When words/phrases are used amongst cross borders, such use has immense emotion attached to it among the local linguistic groups. Common examples are – Namaste, Khadi, Yoga Aasanas, As-Salaam-Alaikum, etc.

Similarly in Swahili, (a native language of the African Great Lakes region and other parts of eastern and south-eastern Africa) the phrase “Hakuna Matata” translates to - “no worries”. We are all familiar with the popular phrase used in the Disney movie – The Lion King. Such usage popularized the local underrated phrase and also brought the world’s notice towards the Swahili group. However, recently, Walt Disney has sought trademark rights over the phrase for its film “The Lion King”. There is a petition being circulated on the social media that asks Disney to relinquish its rights to the phrase. It states that Disney’s move of monopolising a traditional Swahili phrase for itself has led to an emotional response. Surprisingly, some petitions call it ‘an assault on the Swahili people and Africa as a whole’.

You may wonder – why the chaos? Well, we agree that such native phrases unless derogatory in nature, can undoubtedly be good trademarks. However, these native phrases have a regional emotion attached to it. If the trademark application was made by the local Swahili speaking group, it would not have attracted any negative response. But the same phrase being filed by a US based entity viz. Walt Disney has given rise to ‘heating of the emotion’ amongst the local groups. The primary reason for the local groups reacting negatively could be the disturbing thought of their local phrase being wrongly monopolized by a foreign entity. Once such a trademark is granted, this foreign entity will be free to use the phrase as per its own fancies. The current uproar being received by the local linguistic groups would not have occurred had the trademark application been filed from an individual/group from their native community.

Till Walt Disney used ‘Hakuna Matata’ in its movie – The Lion King, in good light, such use was appreciated and justified, however, to have a general trademark in its own name caused a storm.

Now, is the petition a merely lack of understanding trademarks or a self-induced promotional activity ahead of “The Lion King’s” re-launch, is a question we leave for the readers?!

Compiled by: Adv. Sachi Kapoor | Concept & Edited by: Dr. Mohan Dewan

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