First Appearance: Jungle Tales v1 #1 (September 1954).
Appearances: Jungle Tales v1 #1-7.
Years Active: Good question.
Waku is a prince of the "Bantu nation," which his stories locate in "the hidden depths of South Africa." His stories are set at some point in the undefined past: "out of the legends of the secret rites of native tribes." The story makes mention of the "white hunters," though, so presumably they occur in either the 19th or the 20th centuries. Waku's father was Kaba, the chief of the "tribesmen of Bantu," but on Kaba's deathbed he forces Waku to swear that he will "never use force and strength to lead our people...let there be no more warfare! Be an enlightened and gentle leader! Use kindness...use skill...but forbear the use of violence!" Waku of course swears to this, wanting to honor his father's deathbed wish.
This proves troublesome, for on his father's death Waku becomes Chief of the Bantu. To retain the title he has to prove his worth, but this means "fighting and defeating the strongest of our young men." Waku refuses, which angers the Bantu, and they cast him out. His rival, Mabu, seizes the opportunity and becomes the chief of the Bantu, first by fighting the other Bantu as Waku was supposed to, and then by claiming that he killed a mad elephant that had "been bringing terror to" the Bantu village. (Waku was actually responsible for the kill, using one "well-aimed spear" thrust.) Mabu, once in control, directs the Bantu to "hunt for the white hunters," which Waku objects to, as
the illegal hunters have been after my father to get them cheap hunters...and they were refused! Now Mabu has taken over...and will have my people work as slaves!The Bantu are worked as slaves for a month, with Mabu growing rich and the tribe being treated abominably, but on the night of the one month anniversary of Kaba's death the tribe gathers around the campfire worshiping Kaba's memory. Lalei, Waku's beloved, puts on Kaba's robe and headdress and tells the Bantu of the oath Waku took; she was eavesdropping during Kaba's death and heard everything. The Bantu make a move to overthrow Mabu and Waku, who was listening and watching from the trees, jumps down and challenges Mabu.
They fight, and Waku throws Mabu into the campfire. The Bantu proclaim Waku Chief, but he says, "No, my friends! I have broken an oath to my father...and the spirit of the fire must claim me now!" Lalei doesn't want him to go, and vows to walk with him into the fire.
Fortunately for all concerned, Kaba appears from the flames and releases Waku from his vow. Waku gladly accepts the role of "Prince of the Bantu," and lives happily ever after with Lalei. Of course, he fights evil and wrong-doers and all of that, too.
The image at the top of the page is of Waku in war mode; the image on the right is of he and Lalei.
Note: I know that Christopher Priest, writer of Marvel's excellent
Panther comic, doesn't need any story suggestions from anyone. I know
he's an outstanding writer and that the book has plenty of storylines already
in play, as well as the ominous-sounding "The Death of the Black Panther"
on the horizon. And I know that Priest has ignored the following suggestion
every time I've mentioned it. But, darn it, Waku is Marvel's first black
superhero, if not the first black and the first African superhero in all
of comics (I'm not so sure about the latter), and Marvel needs to acknowledge
him in some way.