It's one of the most iconic songs from Disney's hugely popular film The Lion King. 'Hakuna matata' is one of the best known and best loved songs from the film, which became Disney's 32nd animated feature film when it came out in 1994. The song also features, complete with new vocalists, in the 2019 remake.

But what does 'hakuna matata' actually mean?

Well, the song is based on the catchphrase of The Lion King's loveable meerkat-and-warthog duo, Timon and Pumbaa. In fact, it's a phrase in Swahili, a common language throughout Kenya and Tanzania.

What does 'Hakuna matata' mean?

'Hakuna matata' is Swahili for 'no worries'. As such, it is the perfect catchphrase for Timon and Pumbaa, as it perfectly reflects their relaxed, devil-may-care attitude to life.

Who are Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King?

Timon and Pumbaa are a relaxed, easygoing duo. Timon is a laid-back, quick-talking meerkat, who likes to take the credit for any bright ideas of Pumbaa's. He has one major difference from real-life meerkats, however: Timon is able to walk on his hind legs, while real meerkats walk on all four legs. They can stand on their hind legs, of course - that alert posture that we all know and love so well - but they can't move in this stance.

Pumbaa, for his part, is a great mix of comedy and bravery. He is a bold warrior - but he also has his problems with flatulence.

What is Pumbaa's other catchphrase?

Woe betide anyone who calls Pumbaa a pig (if they are not his friend). His answer is a cross 'They call me Mister pig!'. This, incidentally, is a reference to a line from the 1967 film In the Heat of the Night, and actor Sidney Poitier's line 'They call me Mister Tibbs!'. Poitier delivers the lines - and then charges, screaming. Much like Pumbaa in The Lion King, you see.

What does 'Pumbaa' mean?

Like many of the film and musical's other characters (and like the song 'Hakuna matata' itself), Pumbaa gets his name from Swahili. In that language, 'pumbaa' is a verb meaning 'to be foolish, silly, weakminded, careless, or negligent.'

But what about Pumbaa's right-hand man, Timon? Where does Timon get his name from? Well, unlike his warthog chum, Timon hasn't taken his name from the Swahili. Instead, 'Timon' was a common name in Classical Greece, and it is thought to mean 'he who respects'. Then, of course, there is the Shakespeare play Timon of Athens. That's a very suitable reference, as the plot of The Lion King as a whole owes more than a little to the storyline of Shakespeare's great tragedy, Hamlet.

Does The Lion King really have some similarities with Hamlet?

Yes, you can find similarities between the two storylines. For example, the main protagonist of each story is a prince who loses his father to the latter's wicked brother. Simba is the son of Mufasa, who is killed by his brother (and Simba's uncle), Scar; Hamlet's father is also killed by his brother, Claudius.

However, there are other possible inspirations for Timon's name. For example, there was a Greek philosopher of that name. That Timon was a disciple of Pyrrho, who founded the philosophical school of scepticism.

Who wrote the song 'Hakuna matata?'

The music for 'Hakuna matata' was written by Elton John, while the lyrics are by Tim Rice, who is well known for working with Andrew Lloyd Webber on some of the latter's best known musicals including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. Alongside Rice, much of the music for both the 1994 and 2019 versions of The Lion King was written by composer Hans Zimmer.

Does 'Hakuna matata' appear in both the films and the stage show of The Lion King?

Yes, the song appears in both the 1994 and 2019 films, and the stage musical.

Pic: Getty Images


Steve Wright
Steve WrightMulti-Platform Content Producer, BBC Music Magazine

Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.