- “Ahh... The struggle never ends. That is the great Circle of Life.”
- ―talking about the Circle of Life.[src]
Rafiki is a mandrill who is a supporting character in Disney's 1994 film The Lion King, also appearing in its two sequels The Lion King II: Simba's Pride and The Lion King 1½ and television spin-off Timon and Pumbaa. He is voiced by Robert Guillaume.
Rafiki lives in a baobab tree and is old and wise. His tail looks broken and bent and his name means "friend" in Swahili.
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 lead to Ahadi requesting that the mandrill serve as advisor to all future kings, which Rafiki accepts.
He performs activities which are often shamanistic, but also sometimes quite silly. He tends to speak in third person when speaking of himself. Rafiki provides important counsel to the adult Simba when the latter is trying to determine his destiny.
He can be a little enthusiastic when dispensing his (questionable) wisdom, such as when he hit Simba over the head, representing how the past can hurt, then saying one can either run from it or learn from it (which he demonstrated by trying to hit Simba again, but the lion managed to dodge).
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 run 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 ans 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. Mufasa's spirit persuades him 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. Rafiki tries to make them fall in love by singing to them about a place called "Upendi", which means "love" in Swahili. When Simba exiles Kovu, blaming him for the attack set up by Zira, Rafiki sighs sadly on seeing Kovu leave, knowing he is not part of the attack and Simba is defying his father's goals. In the end, he blesses the union of Kovu and Kiara and Kovu is welcomed into the pride. Rafiki appears briefly in The Lion King 1½, teaching Timon the philosophy of "Hakuna Matata" and later convincing Timon to follow Simba to Pride Rock to confront Scar.
Rafiki appears briefly in the midquel The Lion King 1½, and is referred to by Timon as "The Omniscient 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 introducing the meerkat of 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 and 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. 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. Rafiki's 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 is seen in the form of a trophy in the episode Honest and Real!.
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. She then appears adorning Simba with the king's mantle and then presents his newborn cub at the end of the play.
Rafiki is first mentioned by Nala after begin 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.Walt Disney Parks and Resorts 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.
He also appears onboard the riverboat with the other characters in the show's finale.
Rafiki can be seen in the live show for 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 Adventureland, Rafiki notices a disturbance in the Circle of Life when he is informed that Scar has been revived from the dead by Hades. Rafiki also learns that Scar plans to gain immortality and destroy Adventureland. Rafiki guides the park guests on their quest to defeat the villainous lion.
Rafiki also has his own spell card called "Rafiki's Wisdom Stick".
- 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."
- Rafiki is quite similar to Yoda from Star Wars, for they are both people who, at first, seem annoying to the main protagonist of the film, but are later revealed to be very wise. He is also similar to Obi-Wan Kenobi as both first saw Simba and Luke when they were babies respectively and both would also watch them become adults.
- Rafiki seems to be inspired by past characters such as the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella. Rafiki himself acts somewhat as Simba's "Fairy Godfather".
- 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.
- It should be noted that there are many villainous baboons in Tarzan (which takes place in the central African rainforest) that actually would live on the savanna, as apposed to the mandrill.
- Other species that don't live in Sub-Saharan Africa but were depicted living in it would include the meerkat (Timon) - which live in southern Africa - and the anteaters shown in "I Just Can't Wait to be King" - which live in South America.
- Rafiki is drawn with a pronounced tail, a contrast to the more diminished tails of real mandrills.
- In the earliest drafts of The Lion King Rafiki was not a baboon, but a cheetah instead. Instead, Scar was a baboon.