/ Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

by Josh Taylor

Have you ever wandered the walkway at Epcot’s World Showcase and asked yourself where all the South American or African pavilions are? I know Morocco is an African country, but most people would associate Kenya or Egypt with Africa, not Morocco. Don’t get me wrong though, I love Morocco as they have some of my favorite food in all of Disney World, not to mention my favorite beer in the Casablanca beer, but I digress.  World Showcase is missing out on a large part of the world. Epcot does have the African Outpost right? Correct, but its hardly a pavilion. In fact, it was only a place holder for a larger African area that was supposed to open in 1983 in World Showcase. (That was the worst segue ever–not the scooter, but I’m still going with it.) Equatorial Africa, which encompasses Kenya, Congo, and several other sub-tropical African countries, was to be a large area between Germany and China, and was even advertised in television ads and park maps, so lets delve into another case of “The World That Never Was.”

Epcot opened with 9 countries around World Showcase. (Mexico, Germany, Italy, China, American Adventure, Japan, Canada, United Kingdom, and France) If you were to look at a park map from the time, you would notice that World Showcase was made up of all three North American countries, two Asian countries, and four Western European countries. Disney Imagineers knew of the lack in other continents being represented on the World Showcase promenade, and one of the solutions was to build Equatorial Africa in 1983. This pavilion was to be large, and stand out from the others with a massive tree house overshadowing the rest of the pavilion. (Sound familiar? Tree of Life perhaps?) The large tree would tower over the pavilion and be surrounded by waterfalls, rockwork, and thatched huts.

A proposed idea for the tree house towering above the pavilion was that it would be functional as a wildlife observation deck. Through a projection, guests of Equatorial Africa would look down in the center of the tree house to see animals gathering at a waterfall. Smells and sounds would be “piped in” so that you could not only see the animals, but also smell and hear them. The visual realism would be fulfilled by creating a diorama with shrubs and grass, but the animals would be projected from in on a 20 foot tall screen. Combining the projections, diorama, smells, and sounds, guests would feel as if they were really observing African wildlife from the observation deck.

Beyond the tree centerpiece, two shows were also set to open with the pavilion. The first of which was titled “The Heartbeat of Africa” and would deal with the music and rhythms of that continent. The story of the African drums was not to be missed, as is most musical shows in World Showcase. As guests entered this thatched hut theater, they would discover the room being surrounded by drums everywhere, When the lights went down, the drums would “magically” come to life. As drums played they would be lit by different lights from the inside of the drum. As more drums joined in, more colors would be seen, eventually culminating in a colorful show in the round with guests watching all the walls around them.

Leaving the “Heartbeat of Africa” show, Epcot visitors would enter a heritage and culture gift show/museum. The room would display African art and the shop would sell authentic African artwork and crafts.

The other show in Equatorial Africa was called “Africa Rediscovered.” Led by Roots author Alex Haley, guests would watch a widescreen documentary of Africa, discussing and seeing ancient and modern sites. The film would also discuss current as well as past figures that were important to the African Continent including Hannibal, the black ruler of Carthage who led an army to attack Rome. The purpose of the film was to show that Africa wasn’t just a third world continent, but had a thriving culture and a history of its own.

Imagineers also came up with a Safari trail that guests could walk, but this safari wouldn’t have any animals. In fact, this walking trail would have sounds and rustling bushes as guests walked by using infra-red sensors. Guests would hear elephants and hyenas, as well as other animals, close by but would never see them, instead they would see overgrown foliage rustling around them. The climax of this trail was to travel over an old bridge and through a cave filled with sounds of lions eating all around you.

Of course, World Showcase is also known for its on-the-spot live shows, and Africa was definitely going to be a part of that. Within the rock work creating the edges of this pavilion was the formation of a small ampitheater. The theater would include shows from dancers and African musicians throughout the day, much like some of the other entertainment around World Showcase, seemingly spontaneous.

Like all of the other things never built for Walt Disney World, there is a good reason for the lack of an African country in World Showcase. Disney asked several African countries if they would help in donating money to build Equatorial Africa, but due to the climate of African politics in the 1980s when Epcot first opened, they were unable to fund the pavilion. Political upheavel was a constant problem in most African countries, so even if Disney had found a sponsor for the pavilion, that party may have ended up in war or have been overtaken by someone who didn’t want to fund the project. The only solid country that was going to help fund the pavilion was South Africa, but because of the apartheid policies, Disney didn’t want to be associated with the country.

So, Equatorial Africa sat on the back burner for quite a few years, with the only sign of the pavilion being the African Outpost. As time went on, plans for a new theme park called Disney’s Animal Kingdom came to fruition. The Animal Kingdom park called for a large African portion of the park, including a safari and other shows and attractions. From that point on, Disney decided Equatorial Africa was no longer needed at Epcot and currently rumors of Brazil taking the previous spot at World Showcase.

This is the World that never was.

2 Responses to "The World That Never Was: Equatorial Africa"

  1. Josh Taylor says:

    Thanks for reading my post. You can read more from me at http://www.disneyparkhistory.wordpress.com

  2. Nate Parrish says:

    Great Article Josh. I’m always when i see Alex Haley talking about the Equitorial African pavilion on the Epcot Opening Special. This is truly one of the most overlooked areas of the world in terms of its history and beauty and it really needs to be more appreciated. Thanks – Nate Parrish

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