What The Lion King's Opening Lyrics REALLY Mean (2024)

With the first trailer for the live-actionLion King movie now released, the question everyone originally asked has returned:what do the lyrics to the opening son actually mean? We guarantee almost every fan will want to know, since translating the lyrics means you'll never watch theLion King's opening, or hear "The Circle of Life" the same way again.

There's a bit more to unlocking the real 'meaning' of the first lines of the song and film than simply translating Zulu to English. In a movie dripping in African storytelling, royal intrigue, and classic Disney heroism and coming-of-age, the song is just as polished in its own rite. And considering how closely the new Lion King matches the original, a new generation will be just as stunned to hear its opening cries... and if history repeats itself, be desperate to know the translation of the words that follow.

So, if you're ready to potentially have your mind blown,Lion King fans, prepare to learn the secret meaning of the movie's opening song.

  • This Page: Who Speaks The Opening Lines?
  • Next Page: Simba's Secret Promise to His Father

The Circle of Life's Singer is Just as Important

What The Lion King's Opening Lyrics REALLY Mean (1)

First things first: toss the famous Broadway adaptation of "The Circle of Life" out of your head, since it frames the song as Rafiki's voice. The truth is far better, too, since Lion King composer Hans Zimmer sought out his very own exiled son of Africa to give words to the film's opening song. His only choice was South Africa's "LeboM.," and when the movie's directorsRoger Allers and Rob Minkoff met him, the deal was sealed in minutes. Minkoff explained the encounter in the Making of The Lion King featurette:

The first question he asked us was 'what is themovie about?' And Roger and I explained to him, we said it's a story about a young lion who loses his fatherin tragiccirc*mstances, and ultimately has to rise up to his responsibility as king. And he got very thoughtful, and he walked away, and he started jotting notes on a piece of paper. Then he came back and he said, 'OK, I'm ready' - and it was all in African.

Hans played the musical track and Lebo and his two friends started this chant, the 'Ingonyama ingwe' enamabala.' And it was just magic. It was unbelievable. And then later we said 'well what does it mean?' and when he explained the translation... he had found the heart of the movie.

With a tease like that, knowing what those lines translated to should be downright irresistible. So allow us to share the explanation for those very lines, which can be heard sung in Lebo M.'s own voice in the film's opening.

The Circle of Life's First Lines

What The Lion King's Opening Lyrics REALLY Mean (2)

"Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba/Sithi uhm ingonyama"

Once the shock of seeing what syllables and words are actually being belted out over images of a savannah sunrise, the translation of both the first line, and the chorus' response seems obvious. Literally, the line says "a lion is coming, father."But instead of laughing at the seemingly mundane meaning, remember: translating the words isn't the same as translating the idea being communicated. For starters, use Google and you'll learn the Zulu word for a "lion" is ibhubesi, not ingonyama. That's because the more fitting translation would be that "The Lion is coming, father," which is also the word the Zulu use for king. So make that"A King is coming, father."

The "nants" also raises the level of speech to a greater occasion or meaning, something close to "witness," or "behold." Fans can decide for themselves if the voice is metaphorically that of Simba speaking to Mufasa, either outside of the text or unspoken as he later rises to his destiny. It could also be one of the assembled animals speaking to their father as they travel to witness their future king. The response from the chorus is in agreement, so any reading of it works in accompaniment to the opening scene.

So yes, these lyrics pack a whole lot more meaning than a simple translation will give you. And if the tears aren't welling up in your eyes for Simba already... then the next lines are going to do the job.

Page 2 of 2: The Next Lines: Simba's Promise to Mufasa?

What The Lion King's Opening Lyrics REALLY Mean (3)

The Circle of Life's First Promise

"Siyo Nqoba (baba)"

The literal meaning here is once again saying that victory, or a "conquering" will be achieved. And while it isn't listed in the official lyrics, it's easy to hear Lebo M. repeat the use of "baba" in between the first and second verses of the song. After he utters this line (including the unmistakable Zulu glottoral "pop") which translate to "we will conquer," it sounds again like the ending of "Nqoba" masks another call out to the singer's father. That makes the calling out to a father the cap on the first line, the second, and even this third one.

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The translation is tricky even if the words are clear (check out the translation at Genius) given the connotations of war that "conquer" brings in English (the word "overcome" or "achieve" has no such negative angle). No matter the specifics, the addition of the father callout helps bring the opening segments of the song together in a way translated lines can't. Together, the lines effectively say: "Behold a king is coming, father (the king). I will conquer, father (the king)."

And since the "I conquer" can also mean "we conquer" given the accompanying voices, it's still possible to read these words as Simba's, another animal's, all the other animals combined--heck, why not Mufasa's to his own father? Not hard to see why the directors felt Lebo M. understood the "heart" of Simba's journey to king.

The Circle of Life's Zulu Chant

What The Lion King's Opening Lyrics REALLY Mean (4)

"Ingonyama ingwe' enamabala (repeat)"

The part which concludes the Zulu opening of "The Circle of Life" was actually the first to be sung, and the meaning of the "chant" is the most obscure for those looking only at the translation. Explicitly, the meaning is even more difficult to pin down, since it literally means "lion, leopard, open space." Two pretty obscure animals to choose out of the dozens in the scene, and the shift from "king" to a literal lion is just as confusing. And why the open space? But to understand this one, you need to know a simple fact about African big cats: lions and leopards do NOT get along.

Most of the time leopards will keep their distance from lions, but are known to attack and kill lion cubs if they're left unattended by their parents. Whether true or not, the idea that leopards choose to knowingly kill the young of their 'enemies' or kill a future threat takes hold among those who live near them. Add in the fact that leopards feed mostly on the animals gathered for Simba's presentation in The Lion King's opening, and the meaning of the words is easier to grasp.

Lion, Leopard, in the open. Enemies making a truce, existing without threat - all in response to the future king's arrival. and to those who have seen the movie, a son uniting a people in tribute to his father is the perfect way to open and close the story. In fact, now that we think about it, it could even be Simba's son dreaming of being as mighty a king as his own father, after hearing this story at his side.

...we're not crying. You're crying.

MORE: Why Lion King Was 'An Experiment' For The Director

Source:The Making of The Lion King, Genius

Key Release Dates

  • The Lion KingRelease Date:2019-07-19
What The Lion King's Opening Lyrics REALLY Mean (2024)

FAQs

What is the deeper meaning behind The Lion King? ›

They must confront their fears and overcome obstacles to become true leaders. Simba's journey is essential to "The Lion King's" philosophical message about balance and harmony in the natural world. His transformation is a powerful reminder of the importance of accepting responsibility and embracing one's true identity.

What do the African words in The Lion King mean? ›

Simba means lion, Nala means gift, and Mufasa means king. And our teachers of the meaning of hakuna matada need a mention here too: Timon means respect, while Pumbaa means slow-witted. In fact, all of the names in The Lion King have origins in Swahili; everyone from Rafiki (friend) to Zazu (movement)!

What is the beginning of The Lion King? ›

'The Circle of Life', the opening call in The Lion King, marks the moment the young Simba is held up by Rafiki for all the animals of Pride Rock to see. And it perfectly sets the tone for the remarkable African-influenced score for the Disney classic.

What language is the beginning of the circle of life? ›

Because the opening verse of 'Circle of Life' is sung in Zulu, the most widely spoken home language in South Africa. That famous first line of the song is actually spelled: "Nants ingonyama, bagithi Baba." Translated into English, it means: "Here comes a lion, father."

What is the moral message of The Lion King? ›

Because what really sits at the heart of the Lion King story is the ability to forgive ourselves for the past, the mistakes we have made and the things we can't change, and look to the future with pride at how far we've come on our journey, and how much more there is to learn and experience in the world around us.

What does Mufasa mean in Swahili? ›

Mufasa is a name of African origin that means “king” or “ruler.” The name has Swahili roots and is commonly used in the eastern regions of Africa. In Swahili, the word “mufasa” is derived from the verb “ku-fasa,” which means to “rule over” or “govern.” 🦁

What does zazu mean in Swahili? ›

Mufasa means King. Timon means Respect. Pumbaa means Slow-Witted. Zazu means Movement.

What does timon mean in Swahili? ›

Timon is a name derived from Greek vocubulary. It means 'the respectful one', and may only be roughly translated to Swahili as 'mwenye heshima'.

What is the real story behind The Lion King? ›

While certain aspects of the story vary, the general narrative remains constant. Mandinka griots tell a story of King Naré Maghann Konaté, the real-life Mufasa. It was prophesied that if he took on an ugly wife, she would give birth to a son who would become a mighty and magnificent king.

What is the meaning of the circle of life? ›

Perhaps you think of a ring, the sun or the moon. Perhaps you think of bicycles or cycles such as plant cycles or life cycles. The circle of life is a symbolic representation of birth, survival and death. Life is represented as a circle because it's a constant loop.

What is the meaning of the name Simba? ›

Meaning:Lion; Strength, strong, power. Simba is a boy's name of Swahili origin celebrated by many an inner child across the world. Meaning "lion," Simba has reached a legendary status thanks to the beloved lead character in The Lion King.

What are the African words in The Lion King? ›

There is a lot of words borrowed from the Swahili language in the Lion king movie. First, Simba means lion in Swahili, Rafiki means friend, Mufasa means ruler or leader, Pumbaa means stupid, Shenzi means uncouth or uncivilized. Asante sana means thank you very much, wewe = you, Mimi = me, hapana = No or not.

What is the Zulu chant in The Lion King? ›

The Circle Of Life has at the beginning a Zulu chant “Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama Nants ingonyama bagithi baba Sithi uhhmm ingonyama Ingonyama Siyo Nqoba Ingonyama Ingonyama nengw' enamabala" translated means: "Here comes a lion, father Oh yes it's a lion Here comes a lion, father Oh yes it's a ...

Is lion King Zulu or Swahili? ›

In fact, many of the lovable (and some not so lovable) Disney film's character's names are from the beautiful Swahili language, the predominant language spoken in East Africa – specifically Kenya and Tanzania.

What is the main point of The Lion King? ›

The main idea in The Lion King is to simply move on from your past. Whatever happened in the past is simply just that — in the past. The moral of the story is to learn from it, grow personally from it, and then move on with your life and don't dwell on things.

What does King lion symbolize? ›

The lion is a common charge in heraldry. It traditionally symbolises courage, nobility, royalty, strength, stateliness and valour, because historically the lion has been regarded as the "king of beasts".

What is the hidden meaning of the lion? ›

In many cultures, the lion symbolizes strength, power, and courage, often associated with royalty and leadership. It has been a prominent symbol in heraldry, representing nobility and authority.

What is the main message of lion? ›

Positive messages about the power of family bonds, how finding and understanding your past can be the key to move toward your future, and the impact of a loving family on a child. Themes include compassion, gratitude, and perseverance.

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