Drawing parallels between King T’Challa and Mansa Musa, the richest man to ever live.
It is impossible not to celebrate the success of the Black Panther film, which is now on track to gross a billion dollars on its own. It is one of the most successful Marvel films to date.
In the film, King T’Challa takes the mantle of the Black Panther, as it is a spiritual gift given from the land of Wakanda, a fictional African country. We are fully aware that both T’Challa and Wakanda aren’t real, but we want celebrate the portrayal of an African king in a mainstream movie by highlighting a real one that actually existed.
Mansa Musa ruled the Mali empire for 25 years, between 1312–1337. He is known to be among one of the richest people ever in existence. Mansa Musa was similar to T’Challa in many ways, as his power and wealth came from the land. As he expanded the borders of Mali, he came to possess unfathomable amounts of gold, silver and mineral riches.
Remember now, we are talking about a time when the internet or global communications didn’t exist. The world was not privy to Mansa Musa’s wealth. That was until he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca to fulfill one of the five pillars of Islam.
During his pilgrimage, he travelled with a 60,000 strong caravan; consisting of 1,000 attendants, 100 camels full of gold and 500 servants, draped in gold. Yes, even the servants benefited from Mansa Musa’s wealth.
During his travels, Mansa Musa gave away so much gold to poor people that he encountered in Cairo, that he caused inflation in the economy. This inflation went on for an entire decade.
So what could King T’Challa learn from Mansa Musa in the Marvel Universe?
As far as we know, there was never a full on assault on his empire. But we do know that after his pilgrimage, he caught the attention of some of the European empires; including Italy, Germany and Spain. Maps have been found showing that the Europeans had been preparing to head to Mali. As Europe was at a lack of gold and silver at the time, it can only be assumed that they would be seeking some (or all) of Mansa Musa’s wealth. Mansa Musa died before the Europeans ever crossed over to Africa.
Throughout the history of Black Panther’s comic book runs, he has often had to defend Wakanda’s most valuable resource, Virbranium. Having a home full of riches to protect makes it difficult to spread the wealth and support those in need all over the world like Mansa Musa did.
In every country Mansa Musa visited, he built schools, hospitals and mosques. At the end of the Black Panther movie, we see T’Challa open a community centre in Oakland California, so that African Diaspora may have a place to connect with the Wakandans. This is a step in the right direction for the character, and he should be sure to empower the African diaspora worldwide in every region he visits.
But it’s not enough for T’Challa to just show his face and say hello to the community. In the movie, we see that the resources from Wakanda can heal people rapidly. T’Challa should bring wealth, healthcare and knowledge to the diaspora all over the world.
This is all of course a hypothetical discussion as we are talking about the Marvel Universe here. A world exempt from our own real world politics. In reality, an African king couldn’t just visit a project neighbourhood in America and build centre’s for the locals without going through the correct system.
But would Mansa Musa’s rule have survived if he’d faced the same difficulties as T’Challa?
Though fictional, T’Challa lives in a world that is constantly on the brink of war. Quite similar to our current reality. It doesn’t take much to upset the global balance these days.
But Mansa Musa lived at a time where his reign as the richest man in the world was unchallenged. The Europeans may have been plotting against him, but by the time they were organized, Mansa Musa had passed.
So what if Mansa Musa had been challenged like every other king? Including T’Challa? Back then, there was no United Nations. Meaning that if a foreign force came to challenge Mansa Musa’s wealth, he likely would have had to fight for the lives, riches and resources of his lands. A challenge that T’Challa will soon face as more people in his universe become aware of Wakanda’s resources.
There is not much known about the defenses of Mansa Musa’s empire. That is exactly why we should pay close attention to Black Panther to understand how the universe reacts to an undiscovered country full of resources like Wakanda. It may be the closest we get to learning what may have happened to the richest man in history when challenged for what his land possess.
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