Actualising The Self
Spirit of Wakanda; Verse 1
By Dalian Adofo
A film that has set box office records, currently grossing over a billion US dollars in America alone, Black Panther continues to be an unprecedented cultural phenomenon yet to be witnessed for any of the other Marvel Universe films.
The superb artistic direction of the team behind it deserves renowned acclaim, as it is a visually stunning feat of African cultural expressions.
The less discussed aspects of the film that contributed to its success, centres around its depiction of African Spiritual Cosmological principles and practices and it is this that is largely left out of the discourse.
Without a doubt the most authentic and positive representation of African spirituality we have witnessed of a Hollywood movie (compare it to the biased and negative representations in films like Child’s Play, Devil’s Advocate or even animations for children such as the Princess and the Frog), this has not escaped many adherents of African spiritual systems as one of the contributing reasons for its overwhelming success financially as well as culturally.
As practitioners and indeed any metaphysician will attest, in venerating one’s ancestral lineage, there is equal reciprocation as per the Universal law of Correspondence. What is put out to the Universe is returned in kind.
The film has also generated much discussion regarding the social archetypes of the various characters within it and the story line as a whole and their possible implications for viewers, however this article focuses solely on identifying the elements of African Spiritual Principles and Practices as evident in the film.
There are quite a few, hence what was originally conceived as a single article may end up in various parts, hence verse 1.
Conceptions of the African Creator aka ‘God’:
The story starts with the Vibrianium meteorite from space hitting the earth and consequently creating its own eco-system in unison with the flora and fauna as well as humans inhabiting the space. The rock bonds with the earth and provides for the Wakandas their Creator archetype, as encompassed in the feline cat, the Panther, which is also feminine.
The two themes it brings to this discourse is that the oldest documented conception of the African Creator that we have amongst African peoples about the nature of ‘God’; is that of a female or rather, of the feminine and the process of birthing or creating.
The evidence we have for this is Ta’urt, the pregnant hippopotamus from the Nile Valley traditions of ancient Black Egyptians. Likewise, in those same traditions, when the visible aspect of the Creator manifests in physical form as AmenRA, ‘he’ says ‘he’ is birthed by his mother, Nun, the primordial waters, again indicating a female as the progenitor of all.
Even in contemporary society, a few still retain this understanding of the feminine genesis of creation such as the Ijaw people of Nigeria, where Woyengi the mother is still God supreme so to speak. Likewise the Igbos also still maintain it whilst in other traditions the feminine is equated equally with the masculine as partners – a duality, not a single personified entity!
As mentioned prior, the African conceptions are functional in thought, so the notion of ‘God’ is not personified, but rather represents conceptions such as balance, order, harmony and bringing life into being.
Thus it was very impressive to note that this reference to the role of the feminine is acknowledged as the actual genesis of Wakandan history.
The role of women therefore in the film is elevated to positions of power and equal stature to the men, with influence and attributes unlike most depictions of women in movies in general nowadays as subservient to males etc. More on the roles of the feminine power will be covered later in at the appropriate sections in these series of articles.
The second theme is the origins of the meteorite that gives rise to the ‘God’ of the Wakandans. It is a rock from space, not of this earth that is still able to bond with the Africans to create the ‘superhuman’ that is the Black Panther’.
It brings to the fore a key understanding within African Spiritual systems, that we are not just connected to this earth but also the cosmos at large. As initiate Kevin Haynes put it ‘African Spirituality is about finding your purpose in time and space’ (watch here).
This notion is further evidenced in the spiritual concept of Ubuntu; that we are all interconnected in time and space due to having the same spirit essence and can thus consequently impact on each other.
It is for the same reasons that we find the movements of the planetary bodies and constellations (e.g the moon or Sirius star system) to be mainstays in the spiritual systems. They are as useful in facilitating ritual practices and outcomes as they are in identifying particular human traits and attributes, as well as the individual’s divine destiny on this earth, in the body they have manifested in.
The rock of Vibranium lends further to another conception of the Supreme within the traditions; the Creator as Nature itself. Returning to the conception of functionality in African thought, it is Nature that sustains life on this planet, not an invisible man in a place somewhere in the sky, therefore this is not a surprising contention.
After all, humanity’s needs are all met via what Nature provides – food for sustenance, materials for shelter, treatment for illness and such, so rationally it would make sense for it to be also seen as an extension of the Creative Source; a manifested aspect of it if you will.
Vibranium is also able to fuse with the body of the King, who has to demonstrate their capability and worthiness first, to create the Black Panther. The Panther itself as an archetype, represents a human being that possesses unique abilities that others do not – the ‘superhero’.
This phenomena of fusing with Vibranium and being granted those powers is on par with what missionaries of old incorrectly termed ‘possession’ – projecting that somehow it is a forced state of affairs and is ‘evil’ or ‘demonic’, far from it.
Likewise, African Spiritual adherents expect that particular human beings can unite with elemental powers that afford them exceptional abilities. In reality this is capable by all, but depends on the level of training and knowledge one acquires over time to have the necessary know-how.
This phenomena is also widely known as going into ‘trance’ or being ‘mounted’. At the right frequency of thought and actions, a person can be an ideal candidate to be attuned in spirit with one of the many forces of nature. Some of the ‘enhanced’ qualities that results can include prophesying future events, acting as conduit between realms and even attaining healing abilities, amongst many others.
Vibranium, in this regard, can be envisaged as a force of nature or what most people incorrectly term, due to colonial projections, a ‘deity’, ‘semi-god’, ‘demi-god’; etc.
So it is effectively an Orisha/Orixa (Ifa and Kandomble), Abosom (Akan), Lwa (Haitian Vodu), Nkisi (BaKongo Cosmology) or Neteru/Ntr (ancient Kemet/ Egypt. It serves a similar function and provides of its power to those who have demonstrated the required attributes for it to fuse with.
The Panther then, becomes an embodiment of the Universal Force contained within the Vibranium, in other words, it also becomes an Orisha.(read more)
Note further that it is also Vibranium that is the essence of the heart shaped herb that is ingested for travel into the ancestral realm for guidance and direction.
So right from the start of the movie we witness a very well thought through representation of essential African spiritual principles, treated respectfully and infused through-out the film accurately and poignantly, a pleasure to finally witness such onscreen.
Verse two of these articles will deal with other spiritual notions such as Ancestral reverence and communication and various forms of African prayers amongst others. Do share your thoughts?