- “You follow ol' Rafiki! He knows the way!”
- ―Rafiki to Simba
It is revealed in the storybook A Tale of Two Brothers that Rafiki wasn't always a resident of the Pride Lands. Years before Simba and Mufasa's reign, Rafiki was a traveler studying the African lands who eventually stumbled upon the Pride Lands, where he was attacked by a young Shenzi, Banzai and Ed. The mandrill was saved by Ahadi, the former ruler of the Pride Lands and father of Mufasa and Scar (then known as Taka).
Eventually taking residence in the vast lands, Rafiki would soon become close companions with Mufasa and one day overheard Taka's plot to sabotage his brother's reputation, only to be foiled by the mandrill. The end results in Taka falling injured, with Rafiki using his abilities to tend to his wounds and heal him, though one mark remains on the lion's body - his scar, thus becoming the dangerously-envious Prince Scar.
Rafiki's heroic performance throughout the event leads to Ahadi requesting that the mandrill serves as the adviser to all future kings, which Rafiki accepts.
By the time of The Lion King, Rafiki lives in an ancient baobab tree, where he regularly performs shamanistic activities.
Rafiki is extremely sagacious and wise. His way of exploiting his intelligence, however, is highly irregular; he prefers to teach his pupils (such as Simba) by bombarding them with cryptic metaphors, and typically in a way that purposely annoys them. He takes great joy in this, and although unconventional, the methods of his teaching have proven to be effective time and time again. It should be noted that part of the reason Rafiki's teachings are rather eccentric is the fact that Rafiki, himself, is fairly eccentric. He is excitable, energetic in spite of his age, and tends to fall into fits of hysterical laughter when something amuses him. He also tends to speak in third-person when speaking of himself.
Nevertheless, much as his reputation would conceive, Rafiki does have a tamer side. He takes his role as sage of the Pride Lands somberly and will act diligently to ensure the balance of the "Circle of Life" remains intact. He is also deeply connected to the spiritual world, as he is seen communicating (both professionally and casually) with Mufasa's spirit in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride.
Rafiki's character often serves as the visual narrator of the story of The Lion King. He is shown to be a dear friend to Mufasa. He presents newborn cubs to all the animals gathered at Pride Rock, and draws a stylized lion cub on the walls of his treehouse home to represent Simba's birth. When Simba runs away and his family believes him dead, Rafiki draws his paw across the Simba drawing, obscuring it in grief. Later, after picking up Simba's scent in the dust and pollen in the air, Rafiki determines that Simba is still alive and restores the drawing, adding the full mane of an adult lion as a sign to seek out this young deliverer from Scar's tyranny. Journeying to the jungle where Simba lives with Timon and Pumbaa, Rafiki observes Simba and recognizes, at least in principle, that he is suffering from a ponderous emotional burden.
To treat it, he approaches the young lion and teaches him a few playful (and sometimes painful) lessons about learning from the past, not running from it. He also points out that the spirit and values of Simba's late father Mufasa continue to live in Simba himself. During this scene, Rafiki incessantly repeats the Swahili phrase "Asante sana, squash banana, we we nugu, mi mi apana", which roughly translates to "Thank you very much, squash banana, you are a baboon, and I am not." When Simba decides to return to Pride Rock and fight Scar for the kingship, Rafiki accompanies him, demonstrating his kung fu skills in battle against the hyenas and saves him from a hyena who tried to attack him by bashing the hyena in head hard with his stick. At the end of the film, Rafiki raises Simba and Nala's new-born cub atop Pride Rock for everyone to see, echoing the beginning of the film.
Judging by their meeting at Timon and Pumbaa's home, it would seem that Simba had not met Rafiki before that point or at the very least does not remember him.
In The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, Rafiki is more closely involved with the affairs and politics of the prides and is often seen with the lions. When the balance of the Circle of life is thrown off on account of the rivalry between Simba's pride, and Zira (a rogue lioness who along with her children and several other lionesses, was banished from The Pride Lands for being loyal to Scar), Mufasa's spirit persuades Rafiki to bring Simba's daughter Kiara and Zira's son Kovu together as a way of uniting the prides. He then asks if Mufasa is crazy and doubts that the plan will work, and is then immediately buffeted by a strong gust of wind from Mufasa's spirit, immediately convincing the mandrill to carry out the deceased king's idea.
From that point, Rafiki assists Kovu (who apparently hopes of joining Simba's pride) in earning Simba's trust and eventually tries to have the male lion and Kiara fall in love by singing to them about a place called "Upendi", which means "love" in Swahili. However, it is soon revealed that Kovu was working for Zira to kill Simba, and although he tried to abolish the plot on account of his love for Kiara, Simba exiles Kovu, blaming him for the attack. Rafiki sighs sadly on seeing Kovu leave, knowing he is not part of the attack and Simba is defying his father's goals, which completely failed and leaves the Circle of Life broken.
In the end, however, after Kovu proves his worth and works with Kiara to fix the broken circle, Rafiki blesses the union of Kovu and Kiara, and celebrates the newfound unity between the prides.
Rafiki appears briefly in the midquel The Lion King 1½, and is referred to by Timon simply as "The Monkey".
He is first seen briefly after Timon leaves his meerkat colony in search of a better life away from predators and free of tunnel digging. After explaining this to Rafiki, the mandrill openly realizes Timon seeks "Hakuna Matata", meaning "No worries", and thus introduces the meerkat to the problem-free philosophy. Rafiki then explains that, in order to find Hakuna Matata, one must look beyond what they see, setting Timon's journey in motion.
Later on, Rafiki is seen speaking with Timon's mother about his meeting with her son. Believing Rafiki sent Timon out to find a life nonexistent, resulting in him finding danger instead, Ma scolds the mandrill and heads out to find Timon with her uncle Max. Years later, Rafiki is seen visiting Timon at the latter's jungle oasis, where he (somewhat) enlightens Timon on what it is to be a true friend and the true power of Hakuna Matata.
During the film's finale, Rafiki is lastly seen attending the theater viewing of the film, alongside the other characters from the film, as well as a large amount of Disney characters.
Rafiki appears in a few episodes of the Timon & Pumbaa TV series and also has his own series of episodes called "Rafiki Fables" in the same show. In the episode "Rafiki's Apprentice", Rafiki is shown to have a nephew named Nefu and, at the same time, Rafiki is portrayed as being a sorcerer/shaman and his walking stick is his magic staff, which Nefu messes with and ends up causing trouble (a plot somewhat similar to The Sorcerer's Apprentice).
He makes occasional appearances outside of his own stories in Timon and Pumbaa's stories, acting as a therapist during times of stress within their friendship. It is also shown that Rafiki can grant wishes (or as he calls them, "Rafiki Wishes", with his policy being only one wish per animal) and can also take back wishes as well.
Rafiki is a recurring guest in the TV series House of Mouse. His most memorable scene was in the episode "The Stolen Cartoons", where Timon yelled that there was a fly in Pumbaa's soup and that he wanted one as well. Timon then asks what's in Simba's soup and he replies that it is Rafiki, who is bathing in his soup.
He was given his own advertisement at the end of "King Larry Swings In", which promoted Rafiki's Royal Treatment—a service in which Rafiki could be hired to partake in special events like birthdays, tea parties, holidays and puppet shows.
Rafiki also made several cameo appearances in Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse, during crowd shots and the finale song.
Rafiki returns in the animated series, first appearing in the pilot film, The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar.
In the film, Rafiki is first seen during the opening song, "A Brand New Day", joyously popping out of his tree as Kion and Bunga pass by. Later on, he discovers that Kion has been chosen to become the leader of the new Lion Guard. Though Simba is against the idea, feeling Kion is not ready, Rafiki is an avid supporter, believing it to be fate. The mandrill is able to quickly convince Simba to go along with informing his son of his destiny, and in order to do so, he and Rafiki take the young cub to a hidden area of Pride Rock, where paintings on the stone walls tell the story of the previous Lion Guard. Rafiki is seen again during the climax, where Rafiki, Simba, and Nala are able to witness a Kion-led Lion Guard successfully defending the land from a pack of hyenas. With this, Kion has proven himself to be worthy of the responsibility, though Rafiki is unsurprised.
In a parody trailer for the film Lilo & Stitch, Rafiki is seen showcasing the iconic "Circle of Life" scene from the film, only to find that baby Simba has been replaced with the film's protagonist, Stitch.
In the animated blooper reel featured in the The Lion King: Diamond Edition special features, Rafiki is seen twice; first seen falling asleep during a scene with Simba, while another shows him accidentally tripping over something and dropping Simba off the ledge of Pride Rock, in the middle of "Circle of Life".
In Timon and Pumbaa's Wild About Safety, Rafiki is seen in the form of a trophy in the episode Honest and Real!.
Rafiki is first mentioned by Nala after being rescued by the valiant Sora and his friends, Donald Duck and Goofy. Sora's bravery leads Nala to believe he may have a chance at saving the Pride Lands from the tyrannical Scar and become the new king. She escorts them to Pride Rock where a brief meeting with Rafiki is held. Unfortunately, Rafiki denies Nala's expectations, claiming Sora lacks the right attributes needed to be the ruler of the land.
He isn't seen again until later on, after Sora, Nala, Donald, and Goofy make way for the jungle oasis to find Simba, who was believed to be dead until Sora revealed otherwise. Rafiki learns of Simba's fate (much like in the film) and celebrates. Rafiki is last seen, during the first visit, inducting Simba into the throne.
Rafiki returns during the second visit where an army of Scar's ghost begins haunting the Pride Lands. Simba asks Rafiki for guidance, only to be told the ghosts thrive off of Simba's insecure heart, much to the king's dismay. In the end, after the ghosts are defeated, Rafiki is there to see Sora and friends off, bestowing a few wise words for their travels before they depart.
In the musical based on the film, the character of Rafiki went through a minor change. Because director Julie Taymor felt that the story lacked the presence of a strong female, Rafiki was changed into a female mandrill. The role was originated on Broadway by Tsidii Le Loka, who was nominated for a Tony Award in 1998 for her performance.
Rafiki's role is expanded in the musical. She sings the song Circle of Life and her painting scene is extended. She also sings a song called "Rafiki Mourns", in which she mourns Mufasa's death. She also has a brief role in Nala's song "Shadowland", blessing Nala for her journey to find help. Instead of finding Simba's scent on dust, Rafiki hears Simba's song "Endless Night" on the wind. Rafiki meets Simba and shows him that his father lives on inside him through the song "He Lives in You" (it should be noted that Rafiki's "Asante Sana" chant is completely changed). She is present during the battle, fighting a hyena using hand-to-hand combat.
Lastly, she appears adorning Simba with the king's mantle and then presents his newborn cub at the end of the play.
Rafiki appears at the Disney theme parks around the world as a meet-and-greet character.
He hosts the Rafiki's Planet Watch area of Disney's Animal Kingdom, an area that hosts various conservation education programs and the park's veterinary facilities. One of the various shows inside the pavilion has Rafiki profiling different endangered species and telling guests how they can help them.
In Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, Rafiki notices a disturbance in the Circle of Life when he is informed that Scar has been revived from the dead by Hades. He also has a spell card called "Rafiki's Wisdom Stick".
Rafiki can be seen in Disney Believe aboard the Disney Dream cruise ship. Rafiki is one of the "magic makers" to help an uptight father believe in magic. Rafiki is seen right after Grandmother Willow's sequence and uses the mystery of the animal kingdom to aid the father's imagination. But much like the Broadway version of The Lion King, Rafiki is portrayed by a woman.
- In the earliest drafts of The Lion King, Rafiki was not a baboon, but a cheetah. Instead, Scar was a baboon.
- No one in any of the films, other than himself, refers to Rafiki by his name. They either call him "the monkey" or "the baboon". His name is only used in Timon & Pumbaa and The Lion Guard.
- Rafiki's species, the mandrill, is one of the few species that aren't native to Sub-Saharan Africa. While other baboons do, the mandrill is native to the central African rainforest.
- Rafiki is drawn with a pronounced tail, a contrast to the most diminished tails of real mandrills.
- In the The Lion King 1½, he knows Timon and Pumbaa, ignoring the fact they didn't know who he was when first seeing him in the jungle with Nala.
- The song Rafiki sings to himself, "Asante sana, squash banana, we we nugu, mi mi apana," is Swahili for "Thank you very much, squash banana, you are a baboon and I am not."
- According to Robert Guillaume, Rafiki's voice was partially created via a failed attempt at a Jamaican accent.
- Notably, The Lion Guard marks the first time that Robert Guillaume doesn't reprise his role as Rafiki.
- In D3: The Mighty Ducks, the giant stuffed baboon that a child wins at a carnival bears a striking resemblance to Rafiki.