10 authentically African things in Marvel’s Black Panther

Wakanda isn’t real (and neither is Asgard, so it doesn’t even matter) but for local audiences who dressed up in their dashikis and umqheles for the premiere, almost everything in it is a legitimate and sentimental tribute to the inimitable grandeur of Africa and its people. For everybody else, here’s what you might’ve missed.

Omg, cats

Everybody seems to forget for some reason that Egypt is actually in Africa, but it totally is, and cats were kind of a big deal in land of the pharaohs – in fact, a study in 2007 confirmed that all modern domestic cat breeds are genetic descendants of the African wildcat, making this one of the most important cultural exports from the continent, ever. Although it’s only obliquely referenced in the movie, Wakandans worship the panther deity Bast, based on the Ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet, and Black Panther has that whole, you know, panther thing going on. So it’s not some random coincidence, it’s quintessentially African. Also, cats rule.

Pushing shit off tables since 8000 BC.

Blanket couture

The people of Wakanda’s Border Tribe – most prominently W’Kabi – wear a sort of blanket cloak, inspired by the traditional woollen seanamarena of the Basotho tribe of Lesotho. First introduced in the region by a British man known only as “Mr Howell”, who presented a blanket as a gift to King Moeshoeshoe sometime in the late 1800s, the seanamarena‘s awkward colonial legacy is somewhat diminished by its practicality in the cold weather.

Reverse cultural appropriation is so hot this season.

Ngubani igama lakho?

Besides Nakia’s one brief exchange in Hausa, a Nigerian dialect, near the start of the movie, the ethnic language spoken by Wakandans is isiXhosa, spoken in real life by almost 20 million people in Africa. South African actor John Kani, who plays T’Challa’s dad T’Chaka, speaks isiXhosa, and apparently helped the cast with learning the lines.

Next level body modifications

Killmonger claims that every scar on his body represents a person he’s killed, but for the Bodi, Mursi, and Suri in Ethiopia, the Nuer in Sudan, and the Karamojong in Uganda, ritual scarification also has significance, including tribal allegiances and rites of adulthood. Cuts on the body are made with thorns and razors, and then rubbed with sap or ash so that the skin is more prominent when it’s healed. 

Much cooler than the Chinese symbol you got on your bum while you were drunk that probably means “stupid”.

Bayete! Inkosi!

There’s an obvious mix of Zulu aesthetics in the movie, which features a number of traditional weapons including the assegai and ikiwa spears and umbumbuluzo cow-hide shield, and Ramonda’s elegant crown is based on the isicholo, worn by married women. And if you’ve now also got Margaret Singana’s glorious “We Are Growing” stuck in your head now, my work here is done.

Bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom.

Shebeens in Saxonwold not included

Although most of the movie was filmed on sound stages in the US with a lot of the scenery copy-pasted in with post-production visual effects, there were additional location shoots in the Rwenzori Mountains and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, and aerial photography was taken in South Africa and Zambia.

The writing is on the wall

The symbolic inscriptions on much of the Wakandan architecture and even on W’Kabi’s blanket cloak are based on Ghanaian adinkra and Nigerian nsibidi ideographs, which instead of representing discrete phonemes like Western alphabets, embody concepts or aphorisms.

Like “#ColonialismMustFall”.

Girl power

The Wakandan Dora Milaje special forces warriors wear an ensemble fusion of Maasai and Ndebele traditional fashions, but even more intriguingly, the existence of an all-female regiment is not without real precedent. From sometime in the 1600s in Dahomey – now the present-day Republic of Benin – the Mino or so-called “Dahomey Amazons” were part of the country’s military, and by the late 1900s, comprised approximately one-third of its army with more than 6000 women enlisted.

No scrubs.

More next level body modifications

As an elder of the River Tribe, Ivory Coast national Isaach De Bankolé’s distinctive lip plate is most commonly found now among Suri and Mursi women in Ethiopia, but similar modifications were previously worn in Chad, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

White people, white peopling

Because when he’s not selling priceless artifacts stolen from Africa, Ulysses Klaue wants you to know about his lank kiff Soundcloud mixtape.

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