By Alex B. Nurse
Exodus 16:4, 14-15: Then said the LORD unto Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove to them, whether they will walk in my law or no... “ And when the dew that lay was gone up behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another,”It is Manna.” And Moses said unto them, “This is the bread which the Lord hath given you.”
Ezekiel 4:15: “Thou shalt prepare thy bread with cow dung...”
John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
The movie Black Panther has sparked a proud cultural revival the world over. Nearly every aspect of the film has been analyzed: from the relationships between the Five Great Tribes, to the paramountcy of instituting an Counsel of Elders to edify a Monarchy, to the question of whether the antagonist or protagonist is the film’s true hero. But there is one important thing that has not yet been discussed, a piece of history so subtly woven into the story’s narrative that after being touched upon at the film’s beginning its significance is overlooked: A disaster like the one to hit the fictional Wakanda did indeed strike the Earth a long time ago, and it affected the development of Africa in a manner that the movie greatly parallels.
With Black Panther, director Ryan Coogler retells an ancestral story about the arrival of an actual asteroid that precipitated great spiritual and technological advancements for African people.
As the tale is told, Africa, at its inception, was a continent covered by rainforests from the top to the bottom. But a great calamity occurred that changed its topography forever. 65-Million years ago an asteroid tore apart the atmosphere and hurtled toward the earth at nearly twelve and a half miles per second. It hit the land at such velocity that within the first few moments it was five miles deep into the ground. It threw up dust at mach speed, blotting out the sun, and, at the same time, emitted massive amounts of planet-heating gases. The impact of this strike, followed by a catastrophic collapse in the stability of the planet’s temperatures, led not only to the extinction of the dinosaurs, but to the slow erosion of Africa’s rainforests as well.
And so, as the rainforests receded, humans were pushed into the emerging grasslands. The new environment called for the need to explore and experiment, especially with foodstuffs. The people reorganized into wandering groups of hunters and gatherers. The men forayed into the dangerous territories of beasts to track animals for their nomadic families, and the women sprawled out into the wild to gather various flora. And this was the new way of life until, one day, the women discovered a miraculous thing:
“Hey, sister!” said one woman. “Isn’t that the spot where we threw those stems and roots away the other day?”
“Yes,” replied the other.
“Well, look! Food is growing out of the ground there now!”
This discovery marked the beginnings of agriculture. People no longer had to travel to gather food: They could do so while making a home in one place. It was not long before this more sedentary way of living sparked further changes. People discovered if they herded cows or other wandering beasts into a fenced area, the animals would typically stay put, negating the need to brave the dangers of hunting. Moreover, it was possible to take these “domesticated” animals, and selectively breed them. This created another low-risk renewable food source, similar to that of throwing old food onto the ground! And so the lives of many Africans underwent an era of change nearly as drastic as when the rainforests receeded.
One night, as legend has it, a torrential storm railed against a farmer’s compound. It was so fierce that no one dared to venture outside. In the morning, when the rains had passed and the winds had calmed, the women beheld a strange sight: A small and unusual mushroom had grown on the dung of the cattle. Whenever it was plucked, the specimen turned a deep, frosty-blue where it was bruised or torn. Over time, its hue was found to be the least of its unique traits.
This mushroom became a great and sacred power plant, spawning many technological achievements and spiritual concepts: It garnered the fame of many names. It was called the Fountain of Youth, for its high composition of water; the Soma drunk from the penis of Shiva; the Hammer of Thor; and the Thunder of Shango. It has been represented as the umbrella under which the blue-skinned Krishna walks. It was the source of the ocular powers of Heru, the Falcon and Ausar/Osiris, The Many-Eyed.
Whomever ingested the sacred mushroom at high doses (they could also imbibe it in the form of a brew) embarked upon a mystical journey. Sometimes they saw otherworldly civilizations employing high forms of technology (perhaps, even utilizing vibranium). Other times they would be transported to the Land of the Dead where their forebears provided the wisdom needed to better oneself and one’s people. Some of the most powerful scenes in Black Panther occur when T’challa and Kilmonger are buried alive after ingesting the powerful brew and awake among their ancestors. And, I ask you, what are the guiding spirits of our ancestors if not angels?
Unfortunately, this story does not end the way most fairy tales do. As the rains fell less and the continent became drier, the mushrooms grew scarce. No longer could everybody partake in this food of the gods. There was conflict between the people as to how to ensure the continued exploration of the great mystery. So just as in the movie, they eventually decided to elect one group or person- the King/Black Panther – to ingest the plants and pass on the knowledge gained to the rest of the community. Others were elected to protect, study and cultivate the plants for their continued preservation. These elected peoples became the first priesthoods.
It was this combination of agriculture and priesthoods that sparked the founding of the nations or city-states which remain some of the world’s anthropological and architectural wonders- Kemet/Egypt in particular. One might even draw the conclusion that the story of Wakanda (although Wakanda’s true nature is kept hidden from any outsiders) is a fictional adaptation of the rise of Kemet.
Now, after hearing this story, some will wonder whether humans really inhabited the African rainforests eons ago. And what of the asteroid- does the movie’s symbology infer that it carried the spores of the Mushroom, from wherever it came, and brought them to Earth? As for me, I wonder about Killmonger’s fire, which, in the film, destroyed the remainder of the sacred plants. What did that mean for the people of the tribes and their descendants? Well, my friends, the rabbit hole travels deeper, both forward and back. But this great movie began in the middle - and that is where we too shall end.