HOLLYWOOD USA. Disney company has been accused of “colonialism and robbery” for trademarking the Swahili phrase “hakuna matata” which was made famous by the blockbuster animated film The Lion King.
“Hakuna matata” meaning “No worries” or “‘No problem” in Swahili and it was the title of a song, written by Sir Elton John and Sir Tim Rice, for the film. The song was nominated for an Oscar.
More than 60,000 people have so far signed a petition accusing the company of modern day colonialism and cultural appropriation, and also, demanding that it drop commercial rights to the words.
The petition says: “Join us and say NO to DISNEY or any corporations or individuals looking to trademark languages, terms or phrases they didn’t invent.”
According to the petition the phrase has been used for centuries by Swahili speaking tribes across Africa, including countries such as Tanzania, KenyaK, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Shelton Mpala, a Zimbabwean activist who started the online petition, said: “I liken this to colonialism and robbery, the appropriation of something you have no right over whatsoever.
“Imagine, if we were to go that route, then we owe the British royalties for everyone who speaks English, or France for when we speak French. Disney can’t be allowed to trademark something that it didn’t invent.”
Mr Mpala said: “I want to draw attention to the appropriation of African culture, and the importance of protecting our heritage, identity and culture from being exploited for financial gain by third parties.
“This plundered artwork serves to enrich or benefit these corporations and not the creators or people it’s derived from. A lot of Swahili speakers have been utterly shocked, they had no idea this was happening.”
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan professor at the University of California, called Disney’s legal appropriation of the words “horrifying”.
The current controversy began in November in Kenya when Cathy Mputhia, founder of an intellectual property law firm, wrote an article in Business Daily, a Kenyan newspaper, citing the trademarking “hakuna matata” as an example of corporate “pilferage of African culture”.
He said: “It would be like trademarking ‘good morning’ or ‘it is raining cats and dogs’ in the case of English. It’s a common phrase we use every other day. No company can own it.”
Disney is releasing an eagerly anticipated remake of the film next year featuring the voices of singer Beyonce and British star Chiwetel Ejiofor.
According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, Disney first applied to trademark the phrase in 1994, when The Lion King came out, and was granted rights to it in 2003.
That trademark is still active and means Disney can sue other companies that use it on a T-shirt. It cannot sue people for using the phrase in speech.
It was the latest trademark row to hit the Hollywood studio. It previously withdrew an attempt to trademark “Dia de los Muertos” – a Mexican holiday meaning ‘the day of the dead’ – after objections from Hispanic groups.
Disney had no immediate comment on the controversy.
More details soon……….