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The first trailer for #Marvel's Black Panther movie began by posing an intriguing question: "What do you know about Wakanda?" What followed was as much a primer on the fictional country as it was a trailer for an upcoming superhero blockbuster hit. We got to see Wakanda in all its high-tech glory, and got an inside glimpse at a ritual that seems lifted from the legends of El Dorado. All the way through, we were left reeling, as we began to realize just how important this country will be for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Martin Freeman's Everett K. Ross may not know much about Wakanda — but Marvel fans do! So, for those of you who aren't in the know about the nation of Wakanda, it's time for you to get a primer...
Where is Wakanda?
Wakanda is a small, fictional nation in East Africa, although its precise location varies a little in the comics. One early map showed Wakanda near Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. In 2012's Avengers vs. X-Men event, the country changed location, gaining a coastland it had never had before (just in time for a war with Atlantis). Comic book writers are neither geographers nor mapmakers, so there have been many contradictions.
In the Marvel Universe, Wakanda is an isolated and secretive nation that's bordered by other fictional countries, such as the war-torn Niganda. According to the Black Panther trailer, the #MCU version of Wakanda has kept its development secret; everyone believes it's your typical Third World country ("Textiles, shepherds, cool outfits"). In reality, it's a high-tech nation with populous cities. The trailer gives us a glimpse of what's presumably the capital, Birnin Zana.
The Wakandans are an isolationist race, keeping themselves to themselves. The government of Wakanda has always sworn itself to secrecy, preserving its technology and resources, and defending against incursions from foreign powers with lethal force. During the so-called Scramble for Africa in the 1900s, various foreign powers made attempts to overrun Wakanda, and all were repelled with ease. Fortunately for the world, the Wakandans have a deep-rooted belief in their own superiority and remain aloof, watching the rest of the planet rather than actively seeking to engage and conquer.
The Wakandans are deeply spiritual, with their faith particularly focused on the Panther God. The Panther God's avatar is the Black Panther, a member of the royal bloodline and a skilled warrior who is allowed to ingest a Heart-Shaped Herb that grants him superhuman strength, speed, and agility. The trailer gives us a glimpse of the initiation ritual, which seems heavily adapted from legends of El Dorado.
There are other small religious groups in Wakanda: worshippers of Sekhmet, the Lion God, and Sobek, the Crocodile God. The most controversial is the Cult of the White Gorilla. Cultists consume the flesh of the White Apes, gaining formidable strength as a result. T'Challa's brother M'Baku is traditionally a part of this cult, and it's possible we'll see him revive the religion during Black Panther.
The Secret Of Vibranium
The greatest secret of Wakanda, and the nation's most precious resource, is vibranium. The country's rich vibranium deposits are a result of a meteor impact in ancient times, and the Great Mound — the vibranium mine — is the beating heart of the Wakandan economy. To give you an idea of vibranium's value, in the comics it's sold at $10,000 per gram — and the Great Mound is estimated to have 10,000 tons of it.
Vibranium has unique physical properties. It absorbs sound and vibrations, making even a thin layer of the metal a perfect defence against bullets. Fascinatingly, the more energy vibranium absorbs, the stronger it becomes; if you succeed in actually shattering vibranium, the stored energy is released as an explosion. Captain America's shield is made of a vibranium-titanium alloy, while the Black Panther's costume is woven from thin strands of the metal — which is why the Panther is effectively bulletproof.
It seems that vibranium is slightly radioactive. In the comics, energy released from the meteor impact actually transformed several Wakandans into monstrous beings, forcing the formation of the Panther Cult as a defence. Vibranium dust has been absorbed into the soil of the African nation, and thus has transformed the ecosystem. That's why Wakandan plantlife and animals often have unique properties, including the aforementioned Heart-Shaped Herb and White Gorillas.
Unfortunately for Wakanda, their most precious resource is also greedily coveted by the world. Black Panther promises to see global forces ally with Wakandan insurrectionists against King T'Challa — and there's only one reason the world would get involved in Wakandan affairs. No doubt their argument is as much altruistic as capitalist; with the world fearful of another alien invasion, those vibranium deposits could be put to good use in creating a planetary defence.
How will Wakanda deal with the outside world?
In Captain America: Civil War, King T'Chaka took an unprecedented step, publicly supporting the Sokovia Accords. Tragically, he paid for this decision with his life, assassinated by Zemo. His son, T'Challa, failed to immediately step into his role as king. Instead, for some days T'Challa hunted Zemo, unwittingly revealing the Black Panther's existence to the world.
The death of T'Chaka, and his son's imprudent actions, seem to have created a lot of instability in Wakanda. As in the comics, many Wakandans will be fearful of involvement in the outside world, preferring to continue their isolationist existence. Disturbingly, it seems some insurrectionists have made secret alliances with other nations in order to unseat T'Challa. No doubt they plan to go back on their word after they gain the throne.
So there you have it, Marvel fans — all you need to know about the nation of Wakanda! The trailer makes it clear that Black Panther will treat the nation as a character in its own right, following the pattern set by the last 20 years' worth of comic books. We're about to explore a whole new side of the MCU, and get an inside look at a nation we've only glimpsed before.