I can’t honestly say “everything I learned about Africa I learned from Disney’s The Lion King“, but our trip to Tanzania last month revealed at least four key things the movie taught me about the area and its people. I had no idea any of these points were based in fact, but in retrospect I’m not surprised (the folks at Disney are pretty clever).
For example, did you know elephant graveyards really exist? Silly 14-year-old me thought it was just a way to describe an area the young Simba and Nala should avoid: scary and dangerous.
Did they take dramatic license? Sure. But I was impressed elephant graveyards have basis in fact.
As our guide explained during our drive through the Ngorongoro Crater, old elephants seek out softer leaves as their teeth wear down, bringing many of them inside the crater where it’s more readily available. When they do reach the ends of their lives, the bones are left behind in that general area. There aren’t dozens and dozens of skulls (or barren expanses of rock shrouded in dramatic fog, for that matter), but the concept is accurate.
Another surprise (at least to me) was that the phrase “hakuna matata” actually exists in Swahili. In fact, in 1980 a Kenyan hotel band created a song that features the phrase (which literally translates to “there are no worries”) in its refrain. I kept thinking I heard it mixed into conversation between staff-members at our camp sites, but shrugged it off figuring I must be hearing similar sounds and blending them into something I’d heard in the movie. Then, this happened:
This small group of Iraqu performed for us before dinner our first night at the Ngorongoro Farm House (and recruited us to join the dance – you can see Zeke’s parents and Zeke himself in this clip). There’s no mistaking the refrain, so I suppose it “ain’t no passin’ craze” after all.
As we’ve heard before from travel expert Samantha Brown, learning a few key phrases in the local language can be a huge asset when you travel abroad. When I looked up how to say “thank you very much” in Swahili I was surprised to find a phrase I recognized from Rafiki’s song to Simba:
No, it’s not “squash banana”. “Asante sana”, the first two words in Rafiki’s rhyme, mean “thank you very much” in Swahili. We used the phrase a lot, and I smiled every time.
Lastly, I found it interesting that outcroppings of rock (some very similar to The Lion King’s Pride Rock) really do dot the savanna.
The rocks are remnants of volcanic explosions in the area; they were literally ejected and scattered across the Serengeti. Not only are the rocks out there – we even found lions hanging out on them.
So score a few for Disney; they taught me more than a realized about Africa.