Through The Eyes Of A Panther? Unlocking Hidden African Symbolism In The Movie Black Panther
"The Black Panther has been the protector of Wakanda for generations, It is time to show the outside world who we are."
- T'Challa/Black Panther
Ok the wait is over, so I was now finally able to see the much anticipated Black Panther movie on opening night like hordes of other fans. Of course Iike many other people I thought the movie was simply fantastic, but the goal with this blog is not really to write a movie review so to speak. There are more than enough reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and the consensus is Ryan Coogler knocked this one out of the park. A sequel is almost certain at this point. What I did want to do with this blog is give a brief breakdown of some of the African symbolism that may be obvious to some, but for many, and even most it simply went under the radar. Hopefully this post will help enlighten, and may even make the experience more enjoyable especially if you look some of this stuff up and try to verify it. As a History Major who graduated from an HBCU (Lincoln University) at the height of the Afrocentric Movement (90s) I believe I have been educated in a way that enabled me to see certain symbolism in Ryan Coogler's Black Panther film. Coogler most likely slipped messages into his movie, as a way to show you where he is coming from, or better yet a way to show where he is getting his inspiration. I can't say anything is for certain this is really an "op-ed piece," but for me when I watched the film next to some of these historical references I highlighted I was more than convinced at some of the sources for his inspiration.
King T'Challa "The Black Panther" with the crossed arms. Where did the creators of Black Panther get their inspiration from?
1. What is the now famous Wakandan cross armed greeting that has gone viral on the internet? Facebook will not be defeated! The internet will not be defeated! Black folks are looking good and having fun, as they go to this ground breaking movie take pictures, and share it to social media. They should have fun, life is too short, so lets enjoy this brief moment of popular culture! But back to the crossed arms of T'Challa what is that all about? Not only does T'Challa greet his fellow Wakandans with the crossed arms, but also when he suffers from an injury he is placed in a healing garden with arms crossed. The priest (Forest Whitaker) make him drink from the heart shaped herb, for its powerful healing properties, and then they cross his arms over him, as he is covered with dirt and slips into a meditation state. It is in this deep state consciousness that his soul, or spirit "astral project," and is able to converse with the spirits of the many dead ancestors who were once former Black Panthers themselves.
It is all very reminiscent, and kind of reminds you of Luke Skywalker talking to the dead spirits of Master Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. It is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie because it highlights African spirituality. Back to those crossed arms though, where is Marvel and director Ryan Coogler and company getting that idea from? I believe that they are borrowing the idea of the crossed arms from the Land of the Pharoahs. The Pharoahs of Egypt, or Kemet would have their arms crossed during death when they were mummified. Their arms and sometimes the actually wrappings themselves were shaped in the image of a cross or "X." African centered historian Ashra Kwesi and others believe that the crossed arms or "X" means resurrection. The Pharoah was getting ready to be resurrected for his return in the afterlife. As far as T'Challa he was being resurrected back out of his deep state consciousness. The priest put him under so he could heal, and so he could communicate with former dead Black Panthers (ancestors) as well as the Panther God Bast. They are now bringing him and his crossed arms back very similar to the ritual of baptism, but the Egyptian origins for the crossed arms is so much older than baptism. As the young people often say, those are just "facts."
Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses I with the crossed arms forming the "X" for resurrection in the afterlife.
Temple of Hatshepsut . Female Pharoah with crossed arms.
Recently discovered mummy with crossed arms in Kemet. Goldsmith and Jeweler Amenemhat?
Horus mummy with "X" for resurrection
Egyptian mummies first rendered as Krst this would become the Greek Chi Rho or Christ. The Krst was anointed with oil by Egyptian priest for resurrection in the afterlife.
Antiquarian historian Gerald Massey believes that the original word for mummy was actually "Krst." The Egyptian "Krst" would later be borrowed by the Greeks and become the word for "Christ." The Greek "Christ" like the Egyptian "Krst" translates to mean the anointed one. I find it interesting that when the Roman Emperor Constantine finally embraced Christianity as the new religion of Rome he spelled Christ name with the Greek letters Chi-Rho. Chi-Rho is rendered with an "X" and "P," or "XP." You see Constantine and the XP on the old Roman coin below.
All cultures have a way of blending into each other, but its always interesting to track down the source. The Greeks simply adopted this very Egyptian (African) idea. The Romans would also do the same. Its also interesting to note that Bill Gate's Microsoft used this old African concept for the naming of its Windows XP program. What ancient concept was Microsoft trying to tap into? Were they trying to symbolically say they are resurrecting new technology the way Christ was resurrected? Was Microsoft aware that the concept of resurrection, and the symbol "X" originated much further back with the crossed arms of mummified Pharaohs?
Bill Gates and Microsoft aspiring to resurrect new ideas in technology?
Egyptian reproduction God Min with the "X" over his chest for resurrection. He is also a fertility God so his phallus is erect forming a "P." Min's circumcised phallus forms the shape of the letter "P." The Egyptians were not perverted they were celebrating life. We must be careful not to cast our own modern perversions onto much older civilizations and cultures.
The Greek representation for the word Christ is Chi-Rho or "XP," but the origin is so much older, and an African origin at that.
This all couldn't be some strange coincidence? Now here we have Marvel's Black Panther movie with the hero T'Challa crossing his arms in the formation of an X not only to greet fellow Wakandans in a very cool looking gesture, but he makes the X over his body just like the Egyptian Pharaohs when he is resurrected from the healing and meditation garden. I think it is totally cool the way Marvel and Ryan Coogler take something that is mythological like a comic book and root it in real African history, rather obscure African history at that.
T'Challa's spy and love interest Nakia. Notice the crossed arms.
King Tut with traditional crossed arms. He is also holding the royal symbols of the crook and flail. The crook and flail were symbolically used to herd and protect the common people like the shepard directs sheep.
2. Remember Shaka Zulu? If you are old enough you do. We all saw the double vibranium spears being wielded by the anti-hero and antagonist Erik Killmonger, as he engaged T'Challa in combat in the ritual pool. Lets keep it 100 as he whipped his behind in the ritual pool.
I seen those weapons somewhere before. Where did Coogler and company get that idea? What was the inspiration? Oh yeah I remember, I know why it looks so familiar now. That's the war weapons created by none other than the Zulu Warrior Shaka Zulu.
Artistic rendition of Shaka Zulu holding shield and his adapted short spear
In the movie Black Panther there is an interesting scene right before Killmonger fights T'Challa for the throne. Erik Killmonger does something that seems odd at first. For no reason at all he breaks his very own long spear. The long spear seemingly gave him an advantage but he broke it favoring instead a much shorter weapon that was half the length. Killmonger's newly adapted spear seems much better for stabbing and slashing, and holding onto instead of throwing. This is exactly what the Zulu Warrior Shaka did. Shaka innovated the Zulu spear, in fact that is what he is known for. Shaka is famous for revolutionizing the way the Zulu engaged in combat. Shaka preferred the short blade because he believed it was lighter, more agile, and allowed his warriors to make quicker more mobile up close attacks.
By revolutionizing Zulu weaponry the Zulu warriors were able to conquer large areas of land with their lighter, swifter and faster weapons. For the history buffs just think of an African version of the Blitzkrieg, and you get a general idea. Shaka did not like the long spear, or the traditional old spear throwing ways of doing combat, so he had his blacksmiths shortened it, and this enabled his soldiers to run up on the enemy swiftly, and engage them in decisive hand to hand combat. Shaka's well trained Spartan like Zulu Warriors would run up on you knock your shield away and open up your guts with the short spear that Killmonger so masterfully uses. Shaka's tactics were so successful he was able to incorporate large areas of South Africa into the Zulu Empire. Once again Coogler and gang did their homework.
EriK Killmonger with the Vibranium enhanced Zulu Short Spear
T'Challa and Killmonger engage in ritual combat for the throne. Notice the Zulu like weapons.
3. Who is Bast? What about the Wakandan Panther God Bast? Did they just make that up because it sounded good, or was there a real African cat God that they used as a reference point?
T'Challa confers with the Panther God Bast
Of course there was a real African cat god, in fact quite a few! Once again we return to the Land of the Pharoahs in the Nile Valey. The Egyptians viewed the cat, as sacred in much the same the cow is viewed in India. Kill a cat in Ancient Egypt they could kill you. The people of Kemet/Egypt viewed cats as a protector because it chased vermin like mice and snakes, but they also thought that the Gods like Ra used the cats eyes to observe humans. They thought Ra's sunlight was captured by the felines eyes and released at night. They revered these animals pampering, and spoiling them, as well as keeping them around the house as pets.
The Egyptians trusted cats so much they actually mummified their pet cats to take them with them as protection in the afterlife. They even had a temple dedicated to the Goddess of cats Bastet. The Bastet (Bast) Temple when excavated had about 300,000 mummified cats. I cant even imagine what that temple must have been like during its time. This must have certainly been a site to behold.
Egyptian mummified cats
Egyptian mummified cats
The Egyptians even had a cat God called Bastet similar to the Wakandans in the movie Black Panther. Wakanda's Bast is a play on the word Bastet which was in fact sometimes called Bast as well. Bastet was a female Goddess actually, and she was associated with warfare, so she also serves as a protector of the Wakandans. Being a female Goddess was something very common in Africa, as were women warriors a subject I posted about when I covered the Dora Milaje. Bastet the cat goddess was never associated with a panther though. She was associated with another famous large cat which is the lion "King of The Jungle,"or more exactly the lioness. The lion was not only worshipped in Egypt but also in Nubia or Kush. The Nubians were neighbors to Egypt they were located in the modern day country called Sudan. At times Egypt and Nubia would go to war with each other. Sometimes the Egyptians won and other times the Nubians won. The Nubians would go on to build even more pyramids than their African neighbors in Egypt. One of the Nubians chief Gods was a cat God or actually a lion God called Apedemek. The Nubian God was a male God because you see the famous lion mane.
Nubian/Kushite war God Apedemak
The Nubians would call on Apedemek when it was time to wage war. Again and again the movie Black Panther stuns and amazes proving that art when done right has the power to transcend and become more than simple entertainment. Good art when done right can inspire the imagination and invigorate the soul, and even though we know its fiction we sense at every angle it is rooted in a very real non-fiction historical reality.
4. Vibranium what is it? Alien metal that fell from the sky? One cant talk Black Panther and Wakanda without talking about the one metal that powers the whole country enabling it to be so advanced with all its cutting edge technology. Wakanda is powered by the hardest metal on the planet Earth known as Vibranium, and the wise Wakandans use it in everything.
Vibranium Wakandas coveted alien metal is what powers Wakanda keeping them technologically advanced.
Vibranium imagined in the table of elements
Vibranium is most likely an allegory for Africa's many natural resources. It is even the metal that Captain Americas shield is made out of. It makes sense that Earths most valuable metal is in Africa's Wakanda. What's odd is the perception of Africa today is that it is a poor nation when in fact the reality is Africa is very rich in natural resources.
Vibranium is woven into Black Panthers suit and is forged into Captain America's shield.
Africa was and is coveted because it has everything from gold, diamonds and zinc, to cobalt, copper, rubber, and now oil. Africa is heavy in coltan the precious mineral that powers everyone's laptop and cellphone. Africa's gift is its curse. It is precisely because Africa was so rich that all the European nations invaded Africa after the Berlin Conference (1884) when European nations decided that they would not kill each other over Africa, but will equally divide it. The Berlin Conference launched the Scramble for Africa which would in turn usher in an era of African imperialism. Everyone wanted a piece.
Where would the mythological Wakanda and vibranium be on this map.
Map showing every African nation conquered by Europe only Ethiopia remains in the grey.
Many rich African nations were raped of their many natural resources and became very underdeveloped. Some African nations still have not recovered from colonialism and the era of post colonialism which would bring about corrupt governments, and equally misguided policies of the IMF and the World Bank giving African nations huge loans with huge interest rates inevitably keeping these African nations poor and indebt. Wakanda; however, was able to remain wealthy stable and strong mainly because it was never colonized. The reason for its its ability to remain independence was the fact that it was empowered by vibranium enhanced weapons, and a watchful protective eye of the Black Panther. Its interesting because the only African nation never colonized by Europeans was Ethiopia who defeated the Italians at the Battle of Adwa precisely because they had their version of vibranium. What was that one might ask? Ethiopia's King Menilik II imported guns, so they were able to defeat the encrouching European armies with modern technology. Wakanda and its mythological vibranium will always be the powerful allegory asking "what if?" Only what if Africa was allowed to grow and advance without interference from the outside world. Where would they/us be today.
5. Women Warriors? Did Africa really have women warriors or is this just some modern day feminist spin? This is not at all a spin, and as I already mentioned I posted on this topic in its own separate article, so I will restate it here only briefly. All throughout the movie Black Panther we see King T'Challa's fierce personal body guard the Dora Milaje solely composed of black women warriors. We see them meet men on the battlefield, and either get the better of the exchange, or they more than hold their own. Much is made about the Greek legends of Amazon Warriors even though we know that the Greeks pretty much treated their women as slaves. Amazons were a Greek myth about foreign women, not Greek women. Nowhere in Greek society would women have a level of freedom and expression that we find in Africa especially before the era of colonialism.
We do have much documented evidence of not only African women fighting on the battlefield, but also ruling as heads of state in their countries. In Nubia women warriors known as Candaces fought and repealed the Romans in battle. In Egypt we have figures Like Queen Hatshepsut ruling over an entire country. In West Africa we have countless examples of women leading their respective nations in combat everyone from Yaa Asantewaa of Ghana, and Queen Amina of Nigeria, and Queen Nzinga of Angola. One cant forget the deadly Dahomey Amazons, who were the personal body guard of King Gezo of Benin.
What is interesting about the movie Black Panther is its inevitable success will create a for sure sequel, and sequels always create opportunities. Those who follow the comic are well aware that Black Panther is not one person, but its a title a position that any Wakandan can challenge for. There were indeed female Black Panthers. Shuri the sister of T'Challa was at one time a Black Panther. Now wouldn't that be something to show? It would be 100% authentic as far as the Marvel story arc, and it would be 100% authentic as it is deeply rooted in the tradition of African warrior queens. I can hear it now......."Wakanda Forever!"
Shuri sister of T'Challa as the Black Panther
Shuri as Black Panther "All Hail The Queen!"
Pharoah Mentuhotep with the crossed arms
Gerald Massey. Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World. Cosimo Classics. 2007
Walter Rodney. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Howard University Press. 1974
Adrian Greaves and Xolani Mkhize. The Zulus at War: The History, Rise, and Fall of the Tribe That Washed Its Spears. Skyhorse Publishing. 2014
Ivan Van Sertima. Great Black Leaders: Ancient and Modern. Transaction Publishers. 1988.
Ivan Van Sertima. Black Women in Antiquity. Transaction Publishers. 2002.
Don McGregor. Marvels Black Panther: The Ultimate Guide. DK Publishers. 2018
Jaromir Malek. The Cat in Ancient Egypt. University of Pennsylvania Press. 1997.
Ashra Kwesi. Kemet Nu Productions.