Wakanda is not a true African nation but it can certainly be compared to many African countries. As a fictional nation whose relationship with the real Africa has always been nebulous (to the extent that it took Marvel Comics several decades to officially place Wakanda on a map), there are many African nations which could be viewed as an inspiration for Wakanda. In his introduction to Marvel Masterworks: Black Panther Vol.3, Peter B. Gillis suggested:
The biggest African story of the early 1960s was the revolution and war in the Congo – and among the most dramatic aspects was the European mercenary invasion of the province of Katanga, to secure its considerable mineral wealth, including diamonds and uranium. When you consider the Panther’s origin, the invasion of Ulysses Klaw parallels it very closely, the uranium becomes Lee/Kirby Vibranium, and maybe, just maybe, the name of Wakanda itself springs from Katanga.
Yet the rare and desirable resource of Vibranium could be considered a stand-in for virtually any desirable African resource, be it Zambia’s copper, Ghana’s gold, Zimbabwe’s diamonds, or Mozambique’s rare earth deposits. The snowy mountains inhabited by the Jabari tribe might easily suggest Mount Kilimanjaro. And writer Christopher Priest took considerable inspiration from Nigeria in his Black Panther stories, including his villain Achebe (named for Nigerian author Chinua Achebe), the use of the Hausa language (spoken primarily in Nigeria), and basing his interpretation of T’Challa upon his Nigerian pastor.
Yet there are many reasons to contrast Wakanda against the nation of Ethiopia. This is partly due to the Ethiopians themselves, who have indicated that they feel Wakanda is a fictionalized version of their country. But it is also arguable that of all African nations, the average U.S. citizen through the 1960s was most familiar with Ethiopia and its traditions. The lengthy friendship between the USA and Emperor Haile Selassie I (who courted friendships with U.S. Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Richard M. Nixon) led to six royal visits to the United States from the emperor and his entourage. Whether Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don McGregor, Peter B. Gillis, Christopher Priest, or any other Black Panther comic book scribes were consciously thinking of Ethiopia while crafting their stories, they may well have been subconsciously drawing from television and newspaper accounts of those famed visits. For, as Theodore M. Vestal wrote, Haile Selassie “came to embody the majesty of the African continent and its people in the minds of many Americans.”
One point of comparison between Wakanda and Ethiopia is geographical. Appropriately, we begin with Prester John. As described by Martin Meredith:
Reports of a Christian monarchy besieged by Muslim and pagan adversaries gained wide circulation in Europe. The location of ‘the kingdom of Prester John’, as it was known from the twelfth century, was originally said to be in central Asia or India. But during the fourteenth century, Africa became the focus of attention. In 1306, a priest in Genoa, Giovanni de Carignano, interviewed a group of thirty Abyssinian clerics returning home from visits to Avignon and Rome and recorded that the patriarch of their church was named ‘Prester John’. Prester John became the name by which Europeans knew the kings of Abyssinia. In 1400, King Henry IV of England sent a letter addressed to the ‘the king of Abyssinia, Prester John’. But the Abyssinians themselves had never used the name. It was a European myth. When delegates from Abyssinia attended the Council of Florence in 1441, they were perplexed when council prelates insisted on referring to their monarch as Prester John. Despite their admonitions, the name of Prester John continued to resonate across Europe and inspired the idea that he might be persuaded to join in a crusade against Islam.
After introducing the Black Panther and Wakanda in Fantastic Four #52-53 (1966), Jack Kirby and Stan Lee had the Human Torch and his friend Wyatt Wingfoot part ways with the Fantastic Four in issue #54 and exit Wakanda, bound towards the Himalayas in a gyro-cruiser designed by T’Challa. Heading north from Wakanda, the duo found themselves in a desert and chanced to encounter the slumbering Prester John of myth. This Prester John (a near-immortal Crusader), was depicted as a white man rather than a black African, but the fact that his resting place lay virtually on Wakanda’s doorstep is an intriguingly subtle link to European folklore about Ethiopia.
Not only does the desert north of Wakanda invite comparisons to the Nubian Desert north of Ethiopia (found in the Sudan and Eritrea), but Wakanda’s snowy Land of the Chilling Mist, first seen in Don McGregor & Billy Graham’s Jungle Action #12 (1974), could be seen as akin to Ras Dashen, the highest peak of the Ethiopian Highlands, upon which snow can be found. The Land of the Chilling Mist would grow in importance to the Black Panther’s lore in Black Panther #33 (2001) as Christopher Priest, Sal Velluto, and Bob Almond confirmed it to be the home of the Jabari, M’Baku the Man-Ape’s tribe. The Land of the Chilling Mist subsequently appeared in the 2018 Black Panther motion picture.
Likewise, the motion picture has encouraged Ethiopians to compare their homeland to that of filmdom’s Wakanda. At the Root, Chika Oduah observed “In Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, the five daily screenings have been sold out at the sole theater showing the film.” Tsedale Lemma of the Addis Standard stated that Ethiopia was Wakanda, “minus the techno-utopia.” A 2019 article concerning a development project at Bahir Dar claimed that place would become “the real Wakanda.” Mikal Kamil, founder of Hub City Live, sought to make Ethiopia a “technocrat government” through this project, telling the Ethiopian News Agency, “Being one of the early civilizations, the cradle of human being, the source of Blue Nile, and pleasing environment and beautiful geographical structure’ makes Ethiopia especially Bahir Dar fit for the project. … Most importantly the geographical position [of Bahir Dar] most resembles with the city of ‘WAKANDA’ in the film called Black Panther.”
Wakanda also invites comparisons to Ethiopia because of the history of colonialism in Africa. “Ethiopia has long held a special place in the hearts and minds of many Afro-Americans. In large measure this has been due to two factors: an impressive cultural tradition traceable to ancient Axum and a uniquely successful resistance to the European intrusion in Africa in the latter part of the nineteenth century,” wrote Robert G. Weisbord. Beginning in earnest following the 1884 Berlin Conference in which the major European powers redrew the continent’s borders, ‘the Scramble for Africa’ saw virtually the entire continent divided into colonies, with borders drawn with little consideration for the traditional cultures and languages contained therein. Ethiopia stands apart in that era as the nation not only remained independent but successfully won in armed conflict against a European power and even gained territory! Similarly, although many gaps still exist in the comic book history of Wakanda, that nation avoided becoming a colony. Stories such as Reginald Hudlin & John Romita Jr.’s Black Panther #1 (2005) indicated that, like Ethiopia, Wakanda had a history of triumphing over their neighbours and driving out European forces.
Ethiopia’s emperor at the time of the Scramble for Africa was Menelik II, who vowed: “I have no intention of being an indifferent looker-on if the distant Powers have the idea of dividing up Africa…” Menelik cagily pit European powers against each other and against his neighbours to weaken old rivals (most notably weakening the Sudan). Thomas Pakenham observed that Menelik opportunistically doubled the size of Ethiopia during his reign thanks to the upheaval caused by the Europeans.
In 1896, Italy invaded Ethiopia only to be decisively bested in the Battle of Adwa and were driven back to Eritrea in defeat. However, resentment for their defeat would linger in Italy for decades until, during the office of Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, Italy returned to Ethiopia in 1935 and drove Emperor Haile Selassie into exile. Although Italy claimed Ethiopia as theirs from 1936-1941, many in the country continued to resist the Italians, waging guerrilla warfare until the United Kingdom helped Haile Selassie reclaim control in 1941.
Ethiopia’s independence in the face of colonialist fervor had been a source of pride not only among Ethiopians but black people worldwide. In Inter-Racial Implications of the Ethiopian Crisis W. E. B. Du Bois wrote, “Ethiopia […] had kept comparatively free of debt, had preserved her political autonomy, had begun to reorganize her ancient polity, and was in many ways an example and a promise of what a native people untouched by modern exploitation and race prejudice might do.” As Dwayne Wong wrote for the Huffington Post:
The thing to be aware about is that Wakanda, being a fictional African nation that never experienced colonialism, is also a nation that has never experienced the traumas of colonial rule, such as the wanton violence and the tortures. In the Black Panther comics one of the reasons why Wakanda is so developed is due to Wakanda’s stability. Colonialism deliberately destabilized Africa and carved Africa up in such a way that many African nations are still struggling to regain their stability long after colonial rule has ended.
If the 1936-1941 occupation by Italy is the exception to Ethiopia’s independence, then perhaps the invasion by Ulysses Klaw (first told in flashback in Fantastic Four #53 by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby) is the singular exception in Wakanda’s history. Although in the original telling of Klaw’s arrival in Wakanda, the death of King T’Chaka at Klaw’s hands, and T’Challa’s defeat over Klaw all appeared to occur on the same day, later stories would further embellish the duration of Klaw’s original sojourn in Wakanda and further elaborate the damage he inflicted on the nation. In addition to killing T’Chaka, it was later revealed by T’Challa (Jungle Action #7, 1973 by Don McGregor & Rich Buckler) that “Klaw’s men savagely decimated the smaller village sites, forcing the young men away in chains to be used as slaves in mining our valuable Vibranium ore.” Among those Klaw enslaved was a young N’Jadaka, who was taken with Klaw when he fled Wakanda. N’Jadaka escaped from Klaw in the United States and, taking the name Erik Killmonger, would return to Wakanda, embittered at the royal family for failing to prevent his enslavement and determined to overthrow T’Challa.
Later still, flashbacks to T’Challa’s boyhood seen in 1998’s Black Panther #3 & 5 (by Christopher Priest, Mark Texeira & Vince Evans) revealed that Klaw initially befriended T’Chaka, concealing his true motives for visiting Wakanda. Although Priest was initially leery of using Klaw (complaining on the Black Panther Message Board that T’Challa tended to appear “up for the odd guest-shot to fight *yawn* Klaw again”), he finally employed him as an antagonist in issues #26-29 for a fight which emphasized T’Challa’s anger at Klaw for killing his father. As Priest explained on the Black Panther Message Board:
The only thing that bothered *me* about Klaw’s historical feud with Panther was the absence of a singular emotion: *rage.* This is the man who *slaughtered* hundreds of Wakandans, including their revered king and Panther’s father. Panther *hates* Klaw. *HAAAAAAAATES* him. Panther probably dislikes Killmonger and Hunter, and likely has not much personal stake in any other enemy. But he wants Klaw dead. Dead, dead, dead. And, if I’d had a [little] more space, I’d have Panther kill him, bring him back to life, just so he could kill him a few more times.
Although Italy only claimed sway over Ethiopia for about five years, their former colony Eritrea has had a testy relationship with Ethiopia which has frequently led to armed conflict (including at the time of this article’s publication). Likewise, Klaw has returned to bedevil Wakanda time and again, allying himself with internal enemies of Wakanda (Hunter in Black Panther #26-29) or external enemies (Rudyarda in Fantastic Four #119).
SPIRITUAL & RELIGIOUS LIFE
Prior to Priest’s 1998 Black Panther series, the religion of Wakanda was only hazily understood. T’Challa had been established as a worshiper of the ‘Panther God’ since his introduction; the Panther God even appeared visually in the 1988 Black Panther series by Peter B. Gillis and Denys Cowan. It was only as recent as 2000’s Black Panther #21-22 by Priest, Sal Velluto & Bob Almond that the Panther God was identified as being the same deity as Bast, the cat-like god of Egypt. In those issues, T’Challa’s spirit journeyed alongside Moon Knight into the land of the dead seeking a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead to reunite his spirit to his body. The two heroes encountered members of the Ennead (one of the names for the group of Egyptian deities). As T’Challa explained to Moon Knight, “As I’m sure you know, the gods of Egypt were largely derived from the ancient gods of Africa. Many of these celestials may, in fact, be the same beings.”
Or, as the villain Nightmare stated succinctly: “Memo to Richard Burton: Egyptians are black.” It was necessary in 2000 to belabor this point, as in previous depictions in Marvel Comics – going back to Thor #239 (1975) – Egyptians and Egyptian deities were colored with an unusual gray skin tone, rather than brown skin. As a sign of how times have changed, one need look no further than the controversy surrounding the casting of the 2016 motion picture Gods of Egypt. The revelation that a belief system originating in Egypt had drifted to Wakanda provides us with another point of comparison to Ethiopia, as ancient Ethiopia worshiped Egyptian deities such as Isis.
Priest explained his preferences about the Panther God in a Usenet post:
Some writers want to, literally, show the Panther God on-stage, perhaps duking it out with the White Gorilla God. I’d prefer the whole business remain shrouded in mysticism: is the Panther God real? Did BP actually visit the PG Pavilion? Or was he hallucinating? Was it an [experience] he had simply because he [desperately] needed to have it?
I strongly believe we, as individuals, all need to make our own decisions about these kinds of things. In PANTHER, I prefer to let the readers themselves decide if the [Panther God] is an Odin-like figure wandering around somewhere, or whether this is quaint tribalism. I don’t want to deny either interpretation or disavow any writer who has come before me by ‘definitively’ ruling out either possibility.
The expressions of worship of Wakanda’s Panther God also links Wakandan culture to that of other African cultures, including Ethiopia. In Black Panther #35 (2001) by Christopher Priest, Jim Calafiore & John Livesay, people from Nakia’s tribe in Q’Noma Valley were massacred. The chief who oversaw the massacre justified it on the grounds that Nakia’s betrayal of T’Challa was an act of “blasphemy,” owing to T’Challa’s status as representative of the Panther God. The chief explained to W’Kabi, “We have long been without rain – our crops wither and die! There needed to be an answer to the child’s blasphemy!” Gesturing to the dead, W’Kabi retorted, “And, in your ignorance, you believe this is that answer?” Indicating the present rainfall, the chief replied, “–?! It is raining, is it not–?”
As well, there is the heart-shaped herb which is the source of T’Challa’s superhuman abilities; it has been part of the hero’s backstory since his debut in Fantastic Four #52 (although it was not named until 1971’s Avengers #87 by Roy Thomas). While the herb possesses unusual properties because of its proximity to the Vibranium mound, many traditional beliefs hold to the supernatural abilities conferred by herbs. Within Ethiopia, there was a tradition of using a ceremony called lebasha in which young men were given herbs which would supposedly grant them the supernatural foresight to identify thieves. This practice was abandoned during the reign of Haile Selassie. Yet even during the 1936 invasion of Italy, Red Cross volunteers in Ethiopia found “that there were no Ethiopian doctors, not unless they wanted to turn to native sorcerers relying on herbs and other dubious remedies” (Jeff Pearce).
Something should also be said of the strong Christian history in Ethiopia. Although Ethiopia’s link to Christianity is dated back to the 1st century and claims links to Judaism preceding that, Wakanda has largely not dealt with Christianity. Owing to Wakanda’s independence and lack of colonial history, it should not be unusual that the country seems to have been mostly unaffected by Christianity. One of the few links to Christianity is that of Christopher Priest’s villain Achebe. Although Achebe presented himself as a Christian priest, wearing a clerical collar (Nikki Adams described him as “a nutty, evil, Bishop Tutu” in Black Panther #3), his full name being ‘Reverend Michael Ibn Al-Hajj Achebe’ indicated that he had also performed the hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Achebe’s mission station depicted by Sal Velluto & Bob Almond in Black Panther #13 might be the only instance where a Christian cross is seen on Wakanda’s soil. As a point of comparison to Ethiopia, Achebe can be viewed as a representation of the competing Christian/Muslim faiths in that nation – but it must also be noted that Achebe originated from the neighboring country Ghudaza, and thus is not a Wakandan.
It is notable that the motion picture version of Wakanda in Ryan Coogler’s 2018 Black Panther is apparently more familiar with Christianity than that of the comics. Watching the film, Rahawa Haile noted a link to the Ethiopian church in a Longreads article: “What it means for me as a person with ties to the Horn of Africa to see numerous meskel, the Ethiopian cross, dangling from another leader’s belt.”
Christopher Priest began his 1998 Black Panther series with Wakanda facing an internal issue caused when T’Challa admitted refugees from the nearby nation Ghudaza who were fleeing their own nation’s leaders. Around the time of this story the UN Refugee Agency reported, “Ethiopia hosted more than 310,000 refugees at the end of 1997: an estimated 240,000 from Somalia, 60,000 from Sudan, 8,000 from Kenya, and 5,000 from Djibouti.”
Within the United States, Ethiopia became notorious for its 1983-1985 famine. “The result is that the image of Ethiopia in the minds of many people worldwide became that of a wasteland peopled by starving children with bloated stomachs,” wrote Theodore M. Vestal. Added Martin Meredith, “When news of the disaster began to filter out, it inspired an extraordinary surge of compassion and generosity from peoples and governments around the world, prompting the greatest single peace-time mobilisation of the international community in the twentieth century.”
The famine also affected Christopher Priest, who was then an editor at Marvel Comics. In his article “The Last Time Priest Discussed Racism in Comics,” Priest recalled learning about Marvel’s famine relief book Heroes for Hope from artist Denys Cowan:
He’d seen the list of talent working on the famine relief project. There wasn’t a single African American creator invited to participate. This actually amused me tremendously, and I went over the list myself to make sure, but, yup, no blacks had been thought of as, ‘the very best of the very best,’ and none were invited to work on this book.
Tickled, I picked up the phone and called Larry Hama, telling him no blacks were on the list. Larry was hugely amused, and suggested we do our own charity relief book for the poor white trash of Appalachia. He and I howled with laughter, and then shook off the dumbness of it all and got on with our lives.
Unfortunately, Priest’s conversation with Hama was overheard and the joke was reported as though it were fact. “It was largely accepted as fact that I was organizing a walkout of black talent, and the EIC kind of put me and the X-Men editor in a room to negotiate a deal. I just couldn’t stop laughing.” He summed up the conflict as “the most heated racial episode in my career.”
Christopher Priest appeared to believe the social impact of the Ethiopian famine had a negative influence on the perception of the Black Panther to white audiences, writing on his website: “In addition to the assumption that PANTHER may be about dusty hungry kids in the desert, or that the lead character may not be someone the reader can identify with, it is possible we are also burdened with the reflexive instinct that PANTHER— by virtue of its being a “black” book— is somehow hostile to whites.”
T’CHALLA AS HAILE SELASSIE
Although not so well known in Ethiopia until the recent movie production, it has been plausibly suggested that the hero King T’Challa of the original 1966 comic book was inspired by pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, or even by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. – Alan F. Blackwell, Inventing Artificial Intelligence in Ethiopia.
There are many points of interest which link King T’Challa to Emperor Haile Selassie. Thanks to his highly publicized visits to the United States in 1954, 1963, 1967, 1969, 1970 & 1973, Haile Selassie was quite possibly the African statesman most widely known in North America. Theodore M. Vestal wrote Haile Selassie’s “frequent state visits were rationalized as needed personal diplomacy with the U.S. president in what he perceived as crisis after crisis involving Ethiopia’s security — and as an excuse to extend his own power.”
Martin Meredith wrote, “Haile Selassie strove hard to present Abyssinia as a country with modern ambitions yet he was also keen to ensure that the monarchy held on to its ancient mystique.” And indeed, those words could be applied to T’Challa. Just as Haile Selassie increased Ethiopia’s level of technology by introducing electricity and motor cars to the nation, T’Challa has been identified as the one largely responsible for the technology of Wakanda (speaking of Wakanda’s Techno-Jungle in Fantastic Four #53, he asserted he built it “just for a lark”).
Haile Selassie was lauded by black people in the United States. Langston Hughes dubbed him, “Our symbol of a dream that will not die.” In his 1954 visit he received an honorary degree from Howard University (a primarily black institution) and visited a Baptist church in Harlem. “News of the emperor’s presence had spread throughout Harlem, and crowds gathered along 7th Avenue as far south as 118th Street as the cars with American and Ethiopian flags, proceeded by a motorcycle escort, journeyed back to the Waldorf,” wrote Theodore M. Vestal.
Similarly, T’Challa has been held in high esteem by black Americans, as in Christopher Priest & Joe Jusko’s Black Panther #6-8 (1999), where T’Challa’s old college rival Senator Kamal Rakim summoned a large crowd of black people to see the Black Panther at the New York Hilton Hotel (Everett K. Ross: “Elayne – there’s a crowd of black people outside. How many? All of them.”). Asking the crowd what they wanted and why they had come, one elderly woman answered, “To see it if was true. To see if you were really here.” When T’Challa answered that he had always been among them, a man answered him, “You were with them – the Avengers – the Fantastic Four. They don’t care nothin’ about us. They not our heroes – they their heroes.”
Under emperor Haile Selassie, Ethiopia repeatedly promoted itself as a participant on the world stage, not only through membership in the League of Nations and United Nations, but participation in the Pan-African Congress and the Organisation of African Unity. Ethiopia sent troops to fight in the Korean War and participated in many United Nations Peacekeeping missions. (At present, Ethiopia is the 2nd greatest supplier of peacekeeping forces.)
Similarly, despite Wakanda’s secretive nature and xenophobia, King T’Challa has increased Wakanda’s participation in world affairs. While Christopher Priest & Norm Breyfogle showed that King T’Chaka remained neutral during World War II (Black Panther #30, 2001), T’Challa joined the Avengers; had Wakanda manufacture the Avengers’ Quinjet vehicles; sent Wakandans such as N’Gami and Derek Khanata to serve in the international espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D.; and hosted the Pan-African Congress on the Treatment of Superhumans (Civil War Battle Damage Report, 2007).
Finally, one cannot end a comparison of the Black Panther to the ‘Lion of Judah’ without noting their shared love of giant cats. In Haile Selassie’s case, he kept pet lions in his palace (as had his predecessors). Journalist Ryszard Kapuściński asserted in his book The Emperor that Haile Selassie also kept a pet panther; Kapuściński’s credibility has been challenged in recent years, but it isn’t impossible – black leopards are extremely rare but have been spotted in Ethiopia.
And yet, during the period in which Italy was occupying Ethiopia, a resistance group formed in 1936. Wrote Jeff Pearce:
They called themselves the Black Lions. Led by Alamawarq Bayyana, a veterinary surgeon educated in Britain, they formed a loose group fueled by youth: young energy, young confidence, new ideas, and a spirit shaped by education abroad. They had sat down and written up a rather unique constitution, and perhaps not surprisingly with this collection of intellectuals, they put the political authority above the military hierarchy. They had other bold ideas, too. Prisoners were to be given humane treatment, villagers and peasants not preyed upon, and if the combat situation was hopeless, better to kill yourself than be captured.
It may also be that the Black Lion – a figure glimpsed in Priest & Mark Bright’s Quantum & Woody #12 (1998) and who was to have been the protagonist of Priest & James Fry’s series Concrete Jungle but for the collapse of Acclaim as a comics publisher – was himself directly inspired by the Ethiopian Black Lions.
Just as Haile Selassie faced coups in Ethiopia while overseas, so did T’Challa endure coups in Wakanda, as the next two sections will discuss.
The reign of Haile Selassie came to an end with the rise of the Derg; the Derg’s leader Mengitsu Haile Mariam became head of state in 1977. Like Erik Killmonger, Mengitsu Haile Mariam had received training in the United States – although his adherence to Marxist-Leninist philosophies would have been anathema to the ultra-capitalist Killmonger written by Priest.
Just as Killmonger and T’Challa fought to the death in Priest, Velluto & Almond’s Black Panther #20, Haile Selassie was put to death by the Derg in 1975; unlike T’Challa, he would not rise again (Rastafari beliefs notwithstanding). Mark Meredith wrote, “At the fourth anniversary celebrations marking the overthrow of Haile Selassie, Mengitsu sat alone in a gilded armchair covered with red velvet on a platform in Revolution Square watching a procession of army units and civilian groups pass before him. ‘We were supposed to have a revolution of equality,’ recalled one of his ministers. ‘Now he had become the new Emperor.’” Likewise, Erik Killmonger adopted the Black Panther’s identity in issue #21, having become just like the one he had struggled against.
M’BAKU THE MAN-APE
Just as Erik Killmonger’s attempted coup was preceded by that of M’Baku in Avengers #62 (1969, by Roy Thomas & John Buscema) the Derg’s coup was preceded by several attempted coups, one of the earliest being led by Megestu Neway in 1960. Again, owing to Haile Selassie’s fame in the USA, this 1960 coup attempt may well have been remembered at the time M’Baku was created. Just as T’Challa journeyed to the United States to serve in the Avengers – leaving Wakanda in the hands of M’Baku, a trusted friend who betrayed him – so to had Haile Selassie taken several absences from Ethiopia. Mengestu Neway was a trusted member of Haile Selassie’s imperial bodyguard who had fought alongside the Black Lions against Italy, but while the emperor was absent to visit Brazil, Neway attempted to seize the country. In both cases, the coups failed.
Created by Christopher Priest & Mark Texeira in Black Panther #1 (1998), Zuri was introduced in the opening pages as a massive white-haired warrior prone to drunkenly regaling anyone near him with long stories of Wakanda’s proud history. In Priest’s stories, Zuri served as a living reminder of King T’Chaka’s reign – not only as a veteran of that time, but he wielded the ceremonial spear from T’Challa’s household. No doubt there are many aged warriors who could be contrasted to Zuri, but an obvious one from Ethiopian history is Ras Mulugeta Yeggazu. At the time of the 1936 invasion by Italy, he was the army’s commander in chief. Wrote Jeff Pearce:
Meanwhile, the army’s commander-in-chief was a belligerent alcoholic. Ras Mulugeta Yeggazu, his chin covered by a white beard, his lanky frame gnarled like a tree, was past seventy years old. He was a hero of Adwa who had served under Menelik as Minister of Finance. He had no patience or understanding of modern warfare, and he openly despised all foreigners.
Indeed, Pearce also related an instance where Ras Mulugeta Yeggazu performed a procession “carrying a silver-tipped spear.” As just as the Ethiopian commander despised foreigners, so too did Christopher Priest’s Zuri: in a flashback in Black Panther #6, Zuri counseled T’Challa during his college days against dating the white woman Nikki Adams: “Your father wisely kept the realm apart from such peoples… a division not of race but of character. Your father would disapprove of this dalliance not because the girl is white – but because she is not of the realm.”
Meredith, Martin. The Fortunes of Africa: a 5000-Year History of Wealth, Greed, and Endeavour. New York: Public Affairs, 2014.
Pakenham, Thomas. The Scramble for Africa: White Man’s Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912. New York: Random House, 1991.
Pearce, Jeff. Prevail: The Inspiring Story of Ethiopia’s Victory Over Mussolini’s Invasion, 1935-1941. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.
Prouty, Chris. Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1981.
Vestal, Theodore M. The Lion of Judah in the New World: Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and the Shaping of Americans’ Attitudes toward Africa. Westport: Praeger, 2011.
Weisbord, Robert G. Ebony Kinship: Africa, Africans, and the Afro-American. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1973.