Black Panther’s Wakanda came into our lives and showed us a beautiful utopia: an African nation that prospered free of imperialist invasion. And it made me curious: what would Wakanda’s South American equivalent look like?
There are many reasons for why Black Panther is the best superhero movie Marvel has ever produced, but one of its greatest strengths is the powerful message carried in the concept of the nation of Wakanda.
In the movie, Ulysses Klaue explains that many have looked for this hidden nation: “Explorers have searched for it, called it “El Dorado.” They looked for it in South America, but it was in Africa the whole time.” Canonically, Wakanda is the only such nation. But what if, just as there is Wakanda in Africa, there were also a place in South America that remained free of colonization?
Of course, the cultures and natural resources in both continents — each of which, in their own ways, are extremely diverse, from coastal areas to mountain ranges to deserts — are very different. A movie about such a country in South America might have a vastly different story. But both continents were brutally exploited by colonization, the effects of which continue to persist today.
Latin Americans and Native Americans are also moved by the idea of a nation untouched by the pillaging and destruction of colonization. It makes one wonder: what would a South American Wakanda look like? What could we learn from it?
What would its population be like?
Just like Africa, the Americas’ original inhabitants built powerful civilizations, trading with each other and even travelling overseas. However, colonization took its toll, and currently it’s estimated that only 522 ethnic groups remain in South America. Systematic cultural erasure and forced mestizaje has resulted in a majority of population that is largely unaware of its indigenous roots; and at worst, feels a need to completely dissociate itself from them.
A South American Wakanda would depict a nation comprised of many ethnic groups working together for a common ideal: perhaps building a nation reminiscent of the Incan empire, but with input from more Southern cultures and smaller nomadic tribes. There would be many differences between them, and a variety of different lifestyles, but their respect for each other and their desire to protect their land would keep them together.
But of course, as a place where colonization never brought about the mix of European and native peoples, a South American Wakanda would racially look very different from the current population of South America. A film about this fictional nation would have to find new ways to represent current Latinx cultures, which are greatly influenced by their European and/or African parentage.
In some ways, this story might resemble Killmonger’s story more than T’challa’s (without all the violence, of course): a person of mixed heritage’s journey to reconnect with their roots and discover who they are.
How would people dress?
One of the most fascinating parts of Black Panther was to see the amazing outfits worn by all of the characters, created by the incredible Ruth E. Carter.
Naturally, the outfits of each fictional tribe in Black Panther are informed by their needs and their geographical location. The members of the Jabari tribe wear furs because they live in the mountains — Nakia’s tribe wear thinner fabrics, because they live in warmer climate. All are inspired by different aspects of real fashion worn by tribes such as the Maasai, the Dogon and the Zulu.
Just as Africa has a plethora of colorful fashion to draw on, South America could provide equally beautiful wardrobes, drawn from the variety of different tribes that reside in the jungles, mountains and plains of the continent.
There would be tribes living in the Andes, of course, showing off their colorful (and warm!) outfits.
The varied use of feathers, grass, different types of piercings, and facial paint would make everyone stand out.
And clothing could be gorgeously regal. (If only we could see a King or Queen like this have a friendly meeting with T’challa!)
What would be its vibranium?
While others had gold or oil, Wakanda became the rich nation it is because of its vibranium, which allowed them to have an upper hand and stay united, protecting themselves while others were relentlessly exploited by invaders.
If a nation like Wakanda were to exist in South America, it’s difficult to imagine a suitable counterpart to vibranium. The myth of El Dorado, which Klaue references, is about a city rich in gold — in some versions, so rich that its King covers himself in gold dust (the cinematic potential here is great) — so it might make sense to stick to gold being the main resource in the area.
But of course, many other regions of South America actually were rich in gold, and this made them the focus point of genocide and pillaging. So what upper hand could a South American Wakanda have?
Either a metal similar to vibranium would have to be invented for the sake of the story, or it was something else that managed to nurture this nation into being and keep it protected.
What language would they speak?
It’s estimated that there about 2000 different spoken languages in Africa. Black Panther, respectful of the fact that a fictional nation should have its own language, uses isiXhosa (one of the 11 official languages of South Africa) as Wakandan.
Currently, South America is mostly Spanish or Portuguese-speaking. While some tribes retain their languages, and some governments are making efforts to actively encourage linguistic diversity — especially for popular languages like Guarani or Quechua — many languages are threatened by extinction, and often aren’t given the respect they deserve. Most South American countries don’t even have a native language officially listed.
In a South American utopia, neither Spanish nor Portuguese would be spoken, as historically they were languages forced upon the people. But what language would they speak, then? Would they unite under Quechua, Guarani, or a Tupian language?
Given the great variety of languages and dialects, it might be difficult for the people to agree on one. Maybe the geographic location of the country would be the deciding factor. Or maybe, much like Swahili — a language that is a mix of Arabic and Sanskrit with African languages — a new language would be born and manage to unite the tribes, while still respecting their mother tongues.
(The movie would have to be in Spanish, though, for the sake of Latinx viewers, just like Black Panther is in English.)
What consequences would its existence have?
The founding of Wakanda did have severe consequences which are at the center of Black Panther. While other nations were viciously exploited, Wakanda was unharmed. There was safety in remaining hidden; but there was also guilt, as the country abandoned everybody else. Killmonger mentions the plight of African Americans, systematically oppressed and ignorant to the fact that the haven of Wakanda exists, and sees Wakanda as hope for their deliverance.
While a South American version of Wakanda would have a similar plight, its focus might shift somewhat. The concept of open or closed borders in particular carries a lot of weight in the Latinx community, especially in the United States, but also in countries where both imperialism and dictatorship have put people in terrible situations. The issue of drugs — their production, exportation and use — is also one that plagues many countries in South America and is a direct consequence of colonization.
What would it mean for a South American Wakanda to have not been forced to export both its natural resources and its harmful substances to more powerful countries? What would it mean for a South American country to be able to find its own footing politically without foreign interference? What would it mean to have never had a dictatorship — to have never experienced genocide? What would its population think when they saw Latin Americans fleeing their countries to settle in the North, only to be further oppressed, or even outright turned away?
A South American Wakanda would have much to offer, but more than anything, it would offer hope. After seeing the beauty of Wakanda in Black Panther, our hearts are longing to see another vision of the possibilities for our continent — a showcase of our strengths, rather than our weaknesses. A story that is told by us, for us. A nation that, though fictional, believes in all of our potential.