Amazingly, in the wake of the hugely successful BLACK PANTHER film and the impact it carried worldwide, people around the globe now know and recognize the name Wakanda as that of the fictional African nation which was never conquered, and which is protected from all outside forces by the lineage of the Black Panther. The Wakanda Forever salute has become a part of the greater pop culture landscape, turning up in productions entirely removed from the Marvel Universe. But years before the Black Panther was introduced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR #52, that same word was used in an entirely different context.
Rather than referring to an African nation, in this context Wakanda was a Native American hero, who made one appearance in 1949 in the pages of St. John’s THE TEXAN #6. No credits survive as to who may have written or drawn this adventure, so it’s a mystery as to who might have coined the name.
Of course, this being 1949, even though he shared the attributes of a true native American, Wakanda was a white man, endowed with supernatural powers through the mystic Bear Claw amulets he wore about his neck. Beyond that, we don’t really learn much of anything else about him in the course of this story. It looks to my eye that the idea that Wakanda was white was added in afterwards by somebody on the editorial side–the caption indicating that he’s white (and the lead-in words in the caption above it) were done by a different hand. And there’s no evidence of it in the remainder of the story–Wakanda appears, apart from that one reference, to be genuinely Native American.
Like Captain Marvel before him and the letters in the magic word SHAZAM, each individual Bear Claw gives Wakanda a particular power, and he must touch that claw in order to access that attribute.