Zuka Zama! A Chat With The Lion Guard’s Swahili Expert, Sarah Mirza

The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar is premiering tonight at 7 p.m.|6 central on Disney Channel with a special two-hour event, and it continues the legacy of The Lion King in more ways than one. Just like the original film, the new series incorporates Swahili into its script, weaving a seamless thread from the characters to the place they live—the savanna. We were lucky enough to sit down with Sarah Mirza, the show’s Swahili consultant, to learn about her inspiration and what working on the project has been like. Born in Mombasa, Kenya, Mirza studied Linguistics at the University of Nairobi before moving to the U.S. to get her postgraduate degree. She’s taught at UCLA, and wrote the key Swahili teaching text used in schools around the globe.


So how did she react upon being offered the consulting role for the show? “I just jumped up and down and said, ‘finally this is going to happen!’ We need a follow up, because I’ll meet people at parties, and they’ll say they don’t know any Swahili and I’ll say, ‘really? Do you know Hakuna Matata? Do you know Simba? Do you know Rafiki?’ And they say ‘yes’, and I say, ‘well that’s Swahili.’ So I’ve been wanting to go past the four words to more!”

Ultimately, it was the shows producers that persuaded Mirza to come on board. “They were so excited about adding Swahili [to the show] that I thought, I want to be a part of this show. It’s been a great opportunity for me in terms of spreading the Swahili word … Swahili is one of those languages that’s not intimidating. Everyone working on the show has really embraced it.”

Mirza has come up with several “Lion Guard-isms” that are unique to the show. “It’s what we call Swinglish. Half English and half Swahili.” She would come up with the names of the characters and their catchphrases, based on a variety of different factors. For example, the alligator character is named Makuu, which means “big things,” because he’s a showoff. “I just love this show so much and I have such a fun time working on it. It’s such a fun show,  it really is. I feel so lucky that I’m working on it. It’s made me this creative person that I didn’t know I was.”


Mirza has provided us with some of the Swahili terms used in the show, so study up before tonight’s premiere!


Character Catchphrases:

Kion: Hevi kabisa! Totally intense!

Bunga: Zuka Zama! Pop up, dive in!

Fuli: Huwezi! You can’t (catch me)!

Beshte: Twende Kiboko! Let’s go hippo!

Ono: Hapana! Oh, no!


And some other fun ones:

Elephant: Tembo

Rhino: Kifaru

Ostrich: Mbuni

Child: Mtoto

Welcome: Karibu

Amazing/surprising/unusual: Ajabu

Thank You: Asante

(to) Build: Jenga

Posted 6 years Ago
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