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The history of Wakanda explained

There's been perhaps no larger imprint on pop culture to come from the Marvel Cinematic Universe than the fictional, futuristic African nation of Wakanda.

After the massive success of Black Panther in 2018, the movie's cultural impact was hard to ignore. It allowed generations of viewers who grew up without a superhero of color to finally feel represented, and it also showed a thriving African nation that was completely untouched by the colonizing forces of the world around it.

Unfortunately, despite Akon's best efforts, Wakanda isn't real, and with the tragic and untimely death of the franchise's star, Chadwick Boseman, there's really no telling where the movie universe will go with the country next. Fortunately, amid all the uncertainty over King T'Challa's fate, fans can turn to the comic books to see where Kevin Feige and the minds behind Marvel Studios will take the story next.

For those who have been paying attention since Wakanda made its debut in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966, there's no shortage of rich stories for the movies to pull from. Whether it's exploring the country's many cults, seeing the impact that fellow superheroes and villains have had on its diplomatic relations or simply watching other characters rise to the rank of a monarch and/or superhero, the possibilities for loosely inspired stories are somewhat endless.

To help understand where Wakanda may go, let's take a look back on where it's been in the past.

Mystical Beginnings

Everyone knows Wakanda as the civilization that discovered vibranium (also known as Captain America's shield). However, the true origins of the country are complicated and rooted in deep mysticism that, while foreign to the politics of the real world, are par for the course in Marvel comics.

Wakanda was originally home to a collection of mystical beasts known as the Originators. Among these ancient creatures were beings such as the serpentine Simbi, the ape-like Vanyan, the arachnoid Anansi and the insectoid Creeping Doom, all with rich backstories of their own.

Eventually, ancient human beings were drawn to the area where they encountered these beasts. They lived in harmony for a while, but the Originators balked when humans started to abuse the resources of the land. A grim conflict ensued and among the human combatants arose heroes that ascended to become the Gods of Wakanda or the Orisha, made up of Thoth, Kokou, Mujaji, Ptah, Nyami and Bast.

With the help of the Orisha, the Originators were defeated and banished to the Nether-Realms, forever losing the land they called home. Upon that land, Wakanda was built. That's surprising for a civilization known for its unabashed freedom and love for its homeland, but the hard truth is that Wakanda is and always will be a land stolen by mankind through blood and conquest.

For years, the country developed just like any other ancient civilization. However, after engaging in some cosmic mischief, a rock from outer space would land in Wakanda and forever change the Marvel Universe.

The vibranium meteorite

Ancient people in the area that would later become modern-day Wakanda eventually learned to manipulate storm clouds to funnel cosmic energy for various purposes. However, an unintended side effect was that the practice pulled down a meteor from space that contained a metal that absorbed both sound and energy, which the world would later come to call vibranium.

The substance is all over Marvel comics and even the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only is Captain America's impressive shield made of vibranium, but the use of the metal helped modern Wakanda become the beacon of technological advancement that it is today — not to mention the most well-defended country on the planet.

In fact, the first tribe to be brave enough to investigate the meteor crash site was led by Bashenga, its biggest and baddest warrior. As a result, like the story usually goes with mankind and new discoveries, his mind saw a valuable new substance and immediately decided to put it to use in their weapons, giving his tribe an edge over other foes in the area.

While the benefits of vibranium are clear, its discovery set off a chain of events that would forever change the landscape of the world as well as the people who would live to build Wakanda into the country people know and love. It would also usher in a series of unintended consequences that would help form some of the greatest antagonists in ancient Marvel comics history.

The first Black Panther

Although that Bashenga fella's methods may have seemed geared toward a simpler, more violent time, he ended up being one of the most consequential figures in Wakandan history, and certainly to the larger pantheon that would later be known as the Black Panther Cult.

Bashenga approached the meteor thinking it was a gift from the gods. However, his tribe quickly found that exposure to untreated vibranium can mutate living things on Earth into grotesque monsters they called Demon Spirits. In order to combat these new foes, the leader prayed to the Panther God to give him the strength to defeat them, thus making him the first Black Panther as we know the title today.

Although it was revealed there was a prehistoric Black Panther, the lineage that ends with King T'Challa got its start with Bashenga battling the Demon Spirits. These origins are also complicated given that the modern-day Black Panther exists in a world that is rife with mutants that are desperate to be understood. If you were born in ancient Wakanda and were exposed to a bit too much of its vibranium, there's a chance you'd turn monster and a super-powered panther would beat the snot out of you.

Fortunately, a lot happened with the Black Panther lineage between then and now that makes the person blessed with the ancient powers more than just a mutant hunter. Bashenga got the ball rolling on that wave of change by using his new powers to unite the tribes in the area to form the singular nation of Wakanda.

Cults of Wakanda

The radiation from the vibranium meteor didn't just affect people and turn them into Demon Spirits. It also had an impact on the flora and fauna of the surrounding area, which helps explain the herb that the many generations of Black Panthers consumed to give them bad-guy-bustin' powers.

After becoming the first Black Panther, Bashenga recognized the destructive power of the vibranium meteor and closed it to the rest of the kingdom, establishing the Black Panther Cult who swore to use the power to protect the people of Wakanda and stop the Demon Spirits from spreading. While Wakanda's Black Panther cult obviously gets the most acclaim, it's hardly the only cult dedicated to the use of superhuman herbs and animals.

Also among the many Wakandan people to worship various, very real, animal gods. There's the Lion Cult, the Crocodile Cult, the Hyena Clan and, most interestingly of all, the White Gorilla Cult.

Many may remember M'Baku from the Black Panther movie as a reluctant ally to T'Challa. However, in the comic books, the Man-Ape led the Jabari Village in consuming the flesh of the mutated white gorillas of the region, gaining their super strength. He would eventually use it to overthrow the Black Panther and briefly take the throne of Wakanda for himself, as he tried to do in the movie.

Overall, the cults of Wakanda are, perhaps, the closest thing the people there have to a national religion. However, their gods are very much real in a tangible way that affects history.

Wakandan invasions

Throughout history, many have tried to invade Wakanda. Armies such as the Romans, Knights Templar and even demons from Hell made their way to the region and were thoroughly beaten back. However, in the 1800s the country would face its largest threat yet. Led by a Belgian colonel named Klaue, a group of white soldiers targeted the area after an otherwise successful conquest of South Africa. However, they were no match for Wakandan technology, which caused their guns to misfire. Brazenly, Klaue continued to fight his racist fight but was ultimately killed.

Naturally, a racist who went on a rage-fueled quest to take African countries had a son that was equally racist. When World War II came around, Colonel Fritz Klaue couldn't join the Nazis fast enough. He made his way to Wakanda to impress Hitler, only to be welcomed by the then-current Black Panther, King Azzuri, and shown the secrets of its vibranium. Fortunately, when his real intentions became clear, Klaue Jr. was beaten back to Germany.

However, this put Wakanda in the crosshairs of the Axis and Allies. That's when Azzuri and his son, T'Chaka, met Captain America and managed to keep the Nazi threat from Baron Strucker and the Red Skull from overtaking the advanced country. The fight was the first modern invasion that Wakanda fought against an enemy armed with similar super soldiers that were aware of its advanced technology.

Although it's the story of another two invasions beaten back, it taught a young T'Chaka the dangers of the outside world coveting what Wakanda had.

The reign of T'Chaka

Most stories that involve the Black Panther, including the film, tend to pick up during the reign of T'Chaka because he was perhaps the most consequential ruler the county has seen and his time on the throne influenced the country's policy of keeping itself a secret from the world.

Raised in the turbulent times of World War II, T'Chaka saw what happens when the outside world sees what the vibranium meteor allowed Wakanda to do and how it inevitably always ends with a foreign invader shedding blood on its soil. His solution was to conceal Wakanda from the outside world, tricking everyone into thinking it was nothing more than just another sovereign African country made up of a collection of tribes. He would sell minimal amounts of vibranium and its subsequent technology to keep the lights on, while secretly developing the greatest minds the country had to offer both at home and abroad.

He developed a system wherein he would send the smartest people to study abroad so that they could bring their knowledge back to Wakanda and help it thrive in secret. This ended up upsetting the rest of the world and leading Ulysses S. Klaue (renamed Klaw), yet another relative of the first modern invader, to lead an assassination mission into Wakanda.

T'Chaka died protecting his young son, T'Challa, from being murdered. In return, T'Challa avenged his father by shattering Klaw's right arm.

The rise of T'Challa

Unlike the movies, when T'Chaka died, T'Challa was only 13 years old. As a result, he was not yet old enough to take the throne. As per custom, his uncle S'Yan performed the ritual and became the next Black Panther and acted as king regent in his nephew's stead.

While S'Yan made sure the ice cream didn't melt in the kingdom, T'Challa went off to the U.S. and Europe for school. He would eventually gain a Ph.D. in physics from Oxford University before finally being old enough to take on the duties of king. With his studies behind him as well as his youth, T'Challa returned to Wakanda to take his rightful place on the throne.

That journey was briefly waylaid by the organization known as A.I.M., who captured him while he was looking for the heart-shaped herb that would make him as powerful as his uncle. However, he managed to escape with the help of a childhood friend and went on to beat his uncle in the infamous combat ritual. Once it was all said and done, T'Challa had the superhuman powers of the Black Panther as well as the heavy, heavy responsibility of ruling the secret kingdom.

A lot of the early stories about the Black Panther involve T'Challa grappling with the notion of staying loyal to his father while realizing that isolationism cannot be maintained as Wakanda continued to grow and prosper. With new technology and more superheroes, the country eventually became impossible to hide and, under T'Challa, the secret of Wakanda was out for the first time in a generation.

Wakanda and the Skrull invasion

One of the most infamous events in Marvel history is the Secret Invasion, which saw an alien race known as the Skrulls attempt to invade Earth by posing as key leaders and heroes. Obviously, an advanced alien race was able to understand the immense importance that Wakanda has to planetary defenses and wasted no time doubling as key leaders.

Fortunately, Black Panther got wise to their ruse and took steps to ensure that he could pull a fast one on the invaders. Eventually, though, things came to a head and the Skrull invasion was reduced to a good old-fashioned battle.

They thought that taking Wakanda, despite its technology, would be easy. However, they found themselves confronted with both the Black Panther and the full might of his military, sworn for years to protect its borders at all costs. Eventually, gone were the advanced weapons on either side as they were both reduced to killing each other with spears and their bare hands.

In the end, the Wakandan army won and sent a ship full of Skrull corpses back to their home planet with words of warning written in blood on the wall that reminded the aliens of the lesson they'd taught countless invaders before them... This is what happens when you invade Wakanda.

The bout taught T'Challa that Wakanda's advanced tech was not going to be enough to save it as the universe got bigger.

He was right.

The destruction of Wakanda

Realizing that he needed allies, T'Challa had his chance to open Wakanda's borders when the Avengers found themselves in an all-out war with the X-Men. Without getting into too much detail about this very complicated story, the war made its way to Wakanda and Namor, the king of Atlantis, managed to unleash a devastating tsunami on the country while possessed by the galactic power of the Dark Phoenix.

The destruction was widespread and T'Challa, confronted with the very destruction from outside invaders that his father was trying so desperately to avoid, was filled with rage. He vowed revenge on Namor and became absolutely consumed with his quest. Despite being outmatched by the Dark Phoenix, he managed to stop Namor while there was still some semblance of Wakanda to salvage.

This is where it gets complicated.

T'Challa's sister Shuri led the reconstruction of Wakanda, but the people never forgot their beef with Namor and Atlantis. A war broke out, but the country was still weak from having been destroyed. Atlantis had the upper hand, but a somewhat contrite Namor offered generous peace terms. However, consumed with her brother's rage, Shuri rejected the terms and led a successful campaign to destroy Atlantis.

However, when Thanos came to Earth, Namor tricked him into attacking Wakanda, allowing him and his Black Order to take part of the country. For the first time ever under a Black Panther king, Wakanda lost some of its precious land.

Wakanda today

While Wakanda may be a beacon of peace and prosperity in Africa and the rest of the world, its history is a bloody one filled with betrayal, war, racism and conquest. After being basically destroyed and seeing its people on the brink of a revenge-fueled race toward extinction, unrest began to develop for the first time since the tribes were warring in the early days.

Following the numerous tragedies that befell the Wakandans, social and political upheaval began to take shape as people lost faith in King T'Challa and his court. What emerged were two revolutionary factions, the Midnight Angels and the People. An offshoot of the Dora Milaje, the Midnight Angels began practicing vigilante justice in the face of a government and king that seemingly couldn't get the job done. Meanwhile, the People were more of a religious zealot type, carrying out terrorist attacks designed to further destabilize the Wakandan government as the Black Panther fought to do everything in his power, both politically and physically, to ensure that the legacy his father and ancestors created didn't become resigned to the dust as so many civilizations and kings before him.

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