A petition has been filed urging Disney to drop the trademark on the Swahili phrase ‘hakuna matata’ meaning ‘no problem’. The company has been asked to remove its hold on it before the release of its “Lion King” remake, which is due for release this summer.
Shelton Mpala filed the petition on the basis of appropriation on the part of Disney. He said, “Disney can’t be allowed to trademark something that it didn’t invent.” It is believed that by now more than 50,000 people have signed the petition accusing Disney of “colonialism and robbery” after it trademarked the Swahili phrase “hakuna matata”. The popular African expression is said to be used across east Africa. The phrase was made popular in 1982 by the Kenyan band Them Mushrooms, whose platinum-selling single Jambo Bwana (Hello, Mister) featured the phrase “hakuna matata”.
Disney used the phrase for the first time in its 1994 feature film “Lion King”, which turned into a hit musical and became one of Disney’s most valuable franchises. The film included the song “Hakuna Matata”, written by Elton John and Tim Rice. Disney gained a US trademark over the phrase in 2003, claiming its right to use it on the company’s merchandise.
Professor Kimani Njogu, founder of Twaweza Communications, a think tank that specialises in public policy, media and culture, called Disney’s trademark attempt as unethical. He said, “These big companies located in the north are taking advantage of cultural expressions and lifestyles and cultural goods coming from Africa. They know very well that this expression is really the people’s property, created by people, popularised by people.”
He emphasised that the commercial world encashed on the phrase and has turned it into an expression— of fun, of leisure, of happiness, while limiting the right of people (of Kenya) who created it, used and popularised it. He added that it is unfair how Kenyans are not able to sell goods bearing the phrase in the US.
This isn’t the first time that Disney has got into a trademark conflict. Previously, the company attempted to trademark the traditional Mexican term “Dia de los Muertos”, meaning Day of the Dead festival, but later dropped the idea as it lead to severe protests online. The studio had applied to trademark the term “Dia de los Muertos” before the release of the Pixar animation film “Coco” for merchandising purposes. The company changed its mind after widespread protests erupted, ultimately changed the title of the film and no longer tried to trademark the term.