Dec 20, 2018

Hakuna Matata no more for Disney

Hakuna Matata, the Swahili term for 'no worries' or 'no problem' that became synonymous with Disney classic 'the Lion King' is at the centre of a dispute this week in which Disney is accused of colonialism.

The phrase, used normally as part of the Swahili language, was featured throughout the 1994 Disney classic in the song of the same name written by Elton John and Tim Rice. The success of the film, and subsequent spin off musical, made the franchise one of Disney's most lucrative.  As a result of its success, Disney sought to trade mark the term Hakuna Matata in the US. The mark was granted against classes relating to clothing and footwear.

With the news of Disney releasing its Lion King remake in summer 2019, the fact that the term (used in everyday language by around 5 million native speakers) has been trademarked has come to light and seen Disney accused of colonialism.

A petition has now been signed by more than 50,000 people who together allege Disney has appropriated the Swahili term and capitalised on it. The creator of the petition, Shepton Mpala, has stated that "Disney can't be allowed to trade mark something it did not invent".  Others have alleged Disney has taken advantage of a cultural expression that belongs to the speakers of the language and are angered by the fact that goods detailing the phrase, often sold to tourists, cannot be sold in the US.

The news of Disney's trade mark has caused people to call on African Governments to do more to protect their culture and heritage.  Disney has been criticised in the past for its depiction of stereotypical characters and personalities in its films, often based in different countries.

It is not uncommon for everyday terms to be trademarked (think Nike's "just do it"), the issue at hand here is the non-African exploitation of an African cultural phrase.  While it is accepted (in a legal sense) that almost anything can be trademarked, in a political sense it is being alleged that Disney's trade mark is symptomatic of it's political control over Swahili speaking countries.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or


in: News, Trade Marks

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