We all walked away from Marvel’s incredible new movie, Black Panther, wishing that Wakanda – the fictional African country that was never colonised and was, therefore, able to thrive free of European influence — actually existed.
Sadly, since it doesn't, influences had to be drawn from different African cultures to create Wakanda’s fashion and language. While South Africa’s isiXhosa is the second language spoken in the film besides English, Nsibidi — an ancient Nigerian system of symbols – is one of Wakanda's two written languages.
Nsibidi is a centuries-old Nigerian language that used symbols instead of words or sounds. While Nsibidi does appear in some parts of the film — like the pillars of T'Challa's throne room — the main written language is an evolved version created by the movie's production designer, Hannah Beachler.
According to Beachler, she updated Nsibidi like roman numerals. It took about six months and other influences from around the world, but Beachler was able to create an entire alphabet. "The language needed to evolve from the older hieroglyphs into a more modern version", she explained to Indiewire.
About using an ancient Nigerian language as the jumping off point, Beachler continued:
"It was a process of trying to pay homage to lost languages, but also infusing the idea of Afrofuturism of reclaiming languages lost."
From the streets of Wakanda to Shuri's lab, the written language appears in almost every part of the movie — with stylistic flourishes unique to each location. "What you see in the movie is just scratching the surface of what we created for the whole civilization", Beachler concluded.