If you have ever watched Disney’s 1994 film The Lion King, you’ve heard the meercat and hog duo Timon and Pumbaa sing “hakuna matata.” The song is catchy and fun, but what does this African expression really mean? We consulted scholars, musicologists and Disney experts to get the facts straight.
In Swahili, hakuna matata means there are no problems. It encapsulates a worry-free approach to life and encourages people not to dwell on things beyond their control. It’s also linked to the philosophy of Ubuntu, an Afrocentric worldview that emphasizes humanity and interconnectedness.
Swahili is a complex language with many loan words from Arabic, Persian, Hindi and other languages. It is spoken in countries across East Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya and Zanzibar. It is estimated that 120-150 million people speak Swahili today.
As the popularity of the movie and the phrase grew, some native speakers of Swahili began to dislike hearing tourists use it in their conversations. They instead prefer other phrases like hamna shida.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a scholar of Gikuyu and Swahili, has advocated for protecting Swahili culture in a variety of ways, including the preservation of the phrase Hakuna Matata. He points out that the term was popularized in English by a song by a Swahili band called Them Mushrooms, who recorded Jamba Bwana in 1982.
Although the lyrics are different, the song’s chorus remains the same. To show respect for the language, when someone says Hakuna Matata, you can respond with a similar sentiment or simply say Hakuna Matata yourself. It’s a great way to cheer someone up or give them an extra pep in their step.