“Hakuna matata” means “no worries” or “no problem,” but there’s nothing sedate about this story.
The Swahili phrase, made popular by Disney’s 1994 movie The Lion King, is a subject of contention at the moment. Movie production company Disney filed to trademark the phrase the year of the movie’s release and it was registered in 2003. Under the law, no one is allowed to use it for commercial purposes — like printing on a T-shirt, for example.
With the live-action version of the movie coming up in 2019, interest in the franchise and its content has been reinvigorated. A Zimbabwean activist, Shelton Mpala, says the trademark is cultural appropriation, and argues that a culture’s language cannot be patented.
Mpala launched a Change.org petition to get Disney to abandon its trademark on the phrase, saying it’s akin to “colonialism” to have a legal stranglehold on the words. (As of this writing, it has more than 40,000 signatures.)
Titled “Disney robs Swahili of ‘Hakuna Matata,'” the petition claims Disney can’t trademark terms “they didn’t invent.” It reads in full:
Disney has trademarked the Swahili phrase “Hakuna Matata”.
I liken this to colonialism and robbery, the appropriation of something you have no right over. Imagine, “If we were to go that route, then we owe the British royalties for everyone who speaks English, or France for when we speak French.”
Join us and say NO to DISNEY or any corporations/individuals looking to trademark languages, terms or phrases they didn’t invent.
“Hakuna matata” is a Swahili language phrase from East Africa; translate, it means “no trouble”. The word “hakuna” means “there is not here” while “matata” means “problems”.
Hakuna Matata has been used by most Kiswahili-speaking countries suchs as Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Disney can’t be allowed to trademark something that it didn’t invent.
“A lot of Swahili speakers have been utterly shocked, they had no idea this was happening,” Mpala told the BBC. “Growing up in Zimbabwe, I always had an understanding that a culture’s language was its richness.”
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For the most part, Lion King lovers on social media agreed with Mpala’s sentiment.
Others disagreed, saying they only know the phrase because of the movie, and Disney should be allowed to keep the trademark.
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The Lion King has been immensely popular beyond its cinematic release, spawning a stage musical, multiple sequels and mountains of merchandise.
As of this writing, Disney hasn’t addressed the petition or the trademark.