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Hakuna Matata! The Swahili Mistakes Disney Has Taught You

Kilimanjaro Safaris
Credit: Disney

Jambo! It’s one of the most unique – and wild – attractions in theme parks across the world. There’s nothing that matches Kilimanjaro Safaris at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Home to incredible wildlife, a massive savanna, and a bumpy ride in one of the iconic Harambe Wildlife Reserve vehicles, the ride is renowned for being different every time Guests venture into the African reserve. With over 30 species of animals found in over 110 acres of open plains, there is plenty for Guests to spot on their next Disney safari.

Inspired by our love for Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Walt Disney World, we went on a big African adventure to Tanzania, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and going on a real-life Kilimanjaro Safari. 

And it gave us a huge lesson in what Swahili mistakes not to make the next time you visit Harambe, eat at Tusker House, or ride Kilimanjaro Safaris!

Harambe Market

Credit: Disney

In the real-life Serengeti National Park, there are no wait times, no Lightning Lanes, and a very different “Kilimanjaro Safari” experience. 

It was actually difficult to remember that we weren’t on a Disney ride and that everything we saw was real. We had to remind ourselves that the dirt track wasn’t a well-constructed Imagineering design, the safari vehicle could just stop and go off-road whenever it wanted, and the animals weren’t in carefully thought-out zoo areas.

We had our own personal Land Cruiser and Tanzanian Guide, who was an expert in animal knowledge and led us to magnificent encounters with elephants, zebras, lions, cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, and so much more.

But what was most interesting was transferring our Swahili knowledge gained from multiple experiences in Harambe Village at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We thought we were visiting Tanzania with a magical Disney advantage of language.

kilimanjaro real safari tanzania

Credit: Disney TipsBoy, were we in for a surprise. There are so many beautiful Swahili words that we, of course, didn’t even know about and many Swahili terms that were so familiar, yet used so differently than at the Walt Disney World Resort or in Disney’s animated classic The Lion King (1994).

Our big adventure to Mt. Kilimanjaro led us to discover a list of words in Swahili that Disney fans likely think they know, but may find they’re wrong about, and we’re here to boost your Swahili knowledge so you can show off next time you’re in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park!

Jambo

“Jambo!” was how we excitedly greeted everyone we met in Africa. We had learned this word for “Hello” from our time in Harambe Village – in particular on the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction. 

We were confused, though, when the primary response was “Jambo Bwana!” What’s Bwana? The locals’ formal response, “Jambo, Bwana” is often referred to as Kenya and Tanzania’s “tourist anthem.” It’s a popular welcoming song for foreigners and a good beginner Swahili language lesson. Bwana is oftentimes translated as “sir,” but it’s steeped in history of colonialism, and can also be thought of as meaning “boss” or even “master.”

There’s also a famous song that can be heard across camps after summit day success on the Kilimanjaro mountain. The song is sung by the guides and porters after a successful climb accompanied by dancing and clapping.

kilimanjaro hike summit mountain africa

Credit: Disney Tips

“Jambo Bwana” was originally a Kenyan song released in 1982 by Them Mushrooms. The song’s creation stemmed from a conversation that the band leader, Teddy Harrison, overheard while performing in a hotel in Mombasa. There were two tourists trying to speak Swahili and practicing basic conversational phrases. Harrison wrote the song using the same simple phrases to teach Swahili to foreigners:

Jambo! Jambo bwana!
Habari gani? Mzuri sana!
Wageni, mwakaribishwa!
Kilimanjaro? Hakuna matata!

Hello! Hello sir!
How are you? Very well!
Guests, you are welcome!
Kilimanjaro? No trouble!

Credit: Disney

Asante Sana, Squash Banana

“Asante Sana” means “thank you very much.” “Asante” on its own simply means “thank you,” but it was very hard at first to get the willpower not to follow every thank you with “squash banana!”

Squash banana in Swahili simply means squash banana. In The Lion King, Rafiki sings: “Asante sana Squash banana, Wewe nugu mimi hapana,” which translates to “Thank you very much, Squash banana, You’re a baboon and I’m not.”

The rhyme is a specific tribe’s tease rhyme, as “nugu” is actually not a Swahili word but rather a Kikuyu term.

Kwaherini

Walt Disney World Guests have been told for years on Kilimanjaro Safaris that “Kwaherini” means “Go well,” but it may surprise you to learn that Disney misled you. The word means simply “Goodbye.”

We were actually puzzled when we heard our guides (and the National Park signs) say “Kwaheri,” and kept thinking Walt Disney World was really wrong. “Kwaherini” is just the plural version of “Goodbye.”

So they do in fact say goodbye when you get off Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Festival of the Lion King

Credit: Disney

Hakuna Matata

Since Timon and Pumbaa’s lesson in “no worries”, these famous words have been as iconic as The Lion King itself.

And in the Parks, The Festival of the Lion King has cemented these words with the Tumble Monkeys’ performance to the song. Guests have been enjoying the show since its opening date back on April 22, 1998, the same day as the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park (along with Kilimanjaro Safaris) itself.

The show is a celebration with Simba and his friends, featuring stilt-walkers, puppeteers, dancers, and hosts in traditional African dress. Each of the four hosts has a Swahili name: Kiume (meaning “masculine and strong”), Nakawa (“good-looking”), Kibibi (“princess”), and Zawadi (“the gift”). The Lion King show celebrates the incredible songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, including Simba and Zazu’s “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, Scar’s “Be Prepared”. and Simba and Nala’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”.

And “Hakuna Matata” really means “no worries,” and the locals in Tanzania say it a lot. 

If I apologized for being slow, or we dropped something, or we mispronounced a word, they would reply “Hakuna Matata.” It was all very exciting.

elephant safari

Credit: Disney Tips

So, there you have it: your Swahili guide for visiting Tanzania, or even the next time you’re in Harambe Village!

Get ready to say Jambo to Cast Members, Asante Sana for the magic, and Kwaheri at the end of your theme park day.

About Melissa Cannioto

Melissa is an author, adventurer, and chatterbox, who has worked at Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and Adventures by Disney! A British native, she has traveled the world seeking new experiences, and now resides in Florida with her husband, an Air Force pilot. Find her children's book at @bear.hug.book