Discover more from Numb at the Lodge
The secret history of Wakanda
Know that we possess the spring of the Nile
The history of Wakanda is not, of course, an African history; it’s a history of Europe, and of Europe’s fantasies about Africa.
This hidden kingdom is first attested in Book V, Chapter VIII of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, on the ‘countries on the other side of Africa.’ As Pliny ventures further from the known world of the Mediterranean, and into the depths of Africa, the peoples he describes are drawn with a lighter and lighter brush. He can’t quite say what these people are, but only what they lack. Nightmares live here, in the hot voids of the world:
The Atlantes, if we believe what is said, have lost all characteristics of humanity; for there is no mode of distinguishing each other among them by names, and as they look upon the rising and the setting sun, they give utterance to direful imprecations against it, as being deadly to themselves and their lands; nor are they visited with dreams, like the rest of mortals. The Troglodytæ make excavations in the earth, which serve them for dwellings; the flesh of serpents is their food; they have no articulate voice, but only utter a kind of squeaking noise; and thus are they utterly destitute of all means of communication by language. The Garamantes have no institution of marriage among them, and live in promiscuous concubinage with their women. The Augylæ worship no deities but the gods of the infernal regions. The Gamphasantes, who go naked, and are unacquainted with war, hold no intercourse whatever with strangers. The Blemmyæ are said to have no heads, their mouths and eyes being seated in their breasts. The Satyri, beyond their figure, have nothing in common with the manners of the human race.
But then, after this list of fantastic degenerations, we meet something different. Pliny describes a kind of African Utopia:
At the centre of the region of Æthiopia we may find the source of the Nile, guarded by a kingdom called Vicindaria, so called for its many conquests. The Vicindariæ are ruled by their philosophers; and if Pelagon of Rhodes is to be believed their libraries contain all that can be known in the useful crafts. Among their marvels are flying chariots, drawn by certain spinning serpents; fine silks that protect the body like armour; trees bearing glowing fruit with which they light their houses; and great towers made of brass and iron. Their cities are arranged in circles, like those of the Etruscans; at the centre of each stands a library which is also a temple to their God and his son. In all their affairs they are orderly and virtuous; solemn are their laws and just are their judges, and all men live in amity with one another. The Vicindariæ are the ancestors of the the Egyptians and the Numidians, and by some accounts, the fathers of all men. But Pelagon says that they have withdrawn from their troublesome children, have no intercourse with the peoples of the world, and no longer set off on voyages over the oceans or to the Moon; preferring to perfect their knowledge in seclusion, their kingdom can not be found by foreigners.
Where did this idea come from? And how did Pliny appear to describe helicopters, skyscrapers, and the electric lightbulb? Pelagon of Rhodes was a Greek geographer of the second century BC; frustratingly, one of our only surviving sources for his works is Pliny himself. Maybe the story stretches back further; maybe the Greeks had nursed this legend of a distant, magical kingdom for centuries. It’s been suggested that the army of Memmon in Arctinus Milesius’ lost Aethiopis might have some relation to the myth; so too might the Homeric gods’ repeated habit of flying off to visit Ethiopia. We will probably never know.
We do know that in Pliny’s time, Vicindaria was widely believed to be real. Sixteen years before the Natural History was published, the emperor Nero sent a praetorian expedition down the White Nile, to find its source and establish relations between Rome and Vicindaria, for future trade and possible conquest. Seneca, as Nero’s tutor, had commissioned the voyage, and he reports its findings in his Natural Questions:
There we found not towers of bronze or wondrous libraries, but only marshes, the limit of which even the natives did not know, and no one else could hope to know, so completely was the river entangled with vegetable growth, so impassable the waters by foot, or even by boat, since the muddy overgrown marsh would bear only a small boat containing one person.
Nero’s expedition may have reached present-day Uganda: the furthest Roman legions ever travelled into equatorial Africa. Europeans made no further efforts to contact the hidden kingdom of Vicindaria for another thousand years.
This is not to say that the story was forgotten. Pliny’s account was reproduced in the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville; among early medieval writers the most significant part of the narrative was the reference to ‘their God and his son.’ Centuries before Christ, these people were Christian. In 687 AD, the heresiarch Caelestius of Aquitaine was burned for insisting that Christ had been born twice, once to the Vicindariae and once to the rest of the world, but that the Vicindariae, being wise, had not killed him. Small communities of Caelestians survived in the Pyrenees for another two hundred years, claiming to follow a purer, African version of Christianity, in which redemption can be achieved without blood. (They rejected the name Caelestians, and preferred to call themselves the ‘Good Whites’ instead.)
Around the twelfth century, the legend resurfaced. As Crusaders fought their continuous wars for the Holy Land, the idea of a powerful Christian state to the south that could encircle Egypt became a popular one. Kings sent emissaries into sub-Saharan Africa, who either returned disappointed or didn’t return at all. In European cities, documents started circling, purporting to be a letter to the Pope from Michael, King of Vicinder:
Michael, by the grace of God High King of Vicinder, great potentate of all the realms of the other side of Africa, sole sovereign of the land of the vertical Sun, to Alexander, vicar of Christ in Rome, sends fair wishes and greetings. Your great esteem and love for our high Majesty been reported to us, and such do we deign to send you in response these Christian greetings. If you would know about our kingdom, know that we worship the true God, in three persons each coeternal and uncreated, and that we believe in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Know that we are the most powerful of all the Christian kings that it has pleased God to place on the Earth, that under our Majesty are eighty tributary kings, each attended by eighty dukes, each commanding eighty times eight hundred noble black-faced knights, and that while for many ages we have withdrawn in splendid peace from the deeds of the world, each of us has taken a solemn vow to not stray from our purpose until the most holy Sepulchre of our Lord is in Christian hands. Know that in our bright country of Vicinder the Sun never dims its golden radiance, and the cold and dangers of Night are all unknown, but that our people spend their days in joy and prayer without the need for sleep. Know that we possess the spring of the Nile, whose uncorrupted waters will when drunk return an old man to youth and a sick man to his vigour, and that on the shores of this spring are found topazes, chrysolites, onyx, beryls, amethysts, and sardonyxes in such number that a man may fill his robe with them and still be counted among the poorest in our kingdom…
If you do the maths, you’ll find that according to Michael’s epistle, his army consisted of just over four hundred million horsemen, which is roughly equivalent to the entire global population around the year 1200 AD. These letters continued to circulate long after the Crusader kingdoms had fallen, and King Michael (often now identified with the dragon-slaying archangel) became a millenarian figure up until the time of the Protestant Reformation. Several peasant revolts in Germany involved ceremonies in which their leader would formally swear allegiance to King Michael of Vicinder, and announce that his numberless armies would soon sweep out of Africa and depose the false Christian knights of Europe.
Of course, throughout this period there was, in fact, a powerful Christian empire in Africa guarding the source of the Nile. In 1278, the Emperor of Ethiopia Yekuno Amlak sent an embassy to Emperor Michael VIII in Constantinople and Pope Nicholas III in Rome. Along the way, this mission distributed the usual gold and gems, but its gifts also included a pair of giraffes, which were given to the Byzantine court and then eaten shortly after the ambassadors left. In Rome, there was a fierce debate over whether these visitors had in fact come from the Kingdom of Vicinder, but eventually it was decided that they had not. Firstly, because Ethiopia contained the source of the Blue Nile, whereas Vicinder was on the source of the White Nile. Secondly, because after some intense theological questioning, it became apparent that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church held to the doctrine of miaphysitism, in which Christ has a single nature, whereas Vicinder could only follow true dyophisite Chalcedonianism. Finally, because the ambassadors were tawny in complexion, whereas the people of Vicinder were known to be jet black. This actual African empire was too messily real; it couldn’t compete with the fake Africa that Europeans had invented in their heads.
When the Portuguese began to explore the African coast in the fifteenth century, every expedition was piously dedicated to finding Vicinder, but very quickly they started to establish slave-trading posts instead. As European maritime trade displaced the trans-Saharan caravans, and as increasing numbers of Africans crossed the Atlantic in chains, the myth lost its urgency. It survived, barely, in entertainments. Christopher Marlowe’s play Michael of Vicinder has almost no relation to the medieval image; his Michael is a cruel revolutionary who overthrows the ‘blackamore State’ for his own pleasure. Maybe the most revealing text is Ben Jonson’s 1605 Masque of Vicinder, which begins with Michael praising his children for their black skin:
These my daughters, my most loved birth:
Who, though they were the first form’d dames of earth,
And in whose sparkling and refulgent eyes,
The glorious sun did still delight to rise;
Though he, the best judge, and most formal cause
Of all dames beauties, in their firm hues, draws
Signs of his fervent’st love; and thereby shows
That in their black, the perfect’st beauty grows;
Since the fixt color of their curled hair,
Which is the highest grace of dames most fair,
No cares, no age can change; or there display
The fearful tincture of abhorred grey;
Since death herself (herself being pale and blue)
Can never alter their most faithful hue.
But the princesses soon discover, to their horror, that in the rest of the world white skin is considered more beautiful. They set off to find a distant, magical kingdom where they might also be turned white. That place is, of course, England:
For were the world, with all his wealth, a ring,
Britannia, whose new name makes all tongues sing,
Might be a diamant worthy to inchase it,
Ruled by a sun, that to this height doth grace it:
Whose beams shine day and night, and are of force
To blanch Vicinder, and revive a corpse.
His light sciential is, and, past mere nature,
Can salve the rude defects of every creature.
Call forth thy honor’d daughters then:
And let them, ’fore the Britain men,
Indent the land, with those pure traces
They flow with, in their native graces.
Invite them boldly to the shore;
Their beauties shall be scorch’d no more:
This sun is temperate, and refines
All things on which his radiance shines.
(Today, the masque is best remembered for a 1967 incident in which a student performance at Yale, featuring an all-white cast and a significant quantity of shoe polish, was forcibly shut down by a group of Black Panthers.)
Vicinder experienced a strange resurgence in the nineteenth century. In 1822, the French explorer and mystic Jean-Baptiste de Roquefeuil-Montpeyroux undertook an eight-month voyage down the White Nile, the first since Nero’s to reach beyond Juba. Roquefeuil-Montpeyroux believed that Vicinder was real, and that it was populated by ‘true Nordic men’ who had once ruled the entire continent. The Vicinderians, Roquefeuil-Montpeyroux decided, had in the deep past invented flying machines capable of reaching the Moon, automata capable of conscious thought, and an immortality serum. His attempt to make contact with these white gods of Africa did not succeed. Like the Roman expedition, he found himself in impassable swamps, and as members of his team quickly began perishing around him, he was forced to turn back. He returned to Khartoum by 1823, wrote a letter to his daughter in Paris that simply read ‘ L’Ouicinde n’existe pas,’ and died shortly afterwards.
But others picked up where Roquefeuil-Montpeyroux left off. Durng the colonial era, historians and anthropologists frequently attributed monumental sites like Great Zimbabwe to a lost Vicinderian race, since they refused to believe that the Africans they ruled could have built anything. (The Rhodesian government maintained this position into the 1960s.) European authorities also frequently provided a ‘Vicinderian’ heritage for their preferred client groups: in Nigeria, the British officially recognised the Hausa as descendents of the white nation of Vicinder; the Belgians did the same for the Tutsi in Rwanda. Hutus, meanwhile, were simply African. The non-African-ness of the Tutsi was a persistent theme in Interahamwe propaganda during the 1994 genocide, but certain Tutsi extremists have also adopted this colonial fiction. The Armée de Libération du Ouicinde is a rebel group active in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, which advocates a single Tutsi superstate across the Great Lakes region to be called Vicinder, and the forcible deportation of all ‘Africans’ from its territory. The Rwandan government under Paul Kagame officially denies any connection to the ALO.
But the second great Vicinderian revival came from black Americans. In 1909, the prophet Olumo Bashenga began making speeches in Chicago, claiming that black Americans were not Negroes, but descendants of the kings of Vicinder, which he Africanised as Wakanda. In his mythology, Wakanda was the ancestor of all civilisation, but had hidden itself away from the world when the colonies it had set up around the Mediterranean degenerated into ‘white-pig savagery.’ But one day soon, Wakanda would reveal itself again, topple the United States of America, exterminate the misbegotten whites, and forge a new global empire. Bashenga’s network of ‘Royal Embassies of the Kingdom of Wakanda’ quickly spread across the United States and the Caribbean. Many black intellectuals were unconvinced by the movement: WEB Du Bois dismissed its Wakandan mythology as ‘unnecessary,’ and Frantz Fanon lands a few jabs in the final chapter of Black Skin, White Masks:
It would be of the greatest interest to be able to have contact with a Wakandan literature or architecture of the third century before Christ. I should be very happy to know that a correspondence had flourished between Plato and some Wakandan philosopher. But I can absolutely not see how this fact would change anything in the lives of the eight-year-old children who labour in the cane fields of Martinique or Guadeloupe.
About Olumo Bashenga himself almost nothing is known. He disappeared suddenly in 1938, leaving his Royal Embassies to splinter into dozens of tiny squabbling factions. An FBI file released shortly afterwards claimed that he was actually a Greek Cypriot who had been an unsuccessful trader in the British Gold Coast colony before moving to America and massively enriching himself through the ‘taxes’ paid by his loyal Wakandan citizens. Surviving Royal Wakanda groups insist that the FBI lie, and that the government had arranged Bashenga’s disappearance. Both claims may well be true.
The Royal Embassies might have been based on a fundamentally racist European fantasy, and Bashenga might have been a fraud, but pop culture took his ideas and turned them into something incredible. Sun Ra deployed Bashengan themes in his celebrated trilogy of albums, Wakanda (1964), Wakanda, Volume Two (1964), and Wakanda, Volume Three: The Vertical Sun (1965). In the 1970s, funk bands used the idea of Wakanda to find new ways of expessing the black American experience; Wakanda has been basically inescapable in hip-hop from the 1980s until the present day. (Although the occasional claim that white people tried to cover up the concept of Wakanda is obviously false.) Science fiction writers have returned to Wakanda as a way to explore the other, better paths human civilisations might have taken. (Not just black writers: Ursula K Le Guin built a legendarium inspired by Wakanda in her ‘Wellspring’ tetralogy.) Artists like Bodys Isek Kingelez have built Wakanda out of the detritus of twenty-first century capitalism. Just like it did in the German peasant revolts of the early modern era, Wakanda represents a different pole for our world, a different and better way of life.
But then there’s the Marvel version. Wakanda first appeared in comic books in 1966; the first Black Panther movie was released in 2018. The Wakanda in the films is a bland resource-rich techno-monarchy, a sort of Dubai with some vague African aesthetics slapped on. There’s nothing particularly utopian or imaginative, just skyscrapers with conical roofs, wrist holograms, and miles of sterile maglev tracks. In one scene, we’re in the British Museum, looking at a display case of looted African artefacts. Most of the objects are beautiful and sacred; the one from Wakanda is an undecorated metal tool. This Wakanda is the most scientifically advanced place on the planet, but there’s no indication that it produces any unique art, or any music except drumming, because you can’t make those out of vibranium. What is it like to live there? How is it different from the rest of the world? Do they also have capitalism? Or is it something else? The Marvel-industrial complex can’t answer.
Instead, all these stories are basically about international relations. Their Wakanda is a little like North Korea: this sealed-off coup-prone hermit kingdom with a big pile of weapons and a chip on its shoulder. It’s also a little like Israel: a small, rich, advanced, and highly militarised state in a geopolitical trouble zone, spying on the Americans whenever it feels the need, repeatedly denounced by the UN, but counting on the assumed support of ‘its’ diaspora if it ever gets into trouble. It’s even a little like Britain, with its armed forces that are simply nowhere near as effective as it seems to believe, to the point that the entire country can be overwhelmed by four fish-men with water balloons and spears. Most of all, though, the Marvel version is simply America. In the first film the dilemma facing Wakanda is whether it should remain in haughty isolation or ‘involve’ itself in the world for the world’s general betterment. This is not a real question for any country in a globalised age, but the only country where people can even think like this is the United States. It’s a pathology of empire. In the second film, Wakanda is an acknowledged global hegemon, but it’s still touchy and paranoid. America only appears in the films to bolster the illusion that this is about anything other than America: an America in African drag, Africa as a prepackaged commodity for Americans. If previous visions of Vicinder were a Western fantasy of Africa, then the comic-book Wakanda is something worse: the fantasy of a West that has forgotten how to dream about anything other than itself.
Almost nobody now remembers how old the legend of Wakanda is; a depressing number of people seem to believe it was invented by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966. But there are, still, a few people who believe that the place literally exists. The surviving Royal Embassy factions, but also a small number of cryptogeographers: people who pore over satellite maps for traces of Bermeja, or Saint Brendan’s Isle, or Wakanda, or Mu. I’m reproducing here a post from one of their online forums, describing a purported encounter with the real-world Wakanda:
So: Wakanda is real, and I know because I’ve been there.
Some background: I’m 31, UK-based, and I work in the NHS as a cardiology registrar. One of the other registrars in my hospital was this guy Joey Wakwalo who said he came from Kenya, which is how we first became friends. (My parents moved to the UK from Kenya in the 1970s.) Joey was seriously one of the most talented doctors I’ve ever seen, he could scan a patient’s chart and immediately spot the one thing that everyone else had missed, he seemed to understand everything just intuitively. He was also… weird. Like, really weird. A few things I started noticing about Joey:
He didn’t know how to dress. Whenever I saw him outside of work it was like he’d just picked his clothes at random. Formal shirts with tracksuits, or a brogue on one foot and a Nike on the other. One time it was a cocktail dress and jeans.
He didn’t know anything about the world. For instance, it seemed like he’d never even heard of the British Empire. I think I once told him about how my grandparents moved to Kenya from Gujarat ‘because of, you know, these guys,’ waving at the general Britain around us, and he had no idea what I was talking about. He didn’t recognise the Mona Lisa. He guessed that the Moon landings were maybe a thousand years ago. He had never heard of Barack Obama.
He was insanely charismatic. He kept inviting me over to his flat for dinner, and he’d assemble the most incredible groups of people. There were always some classical musicians (he loved music, but when we first met he hadn’t heard of Mozart or the Beatles), some teenage gang members he seemed to be mentoring, plus like an asrophysicist or a former mercenary or an elephant specialist at the zoo or someone else absurdly interesting. He knew everyone; people just gravitated to him. I honestly feel like I didn’t start living in my own city until I met Joey.
He never talked about his family. He had no photos. Once I asked if he sent money to his parents in Kenya and he was totally nonplussed. I started seriously wondering if he was actually an alien in disguise.
About three years after we met, he disappeared. Which sucked, because I’ve never been really social, and I liked the side of me he brought out. But then, a few months later, I got an email from him, saying he was getting married in his home country, and he thought of me as his closest friend in the UK, and he wanted to invite me to his wedding. But his home country wasn’t actually Kenya.
I won’t tell you about how I managed to get in to Wakanda. Seriously: I’ve been sworn to secrecy. But I can tell you that it is indeed in Africa, and while it doesn’t border Kenya it’s in that general neighbourhood. I had to change at Nairobi and get a tiny propeller plane to a tiny airstrip in the middle of nowhere. Then the Wakandans sent a guy to pick me up in his truck. There is a road leading into Wakanda, but if you’re imagining something with tarmac on it you’re barking up the wrong tree. Their tech is crazy.
Obviously I’d done some research before I went (this was before the Black Panther film) so I had this idea of what to expect. Skyscrapers, flying cars, all that futuristic stuff. It was nothing like that. Wakanda is basically a huge pasture. Miles and miles of green fields with herds of cattle in them, and every so often there’s a village. The villages are small, twenty or thirty of these red dome-shaped houses arranged in a circle around a big ‘men’s hall.’ The houses are made of a material I can’t quite describe, but maybe ‘soft flowing concrete’ would give you the gist of it. But really what I remember is the smell: everything smelled like cow shit.
I’ve promised not to tell anyone about what happened over the next few weeks, but I can give you a general description of what Wakanda is like. (Actually, the word they use for themselves is Ggon, with the double g kinda pronounced like two clicks at the back of your throat.) After I got back, I started reading up on some of this stuff, old anthropology books, to help me understand what I saw. So here goes: the most important thing is that Wakanda/Vicinder/Ggon is an incredibly technologically advanced, services-based gift economy.
They do also have a currency system, but the currency is cattle. Joey told me that the cattle in the fields were his, but he was going to give them to his fiancée’s clan. He kept whispering to the cows and promising he’d visit them. He said it took him sixty years to build up a respectable enough herd to get married. (When we first met, he’d told me he was 24.) Cattle are gifted for big events like weddings, but the Ggon don’t actually use them for food. I wish I understood how they did get their food. They seem to just raise cattle because they like it.
What they don’t have is anything like a government, although there is a king. They don’t use money for ordinary transactions: if you provide a service to someone else, it’s always a gift given out of friendship or the friendship between your respective clans, who’ll have feuds and alliances going back literally tens of thousands of years. There are something like fifty clans and each one has hundreds of villages; Joey’s is the mongoose clan. The mongoose clan are also connected to a particular constellation and a particular week in the year and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember; the important thing is that the mongoose clan are the healers in Ggon, so whenever anyone gets sick or injured they have to remember all the times their distant relatives married into the mongoose clan. There’s a clan that purifies the water and a clan that has something to do with their weird incredible food. Joey was marrying a girl from the vulture clan, so I met some of those. The vultures conduct all the funeral rites, so obviously they’re important allies of the mongooses. Anyway what this means is that literally everyone in Ggon (there are about 10 million people) knows something about everyone else, because they all have to keep on giving gifts and making alliances with each other. Sometimes the clans go to war, but they simply don’t have any concept of a ‘stranger.’
Some other notes:
Ggon is old. They told me that when anatomically modern humans first evolved it was here, and I believe them. Their oral histories go back 200,000 years, and they remember all of their ancestors. They say that once there were two sisters living there, and one of them wanted to leave and one of them wanted to stay. The second sister is the mother of the Ggon. The first is the mother of literally everyone else on the planet.
They’re also incredibly conservative. Technological progress moves really, really slowly, it’s just been moving really, really slowly in the same direction for 200,000 years. The last few millennia have basically been the blink of an eye for them; they had the same flying objects (I don’t want to call them machines since there didn’t seem to be any moving parts) and glowing houses and so on back when Pelagon of Rhodes was invited to a wedding. They told me they went to the Moon about 50,000 years ago, stayed for a few centuries, got bored, and left. Nobody’s bothered going back since.
Their tech allows them to do a lot of things, but they often prefer not to. They choose to walk instead of flying. They heat the men’s hall with cow-dung fires. They don’t have mass media; they have ritual dance. During dances they have incredible costumes made out of a sort of semi-fluid material, but the rest of the time they wear a short skirt, or just a plaited band in clan colours around their waists. The masks for those rituals are carved out of wood using stone tools. I didn’t like looking at those masks. They expressed a kind of mathematics I’m glad I don't understand.
They’re conservative in other ways too. Joey said they wouldn’t mind me being gay, Ggon boys often do stuff with each other until they’ve raised enough cattle to marry. But they found it very funny that in the UK two men can get married to each other. In Ggon, marriage is about making alliances with other clans, and to do that you need to share grandchildren.
Ggon is a completely oral society. They don’t have writing, because writing was invented to keep tax records and property deeds and other state documents, and they’ve never needed those. They do have a system of mathematical notation, but it’s based on the ritual scarring they do on their torsos. They write that on a kind of synthetic flesh. All the rest of their knowledge is carried down in songs.
The songs work because of the general polysemic weirdness of the Ggon language. Basically every word has different meanings on the three different ‘registers.’ When they’re very young, boys learn to sing these incredibly finely crafted songs about animals or the Sun or the heroic deeds of their clan-ancestors and so on. When they’re a bit older they learn the second register, and the same song is actually about how to operate the medical objects (again, no moving parts) that the mongoose clan uses. (Obviously if you’re born into the mongoose clan you will become a healer. Little Ggon kids don’t get to decide what they want to be when they grow up.) The Ggon are extraordinary poets; they hold competitions to write verses that have interlinking or contradictory meanings on the first and second registers. I asked about the third register, which is only really understood by the elders, people 200 or older, but I couldn’t really make sense of it. Apparently on the third register ‘words and things are the same.’ Every possible statement in Ggon also has a meaning on the third register; even if you’re just making ordinary conversation you’re also saying something incredibly mystical and profound, and you don’t even realise. Apparently English has this register too, all human languages do, but everyone except the Ggon has forgotten how to hear it.
Each clan is incredibly protective of their songs, they won’t allow any outsiders to hear them. But the Ggon are patrilineal and exogamous, which means that all the married women in the village were born to other clans, and all the girls in the village will move into other clans when they get married. So all the singing is in the men’s hall, which women can’t enter except during special rituals. The women also don’t do any of the clan-work. Like I said, incredibly conservative. But apparently the women do do something else important, they have their own system of social organisation that works in parallel to the clan system, but none of the men knew anything about it and since I’m a man the women wouldn’t tell me.
The king comes from the panther clan, and the panther clan is permanently at war with everyone else. They’re the only clan that marries endogamously; the king usually marries one of his sisters. You can’t give gifts to anyone in the panther clan, and they definitely don’t give anything to anyone else, they just come and take whatever they want. (You have to pretend to resist them, and they have to pretend to beat you.) They’re not involved in anything like government; maybe when the whole society needs to do something together it’s worked out through whatever secret structures the women have set up. I guess the panther clan were a warrior aristocracy back before Ggon sealed itself off from the rest of the world.
I still can’t work out exactly why they did that, by the way. Apparently the rest of us were ‘noisy.’ In quite a few world myths, the creator deity decides to destroy humanity because we’re too loud. There was some kind of war that happened a very long time ago, but Joey was doing all my translating and he seemed a bit sheepish about the whole thing, he didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe they sealed themselves off not for their protection, but for ours.
But speaking of religion. Pliny was right: the Ggon believe in one God and his son, but they’re definitely not Christians; the son is also God’s father. They call God ‘!Kseu,’ which is the verb ‘to be’ on the first register, God’s name on the second register, and the number two (or something utterly incomprehensible that vaguely approximates to the number two) on the third register. God’s father-son is called Akya. They told me they can communicate directly with !Kseu using some of their objects, but they have to do it through the gorilla clan, who are I guess their priests. They are very, very adamant that God exists and talks to them. They also seem to know what happened before the Big Bang, so I believe them.
Aside from !Kseu and Akya there are a lot of other intermediary spirits. I tried to get Joey to explain but he kept talking about subatomic particles that the world outside Ggon hasn’t discovered yet. Then he said that the best word in English might be angels.
They’re not worried that we might catch up with them technologically. They don’t seem to really worry about us at all. They don’t feel any particular kinship with other Africans, who they basically lump in with the rest of the outside world, and they’re barely aware that for a few decades the rest of the continent was ruled by Europeans; they definitely don’t attach any importance to being black. (Although I do think it’s interesting that Ggon is a click language, and those only exist in Africa.) Every so often a Ggon (like Joey) gets a bit restless and decides to live elsewhere for a few years, but they always come back. Sometimes foreigners are invited for weddings or other big events; apparently this happens every hundred years or so. Most of the foreigners are asked if they want to stay, and they almost always do. Al-Hakim stayed; so did Olumo Bashenga, who died in Ggon a few years ago. Pelagon of Rhodes didn’t. They remember him well.
I didn’t stay either, obviously. It’s funny: ever since Joey left I’d been really unhappy. I’m a bit of a loner normally, I don’t have loads of friends, and before I met Joey I was really quite alienated, spending all my spare time on weird internet forums like this one or sometimes just walking around the city with my headphones on. Sometimes I’d hook up with random guys off apps and then feel like shit about it and not touch another person for months. I used to think that our society was too atomised, we’re all more and more alone and it’s slowly killing us all. I used to dream of living somewhere with an actual community. But then I went to Ggon, and I’m not sure if it’s what I really want after all. I like being able to walk down the street without having to say hello to literally everyone I pass. I like being alone, and nobody in Ggon is ever alone. I like not having to be responsible for anyone other than myself when I’m not working, and I like that I don’t need to have a complex and enduring web of social relations with all my patients. In the end I think Ggon was basically just not for me. But I’m still sad I’ll never see Joey again.
Anyway, sorry for the long post. I don’t really expect anyone to believe me, but it’s all true. Sorry I couldn’t say more about the wedding ceremony, which was incredible, but I made a promise and I want to keep to it. But I will say that you guys are doomed. You will never find Wakanda/Vicinder. It can’t be found, not with all the satellite photos in the world. Your best bet is probably to start looking at the Moon: somewhere up there, there’s the remnants of a 50,000-year-old Wakandan space village. It’s a long shot. But there’s one other way. If you ever meet a weird but charming African guy who seems to understand everything and nothing at the same time… well, you never know.
Everything you’ve just read is completely true and has been rigorously fact-checked. To help me continue this important historical research, please consider signing up as a free or paid subscriber: