What The Lion King's Opening Lyrics REALLY Mean

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

"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.

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Source: The Making of The Lion King, Genius

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