From the moment Simba plopped into the desert after running away from his silky weaved uncle, he was in for an adventure. After helping him narrowly escape being eaten by swarming vultures, a wayward meerkat and warthog memorably dropped a “problem free philosophy” on Simba called, “Hakuna Matata.”
It’s apparently “a wonderful phrase.” As such, the extremely catchy song accompanying the philosophy lesson has been etched into the hearts of generations of children and adults alike.
Today, however, The Lion King (and its father, Disney) is not without its problems. According to the BBC, Disney has successfully trademarked the Swahili phrase, which loosely translates to “no worries”, “no problems,” or “no trouble.”
Specifically, “Hakuna” means “there is not here” and “matata” means “problems.”
The US trademark was filed under registration number 27006605, per Business Daily Africa. Disney’s foresight was real: the mass media company first filed the trademark in 1994, which is when The Lion King premiered. The trademark approval comes just in time for the upcoming release of its live-action/CGI remake, set to debut in summer 2019. Additionally, there’s a highly-successful Broadway musical, toys, computer games, clothing, and a few sequels to account for.
In opposition to the filing, Zimbabwean activist Shelton Mpala has created a Change.org petition calling for the juggernaut company to release its trademark on the phrase. Accusing the company of engaging in a form of “colonialism and robbery,” the petition has collected over 74,000 signatures at the time of this article’s posting.
“‘Hakuna Matata’ has been used by most Kiswahili-speaking countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” read the petition.
“A lot of Swahili speakers have been utterly shocked, they had no idea this was happening,” said Mpala. “Growing up in Zimbabwe, I always had an understanding that a culture’s language was its richness.”
Furthermore, Kenyan band Them Mushrooms’ song “Jambo Bwana” (often referred to as “Hakuna Matata,” since the phrase is featured in the song) was released in 1983, over a decade before the animated film’s release, per The Washington Post.
“These big companies located in the north are taking advantage of cultural expressions and lifestyles and cultural goods coming from Africa,” Twaweza Communications founder Professor Kimani Njogu told The Guardian. “They know very well that this expression is really the people’s property, created by people, popularized by people.”
Disney is well-known for coming after other businesses and individuals who dare to even breathe in the key of Mickey Mouse. Plus, in the great potted circle of “calling the kettle black,” the entertainment company has complained about other entities’ “overzealous copyright protection,” according to The A.V. Club.
Disney has not yet released an official comment on this matter.