Hakuna Matata – its origin, its meaning, its future

Immortalised by Walt Disney in Lion King, “Hakuna Matata” is a Swahili phrase that means “no worries.” The cool phrase has been adopted by musicians, literature and popular culture.

Hakuna Matata Lion King

Before Disney made the phrase famous, it didn’t have much public use. The first time was in 1980 when ‘Them Mushrooms”, a Kenyan hotel band released a song in Swahili called “Jambo Bwana” (“Hello Mister”) that their band leader Teddy Kalanda Harrison had written. “Hakuna Matata” was repeated in the song’s chorus.

Then German group Bony M. Released a song in English called “Jambo – Hakuna Matata” with the lead vocals sung by Liz Mitchell. Lack of popularity meant it didn’t get included in their album that year, so it was reworked and renamed, and when released some months in 1984 the name was changed to “Ten Thousand Light years”.

Swedish comic writer Rune Andréasson used the phrase in the mid-1980s in his comic book “Bamse”. It was a secret code phrase that was understood only by Brumma, a baby bear character and a tortoise called Skalman.

Bring on the Lion King!

However it wasn’t until Disney’s Lion King in 1994 that the phrase received worldwide prominence through a song written by Elton John and Tim Rice.

In the film a Meerkat and a warthog (Timon and Pumbaa) teach Simba, the lion cub to forget his troubles and to live in the present. Elton John wrote the music and Tim Rice the lyrics. One story says that the film’s production team claim they picked up the term from a tour guide while on safari in Tanzania (which sounds very plausible). It was then turned into the idea that is central to the moral content of the film. Another version is that Rice himself, who wrote the lyrics, came across the phrase in a Swahili phrase book.

The song became hugely popular and narrowly missed being voted Best Original Song at the 1995 Academy Awards  though it has been listed as one of the top 100 best songs in movie history by the American Film Institute (99th place).

The Lion King has also been acclaimed for encouraging good reading habits amongst young children. “Hakuna Matata” is a well-known phrase for most children; this has been re-inforced by a series of Children’s books – “The Lion King Pride” – a series of six books.

Post Lion King Usage

Since then many other references have been made to Hakuna Matata. It featured in a South Korean comedy “200 Pounds Beauty” and the star draws a sign supposed to be a symbol of Hakuna Matata to imply good luck in love. The PlayStation 3 game Afrika has been renamed “Hakuna Matata” in its Asian release. Since Lion King, quiz shows expect contestants to know what it means.

The song from Lion King has been performed since by several musicians such as Australian pop star Dannii Minogue in a UK Disney TV special, and in other Disney-related productions. The “Hakuna Matata” song is heard briefly in the background in the 1995 Pixar film Toy Story. Many references have been made to the song like in “The Merv Griffin Show” when Elaine says that she was caught in the office singing “Hakuna Matata”.

Hakuna Matata boat

It’s probably a matter of time for this Swahili phrase to officially enter the English dictionary, but in the meantime “Hakuna Matata” with its better ring than “no problem” or “no worries”, it has certainly entered the global vocabulary.

And now the song: No worries

Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase

Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze

It means no worries for the rest of your days

It’s our problem-free philosophy

Hakuna Matata!

Hakuna Matata?

Yeah. It’s our motto!

What’s a motto?

Nothing. What’s a-motto with you?

Those two words will solve all your problems

That’s right. Take Pumbaa here

Why, when he was a young warthog…

When I was a young wart hog

Very nice

Thanks

….

Hakuna Matata! What a wonderful phrase

Hakuna Matata! Ain’t no passing craze

It means no worries for the rest of your days

It’s our problem-free philosophy

Hakuna Matata!

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