The concept of the upcoming Black Panther movie, which comes out next February may seem incredibly outlandish to people unfamiliar with African history. Occurring in the fictitious African kingdom of Wakanda, the story of Black Panther focuses on the King of Wakanda, T’Challa, who moonlights as a blockbuster superhero in a form-fitting cat outfit. After the death of his father, the previous Black Panther, he struggles to retain control in his own kingdom, fighting against threats both domestic and foreign while on the throne and on the battlefield. Like the monarchy, the responsibility to slink through the jungle in black tights is inherited. (I would love to see a Black Panther spin-off with T’Challa’s angsty teenage son trying to pursue his dreams as a pudgy comedian).
However ridiculous this idea sounds “A secret Empire in AFRICA? That’s not realistic at all!”, it’s actually pretty relevant not only to remaining racial prejudices around the world but cultures that insist that the civilizations in Africa were somehow “lesser than” their European or Asian counterparts. The idea of a secret technologically advanced African kingdom may be a fantastic idea for some, but to many historians, the not-so-ancient empires of Africa have become the subject of invigorated interest in the past few decades. After generations of suppression by European powers that sought to establish themselves as the most important and influential powers in the world, the “secret” history of Africa is clamoring to the surface. Ignored by historians, who, bound by the agendas of their respective civilizations, supported the idea that African “civilization” consisted of grass tents along riversides and savage tribes, accurate accounts of African Empires can help dispel the inherent sense of superiority that still pervades Western civilization. The assumption held by many people about the history of Africa helped perpetuate some of the prejudices that enabled racially-based slavery to thrive for so long in the western world and negatively affects how our international community treats African nations today. This idea, besides being incorrect and far too simplistic a charge to lay on a continent as large and diverse as Africa, does not hold up to any contemporary scrutiny, or for that matter, nearly any ancient historical accounts of the region.
Among the many African Kingdoms, a few stand out as powerful signifiers of the influence African civilizations had on the world, the Kushite, Axumite, Wagadu, and Mali are four used in an article (link at the bottom of the article), by historical enthusiast and novelist, Ben Thomas. His multi-part series on African kingdoms introduces us to the idea that Africa, far from simply being home to nomadic tribes, spawned some very impressive civilizations, rivaling their European and Asian counterparts in the depth and breadth of their histories and culture. Telling the stories of four empires in a few articles Thomas unravels a complex history of a continent far different than many of us imagine.
Wakanda, although a fictitious realm of comic-book fantasy, pays its respects to these empires, places with fantastic wealth, ancient stories, brilliant architecture, and bustling cities. Although not “secret” in the same sense of Wakanda, which, according to the new trailer is guarded by a reality-distorting forcefield, these empires are “hidden” by European powers that snuffed out the idea that Africa could be home to a world power. If a comic-book movie can get people rushing to the history books to find out about these not-so-legendary superpowers, then I will know that superhero movies really can change the world.
Wakanda, although a fictitious realm of comic-book fantasy, pays its respects to these empires, places with glorious wealth, ancient stories, brilliant architecture, and bustling cities. Although not “secret” in the same sense of Wakanda, which, according to the new trailer is guarded by a reality-distorting forcefield, these empires are “hidden” by European powers that snuffed out the idea that Africa could be home to a world power. Before you sit down to watch the new trailer (which, honestly looks amazing), take some time to read about the real secret kingdoms of Africa, who may not have a fearsome feline protector, but hold many stories worthy of telling. Like Thomas says, “Africa has never been a ‘dark’ continent. I challenge you to enjoy the light he brings to the subject. Also, watch Black Panther. It looks dope.
Here’s the link to the article: