The phrase “Hakuna matata” though first used in the 1980s by a Kenyan music group was made popular all over the world by Disney movie, Lion King. Disney have taken steps to patent the phrase which has sparked huge criticisms all over the world. Questions have been asked as to where the line between good business and cultural appropriation should be drawn.
In 2013 Disney attempted to trademark the phrase ‘Día de los muertos.’ I can only assume the pressure & criticism caused them to drop the case.
Then they went on to trademark a Swahili phrase. https://t.co/uzm0XTFPN6
— 「INVITED」hex maniac michael (@hecksmaniac) December 18, 2018
The phrase “Hakuna matata” is Swahili and it was used by the Mushrooms in 1984 in their song “Jambo Bwana.” Ten years later the phrase is used in Disney’s Lion King which made it popular all around the world. Since the early 2000s however, Disney have held the patent to the phrase thus other companies who use it are liable to being dragged in a lawsuit by Disney.
this is blatant robbery that should not be allowed to stand. you don’t have to speak the language to know that this is an egregious theft, one that recalls the way that africa’s precious treasures were looted. please sign this petition!
— dele jegede (@iji_araba) December 17, 2018
Several reports have stated that the trademark is only binding within the United States but this has not stopped people from questioning whether it is even appropriate or not. One person at the forefront of this is Shelton Mpala who believes it to be robbery and colonialism rather than business. Mpala has thus started a campaign, inviting people to sign a petition preventing companies like Disney from patenting languages.
but like how is Disney gonna trademark a phrase in a language that existed long before the Lion King and that my country has basically being using to promote itself for decades? can they just do that?
— GiveXiuminASojuCF (@MemeNapRepeat) December 17, 2018
The argument remains that the original language, Kiswahili, has been spoken by several countries in Eastern and Southern Africa for over a century. As such, Disney should not be able to patent what it played no part in inventing. So far over 3,000 signatures have been gotten while many others have taken to social media to express their displeasure at the situation.
For Disney to trademark the Swahili phrase “Hakuna Matata”, is typical corporate colonialism which we should all say NO to. pic.twitter.com/VczFQ42T9j
— The President ?????? (@Ugaman01) December 17, 2018
Liz Lenjo, an intellectual property lawyer has said that it is unlikely for the patent to hold in any of the East African countries since the phrase is part of their everyday language. It can only be binding in areas where Disney has exclusive rights. The suggestion here is therefore that Africa begins to patent major cultural assets. This way cultural heritage is protected and rights preserved while making some good income from use of such intellectual property.