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The Dark Side of Hakuna Matata

March 28, 2012

I must admit that I am one of those twenty-somethings that still watches and thoroughly enjoys Disney Movies. I watch them because not only do they remind me of my childhood and all of its innocence, but because gosh darnit! those songs are so freakin’ catchy! My mother has given me multiple accounts of when I used to sit down to watch a movie with her (e.g. Robin Hood, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) and pretty much recite the entire script as well as provide a bit of the acting. Those of you who have ever watched a movie with me (one that I love) will notice that this little tidbit about me hasn’t really changed. There’s something terribly satisfying in singing “A Whole New World” at the top of your lungs, or referring to someone as “the pink of perfection”, or dreaming about living in a sweet-ass treehouse on a deserted island, or getting extremely disappointed when you find out in third grade history class that Pocahontas doesn’t end up with John Smith and that talking willow trees didn’t have a hand in the British colonization of America! But it’s these sorts of things that stay with us all through our lives. We feel a connection to others when we understand their references, whether if it’s by quacking to cheer someone on or by giving a shrug and a hakuna matata to someone who feels they should apologize…

Which was why my mind was utterly blown a few weeks ago when I realized the true purpose of the phrase “Hakuna Matata” in The Lion King.

So maybe I was a little slow in figuring this out, but for years I thought that Hakuna Matata was this great thing that lets you enjoy life as a free spirit and eat bugs and look at cool waterfalls and all that nonsense. I’ll admit that I hadn’t actually watched The Lion King for a few years before it started coming on ABC Family recently (I think the last time I watched it was my Sophomore year in high school French class, and I don’t think that actually counts), but I know all the words to every single song in that movie! Okay, maybe not “Be Prepared,” but cut me a little slack. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that “Hakuna Matata” is/was their favorite song in the movie. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s incredibly catchy and sung by a meerkat and a warthog! Duh! Of course everyone is going to love it! It’s not until you put the term into context (which apparently I hadn’t ever done until recently) that you discover the true nature of the phrase. Once you figure this out, you realize that Hakuna Matata is as much as the enemy as Scar. It’s so unassuming since it has such a catchy name and tune, but it’s what essentially alters Simba’s mind to think that forgetting his past and giving up his kingdom is a great idea because, hey! No worries!

Hakuna Matata?

First of all, I think we should go back to the very origin of the phrase. In Swahili, “Hakuna Matata” translates to “no worries,” as I’m sure many of you already know since it’s in the song. What you might not know is that this phrase is connected with Ubuntu, an African humanistic philosophy that places an emphasis on the connectivity of humans. I think Nelson Mandela illustrates the idea very nicely in this interview by saying:

“A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”

Umm, sorry Simba, but I’m pretty sure there was no “enriching” during your Hakuna Matata phase. Instead of Hakuna Matata meaning “no worries for the rest of your days,” it refers to the “no worries” that comes with understanding that not everything is in your control. It is a phrase to put things into perspective and helps you to realize that everything happens for a reason. Things don’t always go according to plan, but don’t worry because life goes on. This is a very beautiful way to think of the phrase.

Moving back to The Lion King, it’s important to understand that Timon is kind of an idiot. If you’ve ever seen The Lion King 1 ½ (which everyone should because it’s hilarious – I own it if you need to borrow it), you’ll know that Rafiki is the character who actually introduces Timon to the idea of Hakuna Matata. After leaving his home, Timon journeys across the savanna looking for his dream home (he sings a song about it) until he finds himself lost and sitting under Rafiki’s baobab tree. Cue the omniscient monkey and his fortune cookie advice. When Timon describes his dream home, “a carefree place where I don’t have to hide or worry,” Rafiki tells him that he seeks Hakuna Matata, and in order to get there, “[he] must look beyond what [he] seek[s].” And since we all know that Timon is an idiot, it’s no surprise that he translates this into literal terms, essentially just looking off into the distance until he sees Pride Rock. Rafiki had the right idea though. He was trying to tell Timon that in order to achieve “no worries,” he must look past all the bad things in order to be at peace in his mind. Rafiki meant it to be spiritual advice, but we all know that Timon has the spiritual capacity of… well, a meerkat!

Yes, this is an incredibly stable individual.

Knowing this, the whole Hakuna Matata lifestyle that Simba experiences in The Lion King is understandably explained. So here’s the problem: The Lion King 1 ½ came out after The Lion King. There was originally no explanation to why Timon or Pumba lived by the misunderstood motto. And poor Simba, just seeing his father die and nearly dying himself… No wonder he took so quickly to the phrase. For him, it was an easy way to forget his problems and live in the present. I don’t necessarily think living in the present was bad for him, but remember that his mother, his best friend, and the rest of the pride are left with Scar as a king. Simba’s innocence as a young cub insures that he doesn’t see his uncle as a villain, nor does he truly understand his responsibility to the kingdom. Timon and Pumba’s interpretation of Hakuna Matata just makes this worse. When the characters first meet the troubled Young Simba, Pumba, the slightly more Ubuntu one, tries to explain to him that he has to put his past behind him (“You gotta put your behind in your past…”) Timon then opens his mouth and the following dialogue occurs:

Timon: It’s “You got to put your past behind you.” Look, kid. Bad things happen, and you can’t do anything about it, right?

Simba: Right.

Timon: Wrong! When the world turns its back on you, you turn your back on the world.

Simba: Well, that’s not what I was taught.

Timon: Then maybe you need a new lesson. Repeat after me: Hakuna Matata.

Not great words to tell someone in Simba’s position. So Timon continues to rip away the ideals taught to Simba by his father, and share with him a false definition of Hakuna Matata. But then again, we’ve already established that Timon is an idiot, so… Simba is in such desperate need of reassurance that he lives by this idea until he grows into a man.

If that's not the awkward adolescent phase, then I don't know what is.

When Nala arrives, it all comes crashing down on him. Scar as the raving lunatic king who has brought ruin to the pride lands came as a surprise to everyone apparently. Don’t they know that Jeremy Irons does his voice? How could they not have seen this coming? Did no one else notice the menacing scar over his eye and the fact that he’s the only black-maned lion ever? Simba simply can’t handle this new realization. He’s put his “behind in his past” and tried to live a carefree life… by not caring about anything but himself (and Timon and Pumba). You’d think this would take him a little longer to piece together, but Disney being what it is, instead of spiraling into a pool of depression and anxiety and probably other psychological disorders, Simba learns that he can learn from his past and reclaim his kingdom.

[So I realize that Mufasa was already guiding Simba in the ways to rule the animal kingdom (i.e. the continuous cycle of predator and prey that is refashioned as “the Circle of Life”), but what now? Simba is so incredibly inexperienced, I’m surprised he’s successful enough to bring a sequel (but that’s not what this post is about, so I’ll spare you a lecture on inexperienced and immature monarchs from history).]

You must see the problem in the Hakuna Matata lifestyle that Timon and Pumba introduce to this poor lion cub. They’ve taken an incredibly humanistic and empowering phrase and turned it into a giant pile of selfish horse crap. Of course I don’t blame Timon for this; he’s incredibly thick and has his own problems to work out in the beginning. And Pumba just follows Timon’s lead. So, who do I blame? Rafiki. That’s right. The baboon. I understand his attempt to make people realize themselves what they must do or what they’re looking for, but it creates an impossibly large problem for the rest of the characters. A problem that he could not really have foreseen, but for an omniscient monkey, you’d think he’d be able to read people better.

No, please! Let's all take advice from the omniscient monkey. He's not crazy at all!

So what do you think about that catchy little song now?

Enough said.

42 Comments leave one →
  1. Gam permalink
    April 22, 2012 10:51 AM

    It’d be great if you answered this on Quora.

  2. June 23, 2013 10:40 AM

    First of all, I’m not yet done reading the article but I fully intend to 🙂 Just wanna say that as a fellow disney movies lover in her twenties, I’d like to share that there is a sequel to Pocahontas – there you’ll learn who she ended up with.

    • Kenzie permalink
      January 10, 2017 8:52 PM

      Pocahontas is as stupid as every other Disney movie… the truth of Pocahontas involves her conversion to Christian faith after falling in love with a man who was not John Smith. Disney works to purport humanism, fantasy and rebellion in the subconscious mind. They’re masters at their art and they are founded on the satanic works and ideals of a 33rd degree freemason. Don’t take my word for it. Do some digging and find yourself “red-pilled”. I’m glad I’m free from that matrix and I will protect my child from the lies of “The Magic Kingdom”.

  3. KingJosiah permalink
    June 30, 2013 12:41 AM

    Thank you for creatively clarifying “Hakuna Matata” sis ! 😉
    Was a joy to read your wonderful post! Now, feeling better equipped to continue on with the journey!


  4. jebuz permalink
    July 29, 2013 1:30 PM

    Why blame rafiki it is not his job to explain
    His role was just to give tgem hope a little push to keep them moving
    But your post was very interesting i enjoyed it lots
    And i have all 3 lion king movies

  5. Isaac permalink
    September 5, 2013 4:46 PM

    I’d agree with you IF simba wasn’t under the understanding that the whole thing was his fault and that the whole pack would banish him upon his return – courtesy of Scar. Timon thought that Simba was abandonded by his entire species, of course the healthy thing to do is tell him that it’s okay, and that you can still live life fully by yourself. I enjoyed reading it though ^.^

  6. anonymous permalink
    September 15, 2013 1:44 AM

    who puts this much thought and effort into a disney movie, its a kids movie and its meant to be lighthearted and fun. Stop overthinking it.

    • supp buddy permalink
      January 25, 2014 3:51 PM

      y do u name yourself anonymous lol when you can be easily traced

    • Shonnie permalink
      June 4, 2014 12:35 AM

      U must be really gullible and naive to believe that they’re only kid shows/movies with no meaning!!! U better take a closer look Nd realize that nothing in this world is done without a purpose. Great article

      • December 19, 2014 4:14 PM

        Absolutely ~ a multi-budget industry existing for sheer “lighthearted fun” in a day and age where we (generally) don’t spare a penny without motive!

  7. December 1, 2013 4:59 PM

    Kids don’t know the difference. I always thought about the song, in the original film, as very similar to the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” which just means that worrying makes things worse, not that you should do nothing about your problems. And if you watch the whole movie, Simba does go back and do something about his problems, and both Timon and Pumbaa help him.

  8. jeany permalink
    December 4, 2013 6:21 PM

    I do agree with you. But at the same time I think Hakuna Matata was a phrase that helped Simba move on from the tragic death of his father.. The question is would Simba have been able to cope with such a loss if he did not meet Timon and Pumba, who taught him to let go of the past? You have to keep in mind Simba had pretty much given up on life and was extremely depressed when he was found by the comical pair. I believe Hakuna Matata helped Simba though his dark phase enabling him to eventually gain the courage to return to Pride Rock and claim back what was his.

    P.s also a twenty something that still loves her Disney movies. 😉

  9. supp buddy permalink
    January 25, 2014 3:48 PM

    This left me Flabbergasted

  10. wombat permalink
    February 25, 2014 10:37 PM

    I agree entirely, but luckily the movie does not over glorify hakuna matata, in fact it winds up mocking it pretty constantly.

    While i dont share teh sentiment that his hakuna matata phase helped him in any way like many people seem to think it did by giving him time to deal with death and find happiness. I think it did result in him being that much more struck by teh sadness and death that had been created in his absence from the pridelands. If he hadnt run away and let everything get so dark, he might not have been convinced so intently that it needed to be fought for.

  11. March 10, 2014 1:58 PM

    Greetings from Alaska. In Uganda they say it all the time to mzungus to make you feel at ease and welcome. I see what you saying but the culture from which it comes is nothing like ours. Thoughtful post though!

  12. Patater permalink
    May 5, 2014 8:57 AM

    I dont think your right about the part were you say hakuna mata makes him think its a good idea to give up his kingdom. He doesnt know shits going bad and he thinks he killed his father. They say Hakuna Matata so that he can get through this hard time and keep on living his life happily. I dont think intended to leave Scar destroy his homeland and shit. Hakuna Matata doesnt make him think its a good idea to let hos kingdom die…

    • John Manuel permalink
      January 3, 2016 9:37 AM

      I certainly agree with you pal. Simba doesn’t know what Scar did to his father, the only thing he know is his father died because of him. So, the fact that he can’t do anything to change the past so don’t waste your time thinking of it. Hakuna Matata, just let it go, life goes on, no worries, and everything’s gonna be alright. It doesn’t mean that you’ll give up your life in the past. It means continue on living, continue your life, your goals, and being sad doesn’t solve anything. So accept the fact and be happy.

  13. Caleb permalink
    May 5, 2014 9:42 PM

    Rafiki is a mandrill

  14. Liam permalink
    May 17, 2014 10:21 AM

    Maybe you should watch more Disney movies and enjoy them instead of thinking way to much about a Disney song lol

  15. patrick permalink
    May 20, 2014 10:24 AM

    Well all the other characters could have learned the meaning of hakuna matata and live their lives just a peacefully. and there are ups and downs to every situation. simba was a mere foolish cub when he ran away, ultimately he wouldn’t have stood much of a chance against scar as a child. He had to go away and not let stress, worries, and burdens distract him from becoming the almighty ruler he inevitably becomes in the end :p hakuna matata

    • John Manuel permalink
      January 3, 2016 9:42 AM

      You’re right. I agree with you.

  16. May 20, 2014 9:45 PM

    Hello my friend, I was looking up the meaning of the phrase and stumbled across your blog,wanna know something really fascinating about your favorite childhood story that Disney failed to tell millions of fans?,the Lion king was an actual african ruler, the story they tell is a remake, instead of telling the story of a once noble african king, the turned all of the human characters into animals and retold the story as if they created it, google “the real lion king” if you don’t believe me and read the actual,factual story,looking forward to your response……”nothing is ever what it seems,milk masqurades as cream”…..

  17. Simba tha Great permalink
    June 11, 2014 9:22 AM


  18. Dave Wallace permalink
    September 18, 2014 6:47 AM

    Try over-analized by a terminal azzwipe scumbag.

  19. Nicole permalink
    January 31, 2015 10:19 AM

    Well, you can say all that, but then again, if Simba had not ran away and selfishly lived care free with all those bozos that time, he might have gone back as a cub and been killed by the hyenas. Who knows… The sorry could’ve panned out a thousand different ways. But I still love the way it all happened in the movie. I don’t think Rafiki was to blame. Yes, he offers wisdom and advice, but he is not God. Same with role models in our own lives. I still like the phrase. Sometimes in life, we need to be a little carefree, but I’m sure it was misused to some extent, and I totally understand where you are coming from. Obviously it is not the best life moto to teach our children. It’s probably the same phrase druggies, addicts, etc use. Heck, we don’t need more reckless young people out and about. We’ve got enough if them.

  20. April 22, 2015 2:47 PM


  21. May 24, 2015 11:29 PM

    Every now and again we should all see the world through the eyes of a child or in this case the innocence of a cub named Simba. The further I got into reading this blog the more “down” I felt. I loved this movie and I will try to remember how I felt watching it with my young daughter and forget the dark place you took it to. It’s a Disney movie for goodness sake. Maybe put away (temporarily) your critical, analytical brain, make a big bowl of popcorn put on your jammies and just enjoy the movie.

  22. Alan permalink
    June 19, 2015 6:12 AM

    I received an email yesterday with the subject Hakuna Mataka, as the email was advising ticket sales to “The Lion King” stage show. Having seen the show before and the movie and visited 3 African countries last year, I decided to find out the meaning. (There is not here – Problems.) I find it educational to read the various comments good and bad about the meaning but I think people over anylise a simple story. Put simply, what good story does not have goodies, badies, love and tradgedy? Nicole’s coments about the bad coming out of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” mindset that encourages no hopers, drugies etc only encourages the attitude of “Do nothing”. If you think of the advice given to Simba as one given to refugies when they arrive a welcoming country that “Here you are safe” so there is no need to worry that your enemies are going to get you, then there can be a new tilt on the movie. We should all then look at the situation of there are no (Hakuna) real problems (Matata) only challenges, that make peole stronger.

  23. what does it mean ? permalink
    October 28, 2015 8:13 AM

    No matter what….. It seems like there is always meaning to things something more than what is seen at first glance …..they don’t make mulitmillion dollar movies for nothing !!

  24. October 30, 2015 5:38 PM

    I was about to paint this motto on a shield I have on the Front wall of my new beach house.
    Now I feel slightly depressed.

    December 18, 2015 3:16 PM

    Please listen to the song,KENYA HAKUNA MATATA,which you can download from, i first recorded on 21st Feb 1980 at the POLYGRAM STUDIO in Nairobi,Kenya and you will get to know the ORIGIN of the phrase,’HAKUNA MATATA’.

  26. John Manuel permalink
    January 3, 2016 9:38 AM

    I disagree with you. Maybe the problem is with your understanding not the Hakuna Matata. Simba doesn’t know what Scar did to his father, the only thing he know is his father died because of him. So, the fact that he can’t do anything to change the past so don’t waste your time thinking of it. Hakuna Matata, just let it go, life goes on, no worries, and everything’s gonna be alright. It doesn’t mean that you’ll give up your life in the past. It means continue on living, continue your life, your goals, and being sad doesn’t solve anything. So accept the fact and be happy.

  27. Matthew P Galipp permalink
    February 6, 2016 12:38 PM

    Hakuna Matatta

    February 13, 2016 5:14 PM


    One evening in November 1979 after a great performance with my band THEM MUSHROOMS at the SEVERIN SEA LODGE in Mombasa, I overheard some tourists at the pool bar joking around and trying to speak Kiswahili. ‘JAMBO, HABARI, MZURI SANA’ they said.
    An idea struck me and I thought I should write a fun song with the simplest words in Kiswahili and we could get these tourists to learn the language as they sing along with us whilst dancing to our music. This is how the song which is today the MOST WONDERFUL PHRASE in Kiswahili came to be and the rest as the saying goes is HISTORY.
    On 21st February 1980 me and my band THEM MUSHROOMS recorded four tracks at the POLYGRAM studio in Nairobi. One of those songs was KENYA HAKUNA MATATA.
    The song was an instant hit with the tourists where ever we played. All the other bands in Mombasa had to play it too as the tourists seemed like they just could not get enough of it.
    KENYA HAKUNA MATATA went SILVER in 1982; GOLD in 1984 and PLATINUM in 1987.
    There are to date over fifteen cover versions of HAKUNA MATATA. These include renditions by LIZA SHAKIR of Sudan, SHIMELIS ARARSO of Ethiopia, ADAM SOLOMON of Canada, THE BELGIAN AIRFORCE band, SAMBA SALAD of Holland, FAUSTO PRED of Italy, BO KATZMAN of Switzerland, BARBARA FROGER of France, FRANK ZANDER and BONEY M, both of Germany, just to mention a few.
    KENYA HAKUNA MATATA has been used in several films and documentaries.
    HAKUNA MATATA has been around since 1980 long before the LION KING Movie came onto the scene in 1994 and took all the credit and the millions of dollars in ROYALTIES.
    Now that you know the story behind the song that is today the MOST WONDERFUL PHRASE in Kiswahili, you can help in making RIGHT this WRONG so that I can get back what rightfully belongs to me by downloading the original HAKUNA MATATA and sharing it with all your friends.






    • February 14, 2016 10:17 PM


      So glad to see this thread is still active!!
      Firstly I want to thank you so much for clarifying the origins of the passage “Haukuna Matata” and for your timeless contribution to both music and language with the song “KENYA HAKUNA MATATA” and THE MOST WONDERFUL PHRASE IN KISWAHILI 🙂
      I followed your suggestion and downloaded the mp4, am listening to it right now and love it!!!


      With your expressed permission would it be possible to use your song in both a short film and/or documentary I am currently working on? Both involve Kenya. You would of course be credited in the films.

      Please respond at your earliest convenience and if possible the best email to reach you. I can then provide additional info.

      Asante sana,

      Josiah Maselli

    February 13, 2016 5:17 PM

    On the music video of the song ‘KENYA HAKUNA MATATA’
    you will see the SILVER 1982, GOLD 1984 and PLATINUM 1987 AWARDS for sale of
    30000, 60000 and over 100000 units of the said song on Vinyl. This happened years before 1994 when the LION KING MOVIE came onto the scene.

    February 24, 2016 1:41 PM

    ‘HAKUNA MATATA’ [The Rip-Offs]

    Beautiful people, now that you all know the ORIGIN of the most WONDERFUL phrase in Kiswahili ‘HAKUNA MATATA’ it is time for me to let you in onto some of the RIP-OFFS made from the use of the said phrase.
    The first BIG RIP-OFF is that by the makers of the LION KING movie in 1994. Apart from the millions of dollars they made from the said phrase, they also took all the CREDIT for “CREATING and POPULARISING” the said phrase. This as you are all aware of by now, is ONE VERY BIG LIE they are yet to deny.
    The second BIG RIP-OFF is by WARNER MUSIC in Hamburg, Germany. They have been collecting SUB PUBLISHING ROYALTIES on the title KENYA HAKUNA MATATA for years. Since 1992 to date, they have only paid me for the year 2011 and half of 2012. Kindly refer to a copy of the ROYALTY STATEMENT on the payment made to me.
    Despite our arriving at an amicable settlement on the same, the LEGAL REPRESENTATIVE of WARNER MUSIC GERMANY, Frau YVONNE SILL decided to cut off all communication with me for the last three or so years now.

    I MOST HUMBLY call upon any CARING LAWYER out there, to PLEASE take up this case on behalf of this BLIND 65 year old KENYAN musician. Whoever takes up this case on my behalf gets to keep, 30% of all the royalties plus the interest owed to date.
    There must be someone out there who can help me get back what is RIGHTFULLY MINE. PLEASE HAVE MERCY…
    I have in my records all the correspondence between me and Frau YVONNE SILL on this matter in case someone wants to see them.


    February 24, 2016 6:37 PM

    Please refer to that copy of the ROYALTY STATEMENT on the payment made to me:


    Thank you!


    February 25, 2016 2:57 AM

    To Open that Link Shown in My Comment Above,
    Please Copy the ‘Whole Link’ and Paste it into Your Browser Address Bar.
    Thank You!

  33. September 4, 2016 4:49 PM

    Haha😂😂… I’m Kenyan.. Swahili is my first language & it’s not rocket science.. Hakuna Matata simply tells us to be at ease. N it’s not “dark” in any way as you need to be at ease to face something that’s prolly new or difficult. All I see here is a good post but the specifics are way off!
    But meh! We understand that foreign language can pose a challenge just do primary research before posting as secondary sources are shady!😂😂
    Late but just had to say!
    Good writing nonetheless.

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