There is no denying that Black Panther is a great movie, probably the best ever to come out of Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has shattered box office records and it is poised to achieve even more. This utopian society which was never colonised is a dream for every African, here and in the diaspora. With most of African identities still tied in colonial roots, it is a breath of fresh air to see such presentation as well as different cultural identities in the big screen.
Here are some of the influences from West to Southern Africa so evident in the Black Panther.
The Zulu Headdress
Queen Ramonda dons this distinct headdress reminiscent of ‘Isicholos’. These are elaborately woven red hats made out of dried grass. intertwined with red cotton and human hair and covered with red ochre with beadwork attached worn by married Zulu women for ceremonial purposes. It is then sewn into the hair of the wearer. The red orche (which refers to the living cow and also evokes the blood of the earth) is periodically reapplied.
Mursi lip plates
A Wakandan elder in the throne room wears a lip plate. TheMursi, Chai and Tirma in Ethiopia are some of the groups which wear lip plates in Africa. They are large pottery or wooden discs dooned on the lower lip. The lip-plate (dhebi a tugoin) has become the chief visible distinguishing characteristic of the Mursi and made them a prime attraction for tourists. It is vital to note that The Mursi are very egalitarian as a community and it is always a choice for the young to have their lips pierced and not something the elders force on them.
The Igbo Mask
Erik Killmonger steals this from a London museum in one of the earlier scenes. This mask is also known as ‘Time of the Brave Mask (Mgbedike)’. The mask has menacing teeth and horns plus a towering headdress of interlocking snakes, monkeys, antelopes and humans. It is worn with a costume hung with quills, grasses and seedpro rattles. The mask represents a wilderness spirit that is aggressive, brash, powerful and stubborn.
These are worn by one of the Wakanda elders. Himba women, are renowned for covering themselves in otjize paste, a mixture of butterfat and ochre pigment. It is used to cleanse the skin over long periods due to water scarcity. The cosmetic mixture, often perfumed with the aromatic resin of the omuzumba shrub, gives their skin and hair plaits a distinctive orange or red-tinge characteristic, as well as texture and style
The Maasai Warriors
You can’t help but notice the distinctive look of the Dora Milaje which looks very familiar to the Maasai Warriors in Kenya and Tanzania. The red and blue checkered Maasai shuka is easily recognizable. The Maasai beading styles can also be seen throughout the movie especially the necklaces worn by women.
The Dora Milaje, the primary bodyguards of the King inspiration is drawn from Dahomey Amazons, or Mino which means ‘or mothers’ in Fon. They were an all female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey in the present day Republic of Benin which lasted until the end of the 19th century. They were rigorously trained, given uniforms and equipped with Danish guns (obtained via trade). By the mid-19th century, they numbered between 1,000 and 6,000 women, about a third of the entire Dahomey army.
W’Kabi,as well as others, appear in several scenes wearing the Basotho Blanket. Also known as Seana Marena, it is a distinctive form of woollen tribal blanket traditionally worn by Sotho People in Southern Africa. The way that Lesotho men wear these traditional blankets is founded on the traditional Kaross, an animal skin cape, although their transformation to “factory-woven textile” is attributed to King Moshoeshoe of the late 19th century.
Kente from Ghana
At some point, King T’Chala is seen wearing Kente, a type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips and is native to the Akan ethnic group of South Ghana. Kente comes from the word kenten, which means basket in Akan dialect Asante. Akans refer to kente as nwentoma, meaning woven cloth. It is an Akan royal and sacred cloth worn only in times of extreme importance and was the cloth of kings.
This list is certainly not exhaustive and there are more African cultural influences in the film.