Offensive Or Not? ‘Black Panther’ Fictional Wakanda Translates as ‘God’

Matt Kennedy Disney Marvel Studios Chadwick Boseman stars in 'Black Panther.'

Vincent Schilling

Offensive Or Not? ‘Black Panther’ Fictional Wakanda Translates as ‘God’ to Some Tribes

What does Blank Panther have in common with Ghostbusters and Dan Aykroyd? Osage Tribal members say there is a world of meaning behind the Marvel Universe’s fictional Wakanda

As the Black Panther movie is breaking box office records all over the real world of Earth, there is a fictional world in the Marvel Universe that has been getting a bit of heat for its controversial pronunciation. The fictional East African Nation known as Wakanda in the latest Blank Panther blockbuster is pronounced identically to the Osage and Kaw Nation’s word for ‘God’ or ‘Creator.’

Marvel Wakanda Origins

Specifically, Wakanda — as far as the Marvel Comic’s definition stands— is a fictional East African territory that first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 in July of 1966. Wakanda’s physical location has changed places over the years (as might be expected with decades of comic stories that might vary inadvertently) and is home to such notable comic book heroes as Man-Ape, Gentle, Storm and of course, the Black Panther.

In the Marvel movie world, Wakanda was first established into existence in Captain America: Civil Warwhen it was shown on a map. The territory of Wakanda is known in the Marvel Universe where a large meteor of vibranium crash-landed, giving sacred powers to the territory and ultimately is used by sacred medicine people to empower the King of Wakanda.

But what do members of the Osage Nation say?

According to Shannon Shaw Duty, a member of the Osage Nation and editor of the Osage News, the Marvel spelling is different, but the pronunciation is the same. “I have not yet seen the film, but I have read some reviews and that they spell it Wakanda. In our Osage language the word for God is Wah.Kon.Tah. I have been told how they pronounce it in the film is exactly how we pronounce it. So in essence, it is the same word.” said Shaw Duty.

Osage tribal member and Osage language student Kilan Jacobs wrote to ICT in an email, “It did not bother me at all. It was a sacred home place to them. Beyond that, I have no way of knowing if in some real African language this is an actual place name or word they have as well. But overall I felt no disrespect or misdoing. The movie was great and uplifting.”

Other Osage tribal members also offered their comments to Indian Country Today via email.

Cherise Miller, an Osage tribal member and Osage language instructor wrote, “There are numerous English spellings of the word Wakanda. I’ve seen it both with an O or an A. I use the A version.”

Miller did say she saw the movie with her nieces.

“I saw the movie yesterday with my girls. It was weird to hear it used like that, but it was their sacred place. I didn’t feel it was used in a derogatory way. But it was used in their fictional context and language.”

Miller wrote that the use of Wakanda brought up other thoughts about how languages can be interpreted by other speakers of other languages.

“I wonder if English speakers would offended if we produced a cartoon about talking fish and they got upset that our Osage word for fish is Ho. I know there are some other words in languages like the Creek that have words that sound like ‘Fuk,’ but certainly has a different meaning. So all of this depends on the language base.”

Not the First Time For Wakanda in a Film

Osage News editor Shannon Shaw Duty says that the Black Panther movie was not the first to use Wakanda. Even though the fictional territory had been created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, the first time Shaw Duty says she had heard Wakanda used in a film was by Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters.

“In the original Ghostbusters film, when Dan Aykroyd is explaining where he thought up the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, was when he was a little boy at camp Waconda. Wakanda and Waconda sound the same, but Wah.Kon.Tah is pronounced a little bit differently.”

Newton Cass, an Osage tribal member remembers both instances first hand: “I remember reading the comic as a kid and remember my mind being blown that it was used. I always thought that it was used appropriately, being that we all come from the Creator, and it was used in that context.”

“It’s funny mentioning Ghostbusters,” wrote Cass. “Because I always thought it was weird the way Aykroyd said it.”

Indian Country Today’s Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter