Disney seems to have reasons to worry! The phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’ is at the core of ‘the reason’ for using it in the song Hakuna Matata from the 1994 animated classic, The Lion King.
Originally a Swahili phrase, an online petition recently has called on Disney to give up its trademark on the phrase. Created by Zimbabwean activist Shelton Mpala, the petition has received more than 50,000 signatures.
The phrase roughly translates to “no problems” or “no worries” and is a common expression in parts of eastern and southern Africa. Disney trademarked the expression the same year, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It was eventually granted the trademark in 2003 and by that time, the phrase was best associated with the Elton John and Tim Rice tune sung by an animated meerkat and warthog.
As told to CNN, Mpala started the petition “to draw attention to the appropriation of African culture and the importance of protecting our heritage, identity and culture from being exploited for financial gain by third parties.”
But Disney wasn’t even the first to include the phrase in a musical number. Kenyan band, Them Mushrooms featured “Hakuna Matata” in their popular song Jambo Bwana (Hello Mister) back in 1982.
Liz Lenjo, a Kenyan intellectual property and entertainment lawyer, disagrees with the petition and has commented to CNN, “Disney has not stolen anything” and the outrage over the trademark is misplaced. The blame should go to social media for “blowing things out of proportion”.
A remake of the The Lion King is slated to release in 2019.