Many people know the expression „Hakuna Matata“ from the Disney film „The Lion King“. However, only a few people know the meaning of the (actually existing!) proverb. Basically, „Hakuna Matata“ is a proverb from the African Swahili language, which directly translated means „don’t worry“. However, „Hakuna Matata“ is not just a proverb, but is also associated with a certain concept of life and a certain lifestyle.
Due to its African origin, „Hakuna Matata“ often stands in stark cultural contrast to Western cultures. In these, achievement, responsibility and striving are primarily promoted. The expression „Hakuna Matata“, on the other hand, embodies a certain lightness and carefreeness. The philosophy of life behind the term and a detailed definition of the term as well as the use of „Hakuna Matata“ will therefore be the subject of the following text. In addition, potential advantages and disadvantages of „Hakuna Matata“ will be pointed out.
What does „Hakuna Matata“ mean? Meaning, definition, explanation
The expression „Hakuna Matata“ comes from Swahili, which is a Bantu language spoken in large parts of East Africa. „Hakuna Matata“ is made up of two words. While „hakuna“ means „there are none“, „matata“ can be translated as „trouble“ or „problems“. When put together, „Hakuna Matata“ means „There are no worries/problems“.
Thus, „Hakuna Matata“ represents a popular proverb in the Swahili language, which is one of the few expressions that has also established itself in other languages. For this, „Hakuna Matata“ was adopted in its direct wording and not adapted to the corresponding languages.
In the sub-context, the proverb „Hakuna Matata“ conveys a feeling of lightness and carefreeness, which it is supposed to transport. In a way, the proverb also serves to cheer up someone who is in an emotionally difficult situation. „Hakuna Matata“ therefore stands overall for positivity, carefree and relaxed.
Origins of the expression „Hakuna Matata“
The origins of the term „Hakuna Matata“ can be traced back to the East African-Arab cultures that traded with each other thousands of years ago and were found in the regions of present-day Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Accordingly, the term originates from both the Swahili language and Arabic. Over the millennia, however, the term has become established as an everyday term, especially in the Swahili language.
Hakuna Matata“ became widely known in the western world in 1994 through the Disney film „The Lion King“, which tells the story of the young lion named „Simba“. In the film, Simba is told the meaning of the catchy saying „Hakuna Matata“ by his friends, which is accompanied by music.
Within the following years, the term „Hakuna Matata“ has also become established in the everyday languages of Western cultures. Most recently, „Hakuna Matata“ has again experienced increased hype in the everyday language of generations Z and Alpha (especially on the social platforms Instagram and TikTok).
Use of the expression „Hakuna Matata“
In addition to its original use in the East African region, the expression „Hakuna Matata“ gained greater recognition from 1994 onwards, especially within the Western world. Accordingly, it became a popular motto worldwide, which found its way into film, television, pop culture and large parts of society. In the following subsections, the use of „Hakuna Matata“ in the following areas will be discussed:
- Film, music and other media
- Pop culture
Hakuna Matata in film, music and other media
The expression „Hakuna Matata“ has been increasingly used in film, music and other media since its use in the film and musical „The Lion King“ in 1994. But even before that, it was occasionally used in song lyrics such as Bob Marley’s „Three Little Birds“ or Jimmy Cliff’s „Hakuna Matata“. In the fashion industry, T-shirts, caps and other garments with „Hakuna Matata“ printed on them are also very popular. At the same time, the overuse of „Hakuna Matata“ in the aforementioned areas is also often criticised, as it is understood as cultural appropriation, or a misuse of cultural expressions. Within the last 3 years, „Hakuna Matata“ has also established itself as a popular expression in social networks. Here, „Hakuna Matata“ is mainly used in connection with a hashtag as #HakunaMatata.
Hakuna Matata in pop culture
In the meantime, „Hakuna Matata“ has also become an equally important element in pop culture. For example, the relaxed and carefree attitude to life inherent in the expression is a popular theme for songs, advertising slogans and marketing strategies. The life-affirming and positive message behind „Hakuna Matata“ therefore recently appeared in the following pop songs, for example:
- „Hakuna Matata“ by „Die Atzen & Menderes“ from 2021.
- „Hakuna Matata“ by „DJ Katch feat. Ramón Estevez“ from 2019
- „Hakuna Matata“ by „Danny Romero feat. Lérica“ from 2019
Hakuna Matata in society
„Hakuna Matata“ has now also acquired a certain significance in everyday social life. For example, the expression is often used to spread a positive attitude towards life and to feel equipped to face obstacles and challenges that life often presents. „Hakuna Matata“ is therefore a popular catchphrase used socially within the fields of wellness, self-help, mental health, relaxation and leisure. There it serves as a popular mantra that has a calming and relaxing effect. However, „Hakuna Matata“ can also be seen as superficial advice, which does not seem to fully cover the complex problems of life. In society, however, „Hakuna Matata“ has become a popular saying in all age groups.
The concept behind the expression „Hakuna Matata
The concept behind the expression „Hakuna Matata“ is closely based on the African philosophy of life, according to which not all events in life can be influenced one hundred percent. Accordingly, it is important to live in harmony with nature and one’s fellow human beings and to have a positive attitude towards life. Furthermore, „Hakuna Matata“ means that one should live in the here and now and not think too much about the future. Therefore, „Hakuna Matata“ propagates a relaxed and relatively carefree way of life. Also important values that the expression conveys in its undertone are mindfulness and respect.
It should also be noted, however, that „Hakuna Matata“ is not a universal, African concept. As the expression originates from the Swahili language, which is widespread in East Africa, the term is primarily oriented towards the history and culture of this region. This is historically marked by civil wars, colonial rule, wars, droughts and famines. These are strongly negative events that cause people to worry and fear for the future. In such a threatening and unstable world, people tend to free themselves emotionally from these situations and display positivity, despite pervasive negativity. The bottom line is that „Hakuna Matata“ is a symbol for the relaxed attitude of East Africans.
Criticisms of the „Hakuna Matata“ concept of life
Although the proverb „Hakuna Matata“ is a positive life motto, there are also many criticisms of the concept behind it. The main criticism is that „Hakuna Matata“ can lead to irresponsible or unproductive attitudes. By ignoring one’s potential problems, they could not possibly be solved. Personal responsibility is therefore an important quality that the expression tries to undermine. It is also criticised that those who live by „Hakuna Matata“ almost inevitably settle into their individual comfort zone and do not take on any more challenges. However, these are important for personal and social growth. Furthermore, the West in particular is criticised for generalising a lazy, irresponsible and careless way of life of all Africans with the saying „Hakuna Matata“. According to this, the West completely misunderstands the culture of Africans. Critics of „Hakuna Matata“ often belong to the school of dynamic self-image and believe that all events and situations in life can be influenced individually.
Advantages and disadvantages of „Hakuna Matata
The „Hakuna Matata“ attitude offers a number of advantages and disadvantages, which will be summarised here:
- Positive life motto (encourages enjoyment and overcoming fears)
- Helps reduce stress
- Promotes living in the here and now
- Can be useful for a change of perspective
- Can cause lack of responsibility
- Stagnation, settling into comfort zone and listlessness
- Avoidance or sitting out conflicts (instead of resolving them)
- Favours a superficial understanding of (East) African culture
However, interpretations of „Hakuna Matata“ can be very individual, and this is also true of how the principles behind the concept are lived out. While some aspects of „Hakuna Matata“ may seem negative, individually they can also be seen as an advantage.
Conclusion on „Hakuna Matata“
So, in summary, „Hakuna Matata“ is an East African proverb from the Swahili language that translates as „there are no worries“. The proverb is associated with a concept of life that promotes light-heartedness, freedom from worries and a positive attitude to life. It found its way into the everyday languages of Western cultures via the film „The Lion King“ (1994) and is now often represented in music, the internet and culture.
The proverb „Hakuna Matata“ is similar to the expressions „Carpe Diem“ and „Live in the here and now“. While „Live in the here and now“ would also sell well as a German translation of „Hakuna Matata“, „Carpe Diem“ rather means to seize („Carpe“) your day („Diem“) in order to make the best progress in life and to strive for happiness. „Carpe Diem“ therefore promotes quite an opposite attitude towards life compared to „Hakuna Matata“.