Black Panther is my favorite Marvel hero so I am currently very excited for Black Panther which will be released in the UK very soon. Judging by the trailers a huge section of the movie seems to be set in Wakanda which, of course, is a fictional place. Hence, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the country of Wakanda.
Real World Origins
|Wakanda's First Appearance|
Wakanda first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 alongside the Black Panther itself in a story by Stan Lee in 1966. In this story T'Challa invites the Fantastic Four to Wakanda, and then defeats them in a test to see how good they are. For years comic books had been trying to be more progressive but had been shackled by the intense discrimination of the United States. After de jure racial discrimination had mostly ended in 1965 thanks to the Civil Rights movement comic books could move from allegories, such as the X-Men, to actually including minorities. Africa was going through a period of time which historian Martin Meredith described as an 'African Renaissance'. The European colonies by 1966 had been winning their independence and were being led by energetic and charismatic leaders like Julius Nyerere and Jomo Kenyatta. These new states experienced a boom in literature, had access to a mountain of resources, and with the discovery of Lucy the Australopithecus had the added pride of being the place where humanity originated. Lee and Marvel blended the end to legal racial hatred with Africa's bright future to create the Black Panther and Wakanda.
|An early map of Wakanda|
One thing Marvel has been consistent about Wakanda is its location. Wakanda is in East Africa normally bordering Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Sudan, however, for its fictional countries Marvel is often vague about locations. The above map is from Marvel Atlas #2 which features several other fictional countries but that's the only time this version of Wakanda has really been shown. All other depictions have been consistent in showing Wakanda as being around Kenya and Ethiopia. Birnin Zana is the capital and also the largest city. Wakanda also happens to be the richest country in the world with Rob at ComicsExplained estimating the GDP, here, to be higher than the GDP of the rest of the world. The reason for this is due to vibranium, the metal which makes up Captain America's shield, and is worth about $10,000 per gram. Black Panther's father, T'Chaka, made Wakanda so wealthy by selling vibranium abroad, and when T'Challa became king he altered the trading policy to ensure that vibranium would only be sold to people with 'good intentions'. The profits from vibranium sales were funneled back into Wakanda where the profits were invested into health, education, and science. As a result, Wakanda is not only one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, (Dr. Doom's country Latveria may be the only other country to rival Wakanda in advancement), but also one of the most educated. Wakanda even has a cure for cancer but refuses to share it as it would be sold for profit, and one counselor in Black Panther Vol.4 #3 said 'If they care about their people's health they wouldn't sell them cigarettes'. They even split the atom around fifty years before the rest of the world did!
Wakanda is a monarchy under a king who takes the mantle of the Black Panther. T'Challa is the current Black Panther and his father was the previous one. The Black Panther is in charge of protecting Wakanda from outside forces which wishes to destroy or exploit it. Black Panther originally only joined the Avengers in order to spy on them in case they were a threat to Wakanda. However, the role of the Black Panther isn't hereditary and anyone in theory can become the Black Panther. To become the Panther one must first eat the heart-shaped root, a plant native to only Wakanda which Wakandans viewed as a gift from their god. If the consumer doesn't die they can go onto the next stage. In the past it was believed that if they died it was due to god being displeased but now they know that it is due to the vibranium in the root itself which can kill people. Survivors then go on to fight several of Wakanda's best fighters and if they win they become king. A current ruling Black Panther can be challenged for the position as well.
|T'Challa with the Dora Milaje|
Wakanda is still very tribal with the eighteen main tribes being represented in the Taifa Ngao in a sort of parliament. There's also the Black Panther's royal guard called the Dora Milaje. Centuries ago this guard was founded as a way for not showing favoritism to one tribe. Each tribe would hand over one girl to be trained to become the best bodyguard that she could be, and one would eventually be chosen as the king's wife. T'Chaka saw this as outdated and abolished it, but T'Challa brought them back with a twist. The Dora Milaje would still be loyal to the Black Panther but not in a potentially romantic way. After all he married Storm of the X-Men who is Kenyan. T'Challa turned the Dora Milaje into the world's fiercest, and best, fighting force with them knowing just about all fighting styles from across the world.
For centuries Wakanda had been isolationist and to an extent under T'Challa, who ended the isolation, it still is. As mentioned earlier it refuses to share the cure for cancer, but at the same time it refuses to share its technology. Wakanda sent satellites into space in the 1950s to make sure the USA and USSR wouldn't challenge them, for example. T'Challa was even the first Wakandan to have an education outside of Wakanda - although Wakanda has one of the best education systems in the world, which is also free, so now there isn't really any need. Largely, Black Panther only takes part in the superhero community to see if they threaten Wakanda. Not all Wakandans accept the end of isolation with the Desturi being an example. The Desturi is a xenophobic, ultra-conservative group who strongly oppose the end of isolation.
|The Panther Cult|
Religion is very interesting in Wakanda. Wakandan religion evolved from Egyptian religion but the strange thing in Marvel comics all religions are real, and for the most part the gods are extremely powerful magical beings, like Odin and Thor. Each god has their own cult with the Panther Cult, worshiping Bast, being the main and largest one. Due to the Panther Cult we have the Black Panther. In the past the Lion Cult worshiping Sekhmet was the largest as Sekhmet would appear to all its followers, not just the priests, but over the years the Panther Cult became more popular. Sobek of the Crocodile Cult had a large following but has declined. Finally, the last major cult is that of Ghekre, the White Gorilla. In Wakanda there are white gorillas whose evolution was influenced by vibranium so when people ate white gorilla flesh they would get powers. However, doing so made them violent so the Wakandans outlawed the cult until years later when Man-Ape revived it.
Wakanda had its roots 10,000 years ago. A meteorite full of vibranium crashed in what would become Wakanda. A local tribe led by Bashenga went to investigate and the vibranium caused several warriors to mutate into 'Demon Spirits'. Bashenga prayed to Bast to help defeat the Spirits who ended up granting him powers, and Bashenga became the first Black Panther. Over the centuries different dynasties holding the Black Panther mantle would rise and fall with the occasional invasion by outside forces including Romans, Crusaders, and European colonizers. A Belgian colonel who invaded to add Wakanda to Belgium's Congo empire was so thoroughly defeated that his soldiers brought what remained of him back to Belgium - an easy task seen as it was just his foot in a boot left.
|Captain America getting beaten by T'Challa's grandfather in 1941|
In 1941 the Nazis attempted to invade Wakanda to seize hold of the Vibranium deposits but Captain America, with his original shield, went to aid the Black Panther and his son T'Chaka. T'Chaka was impressed by Cap' and gave him some vibranium which would then become his new shield. Under T'Chaka Wakanda would slowly start opening to the outside world with him selling small quantities of vibranium, however, a company called the Bilderburg Group wanted it all. They sent mercenaries under a man named Klaw, played by Andy Serkis in the MCU, to overthrow T'Chaka and seize the vibranium. Klaw would go on to kill T'Chaka but he would be defeated by T'Challa who cut off his hand (instead of Ultron in the MCU). T'Chaka's brother, S'Yun, would serve as Black Panther until T'Challa became of age when he went through the ritual of eating the heart-shaped herb and challenging S'Yun's best fighters. This brings us up to the modern day comics.