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Wakandan is a REAL Language: South Africa’s isiXhosa

Feb 21, 2021 08:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho

International Mother Language Day recognizes that languages and multilingualism can advance inclusion, ensuring that no one is left behind. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) believes education, based on the first language or mother tongue, must begin from the early years, as early childhood care and education is the foundation of learning. On this day, we would like to highlight a language that garnered international attention.

Marvel’s Black Panther is a bonafide cultural phenomenon and won attention for breaking Hollywood norms through its almost entirely black cast and crew, powerful black leading ladies, and a black superhero. What many Marvel fans learned following the movie’s release is that Wakandan is an actual language spoken in South Africa. IsiXhosa is one of the official languages of South Africa and the native tongue of the late Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratic president. IsiXhosa is now spoken by around 8 million people, about 15% of the population.

The idea to use isiXhosa in the movie came from South African actor and cast member John Kani, who plays T’Chaka, the father of T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman. “We had this scene where I had to do a conversation with my son. I was supposed to say to him, ‘I miss you, my son, I haven’t seen you in a very long time.’ So I asked the directors, ‘Why am I speaking English? He’s my son, we're from Wakanda,’”, said Kani at a press junket.

John and Athanwa Kani at the L.A Premiere of Black Panther in 2018.


“The directors asked, ‘What would you say?’ I said ‘Unqabile nyana, ndikugqibele kudala.’ My biggest surprise was that Chadwick responded in IsiXhosa, ‘Ndiyaxolisa baba.’ I asked, ‘Where did you learn that?’ He said, ‘When I was in Cape Town, I worked with a South African crew.’'' Kani is a South African actor born in Eastern Cape. He received a LifeTime award from the South African Film and Television Awards in 2010.

Director Ryan Coogler was further inspired to use IsiXhosa when he took a personal trip to South Africa and befriended South Africans who spoke IsiXhosa. “It was a life-changing experience,” he said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I found out that his tribe – he was Xhosa – the rituals they do are very similar to things I do with my family, like, almost identical.”

Xhosa falls under the umbrella of the Bantu languages and is a representative of the south-western Nguni family. Xhosa is an unusual, yet pretty-sounding language, with about 15 clicks. Male and female initiation in the form of circumcision is practiced among most Xhosa groups, although with the female initiation there is no actual surgical operation. The Xhosa people are not only famous due to Nelson Mandela. There are other political leaders such as Steve Biko, Thabo Mbeki, and Walter Sisulu, in the country who hail from the tribe. It was the Xhosa people who engaged in a century of fighting against European colonial invaders in the Frontier Wars.




The South African

The Star

South African History Online

 Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies.  

She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.