting atop his steed, poised to protect Russia from imminent danger. Ilya is famed for his almighty strength. He uses it to single-handedly defend the city of Chernigov from Tatar invasion, fell entire forests and kill off the monster Solovey Razboyinik (Nightingale the Robber).
Ruganzu Ndoli is referred to in oral tradition stories as not just a great king but a demi-god. Exiled after his country was conquered when he was a small child, he came back and reuinted Rwanda.
St. Kitts and Nevis:
Shaped by many different cultures, clowns are very popular on the islands. They dance and perform to music for all sorts of festivals, especially Carnival.
St. Lucian writer Derek Wolcott has received dozens of international awards for his writing, primarily poetry. His epic poem “Omeros” is loosely based off of “Homer” and “The Illiad.” It does not follow a traditional structure with a clear hero. Instead, the protagonist role moves among characters including island fishermen Achille and Hector, the retired English officer Major Plunkett and his wife Maud, the housemaid Helen, the blind man Seven Seas (who symbolically represents Homer), and the author himself.
St. Vincent and The Grenadines:
Very little literature or even mythology from these islands. Joseph Chatoyer was a Carib chief who led a revolt against the British colonial government of Saint Vincent in 1795. Killed that year, he is now considered a national hero of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and also of Belize, Costa Rica and other Carib countries he fought for during the war.
There are a lot of interesting gods in Samoan mythology. Tilafaiga is just one, who along with her sister brought the art of tattooing from Fiji to Samoa. She was also mother to Nafanua, a warrior princess.
A tiny island without many famous people. Soccer (football) star Davide Gualtiere did set the record for fastest goal in a World Cup qualifier or finals. It was in a FIFA match against England in 1993 with a time of 8.3 seconds.
Sao Tome and Principe:
A mix of people and culture due to the slave trade, their most popular form of art is the Tchiloli play, an adaptation of the Portuguese play The Tragedy of the Marquis of Mantua and the Emperor Charlemagne, written in the 16th century. It features handmade masks and is about justice. Emperor Charlemagne is forced to condemn his own son to death for a murder.
“Cities of Salt” is a popular novel by Saudi Arabian writer Abdul Rahman Munif and is a fictional story that mirrors real life when huge oil reserves are discovered in the desert. Initially, the story follows Sultan Khuraybit and later his son who grow their country into a modern metropolis.
“White Genesis” is a popular novella by Senegalese writer Ousmane Sembène. It follows Khar Madaiagua Diob, an expectant teenage mother who will not name her baby’s father. This leads to angry mobs blaming migrant workers and attacking them.
Serbian writer Zoran Zivkovic is a prodigious sci-fi writer. His novel “The Library” features 6 interlinked short stories all about nightmares concerning bibliophilia.
Antoine Abel is remembered as the father of literature for the Seychelles islands. Many of Abel’s short stories feature the half-human, half-monkey Soungoula, a trickster figure popular in Seychellois folktales.
Because of its long civil war, there isn’t a lot of literature from Sierra Leone, though there have been several authors of note to cover its history in non-fiction. Granville Sharp is a type of cultural hero for them, a British man who fought for the abolition of slavery and helped form their capital, Freetown.
VR Man is probably the most popular superhero from Singapore and had a 13-episode TV show. He could make virtual reality projections solid for a short time.
Juraj Jánošík is a popular Slovakian hero, a highwayman who robbed the rich to give to the poor, not unlike Robin Hood.
The novel “Alamut” from 1938 has been translated into 15 languages. The novel tells the story of the historical figure Hassan-i Sabbah and the Hashashin warriors, considered by some to be precursors of today’s Islamic suicide bombers. The protagonist of Alamut is the young and idealistic ibn Tabir, who arrives at Hassan-i Sabbah’s fortress intent on becoming a warrior in service to Hassan only to discover that the indoctrination of soldiers is based on fabrication and the drugging of recruits.
There isn’t much in the way of heroes from these tiny islands but they do believe in giants that may live there. 15-foot people not unlike a sasquatch or yet. A lot of cryptozoologist fans around the world like to research this.
Coldiid the wise warrior is a popular Somali folktale with a positive message regarding a waranle (warrior) who avoids all forms of violence. For this abstinence, he is looked down upon by his peers. However, in the end, he manages to show that violence is no way to earn either respect or love.
With his nerdy professor sidekick, gorgeous redhead girlfriend and pet tiger, Jet Jungle is a walking action tropes catalog. He doesn’t have superpowers, relying more on personal ability and gadgetry a la Batman and Green Hornet, and his space-faring adventures were some of the best escapist fantasies ever inspired by the aforementioned space race fascination of the ’60s.
A vigilante who tries to avenge the death of his father, Lee Yoon-seong (City Hunter, originally a manga in Japan) is a vehicle that shows several aspects of modern Korean society, including the generation gap, increasingly diverse roles of women and the labyrinthine politics the public doesn’t trust. He has no special powers other than tremendous reflexes and terrific martial arts training, but City Hunter is still South Korea’s biggest hero.
The first African to graduate from the University of Iowa’s writers workshop in 1968,Taban Lo Liyong is one of Africa’s best known writers. His play Showhat and Sowhat, tells the story of two families at odds after the daughter of one family falls pregnant to the son of the other. Each family member in the Showhat and Sowhat families has an important role to play.
Pafman is an out-of-shape, inept guy who simply cannot make things right. Alongside his anthropomorphic cat Pafcat, Pafman fights increasingly ridiculous characters, such as a talking chair who meets death by termites. The character breaks the fourth wall, satirizes conventions and is utterly devoid of seriousness. He is to Spain what Deadpool is to America.
In the popular Sri Lankan play and movie “Kadawunu Poronduwa” Tackla pushes her daughter Ranjani to get married to a wealthy older man Victor with a child through an earlier marriage, despite Ranjani having a loving relationship with Samson.
Muhammad Ahmad, the leader of the Mahdi forces, overtook Khartoum, the capital of Sudan by 1885 in a ten month attack against Egyptian forces. The Siege of Khartoum is a well-known historical event that has been adapted into stories many times.
Soccer is played in towns and villages everywhere. A great hero of the game is Ruud Gullit, of Suriname descent. He became the captain of the Dutch national team.
Swaziland has the richest history of oral traditions. Swazi identity is based on allegiance to a dual monarchy, headed by a hereditary king, titled by his people ingwenyama (lion), and a queen mother, indlovukati (Lady Elephant).
Both the novel and film trilogy “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” were huge hits internationally. The story features co-leads Lisabeth Salander, a hacker, and Mikael Blomkvist, a magazine reporter, who investigate a case of a girl who has been missing from a wealthy family for over 30 years.
Globi, an animated parrot, is often referred to as the Swiss Mickey Mouse. Originally created as a store mascot he grew very popular and has been featured in comics, books, toys and an animated movie.
Imran Talib is probably the most progressive Arab sci-fi writer, having written 7 novels as well as a treatise on science fiction in Arabic. He wrote the novel “Khalfa hajiz az-zaman” (“Beyond the Barrier of Time”) and I can see that it is popular in many Arabic-speaking countries, but I can’t read a summary.