Lion King song lost in translation

WE all grew up with Disney stories, and one particular favourite was The Lion King.

We all danced around our living rooms, singing the ‘The Circle of Life,’ imagining ourselves as Simba looking out over Pride Rock.

But have you ever wondered what the true meaning is of those opening lyrics by Elton John?

In the IsiZulu language, the lyrics goes something like this: ‘Nansi ingonyama bakithi baba’ – meaning ‘There comes a lion’, then ‘Sithi uhhmm ingonyama’ – ‘Oh yes, it’s a lion’.

Well, it makes sense since the story is about a lion.

But it’s the second part that truly confuses me – ‘Ingonyama ingwe enamabala’ – direct translation: ‘A lion, a leopard with spots’.

Really! I didn’t know the leopard was also part of the mix.

But what confuses me even more is when you search for the lyrics on many online sites; it’s written ‘Ingonyama nengwe enamabala’ and then translated into ‘A lion and a leopard come to this open place’.

This doesn’t make sense at all.

I’m sorry to ruin your childhood experience of The Lion King, but this translation is not only false, but doesn’t really mean anything.

Firstly, where does a leopard feature in the lion kingdom?

We all know how those two can’t stand each other, and for centuries have remained rivals.

Secondly, there is no leopard as part of this story, and nothing says anything about the two going into some ‘open space’.

This means almost everyone in the world has, for many years, been singing a song which they don’t understand.

Shocker, right? It’s funny, yet wildly devastating all at the same time.

I challenge you to listen to the song one more time and ask your Zulu speaking friend to translate it for you.

You will soon learn you’ve been singing the wrong thing your whole life, but you might disagree with me, and if so, Hakuna Matata!

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  AUTHOR
Wellington Makwakwa
Journalist

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