When I read La Chanson de Roland, as usual, I was lost in a whirlwind of unfamiliarity and confusion over why this middle age French poem matters. While the protagonist of the poem needed to blow an ivory tusk (Oliphant) for the French king Charlemagne to come to his army’s rescue, simply because the Moors, (their opponents) had gained an upper hand over the French army, Roland delayed blowing the Oliphant due to his pride and disillusionment of singlehanded victory over the Moors. Roland finally blew the Oliphant but, rather unfortunately, he does it too late. He loses his own life and his army with him.
The Oliphant is a horn made from the ivory obtained from predominantly male elephants found in Southern Africa and parts of Asia. By extension, the Oliphant represents masculine fervor, conquest, and hegemony. This post will dwell mainly on the Oliphant’s representation of male dominance and how it is overturned in the Black Panther movie.
The political tyranny of Killmonger leads to a division of sorts that leaves Wakanda in two divisive wedges. Though Okoye swears her allegiance to the throne, she ends up fighting on the side of T’challa though technically Killmonger is the current king (occupant of the throne Okoye swears loyalty to). This act on the part of Okoye causes a battle that resides on sexual factions. The battle is between the male and female sexes in the kingdom. Okoye, the commander in chief of Wakanda’s army of women, Shuri and Nakia, all women, against the insurgents, Killmonger and his new aide and right-hand man, Wakabi, and the army of cloth wearing men fighters.
The scene with the summoning of the kingdom’s store of rhinos which Wakabi gathers by blowing the Oliphant is representative of the exertion of masculine control. Of all the animals to opt for defense, why the rhino? The rhino is sturdy, towering and strong, it is symbolic of what a warrior should be. The rhino is the personification of Wakabi and is summoned to help the men’s army win the battle yet, the irony of the situation leaves viewers shocked because the indefatigable rhino suddenly freezes in his tracks when it sees Okoye. In addition, it licks her face, crumbles at her gaze and finally bows at her feet. Needless to say, this freezing of the rhino is vaguely reminiscent of how T’challa freezes in the opening scenes when he sees Nakia. These parallel scenes show a lack or at least an exaggeration of the seemingly impermeable nature of the male species.
A few comparisons between Roland of La Chanson de Roland and Black Panther’s Wakabi are –
*In both situations, the male actors needed to blow an Oliphant to save their situations.
*Both actors, ie Wakabi and Roland display some disillusionment, Wakabi’s at the mere thought that Wakanda needed a new King with more revolutionary ideas and Roland’s, the fact that he thought he could conquer the Moors single-handedly without the help of Charlemagne the French king.
*Both scenes in both works of art revolve around war or battle and actually take place on a battlefield.
*Both characters blowing the Oliphants are male.
*The Oliphant is used as a means to an end, in both scenarios, the horn is blown as a recourse.