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What The Lion King's Opening Lyrics REALLY Mean

With the first trailer for the live-action Lion 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 the Lion 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.

The Circle of Life's Singer is Just as Important

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 "Lebo M.," and when the movie's directors Roger 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 the movie about?' And Roger and I explained to him, we said it's a story about a young lion who loses his father in tragic circumstances, 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

The Lion King Trailer Baby Simba

"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?

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Key Release Dates
  • The Lion King (2019) release date: Jul 19, 2019
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