Disney Faces Cultural Appropriation Accusations Over Trademarking "Hakuna Matata" Phrase From 'The Lion King'

The Swahili phrase "hakuna matata" may mean "no worries" or "no problem", but that may not end up being the case for Disney when it comes to their trademark of the phrase.

According to Fox News, Shelton Mpala, an activist from Zimbabwe, has launched a Change.org petition calling on Disney to abandon its trademark of the phrase, accusing the company of cultural appropriation, going so far as to compare the trademarking of "Hakuna Matata" as being "colonialism" and "robbery".

"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," the petition states. "Disney can't be allowed to trademark something that it didn't invent."

At the time of this article the petition has over 45,000 signatures.

The "hakuna matata" phrase first gained popularity after its use in 1994's animated classic, The Lion King. Soon after, Disney applied to trademark the catchphrase, an application that was ultimately approved in 2003. However, the issues of cultural appropriation have surfaced with the upcoming live-action remake of The Lion King and as the hype for that film builds, so does the awareness of the issue.

"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."

While Mpala himself is not a Swahili speaker, he told the BBC that the trademark issue is just another example of Africa being "exploited in some shape, fashion or form." He's not the only one who feels this way. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, a Kenyan writer and professor of comparative literature at the School of Humanities at the University of California, Irvine recently told NPR that he is "horrified" by Disney's claim on the phrase.

"It would be like trademarking 'good morning' or 'it is raining cats and dogs' in the case of English," Thiong'o said. "It's a common phrase we use every other day. No company can own it."

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Disney's The Lion King hits theaters on July 19, 2019.