Meet the African deity who makes a surprise appearance in the new ‘Lion King’ movie

July 31, 2019 at 01:27 pm | Opinions & Features

Deidre Gantt

Deidre Gantt | Contributor

July 31, 2019 at 01:27 pm | Opinions & Features

Photo: Disney

It goes without saying that the original Lion King animated film was an instant classic. Beloved by members of many generations, it gave rise to two sequels, an animated TV series, a hit Broadway production and countless dance recitals.

Whether this summer’s live-action/CGI remake will stand the test of time remains to be seen. It is mostly faithful to the original with a few exceptions that critics seem to have mixed feelings about. There was one addition that pleasantly surprised me, and it had nothing to do with Beyonce (unless you count her earring choice from 2016).

Below lies a small spoiler: turn back now or “be prepared.” The new film expands a 30-second scene in which a tuft of the young adult Simba’s mane takes flight and lands in Rafiki’s possession, alerting the simian spiritualist that Simba is still alive. In this version, Simba’s tuft takes a very scenic, two-minute-long voyage from the exquisite oasis where Simba has taken refuge, through the digestive tract of a giraffe, and into a ball of poop that a dung beetle pushes across the desert where Simba the cub nearly died.

Image result for dung beetle
Photo via sciencenews.org

Anyone familiar with Kemetic or Egyptian theology will recognize this dung beetle as Khepera, the scarab, one of the most widely associated symbols of this 2500 year-long African empire. Khepera is sometimes portrayed as the beetle itself and other times as a human figure with a beetle for a head or with a beetle above his head.

Image result for the scarab jewelry of Tutankhamun
The scarab jewelry of Tutankhamun

In spite of the popularity of the scarab, its significance is not as well known because no information about temples or rituals for Khepera survived antiquity. From what researchers have deduced, Khepera was a self-created deity (the name Khepera means “The One Who Originates Himself” according to Dhwty’s Learning Center) that symbolized regeneration and an aspect of Ra, the main sun-deity. These last two meanings are signified by that humble little ball of dung.

Watching dung beetles push poop balls across the sand, the ancients recognized a visual metaphor for the sun’s path in the sky, and they began to associate it with the rising sun. You can see the symbolism in the stylized scarab that appears on several items of jewelry found in the tomb of the famous boy-Pharaoh Tutankhamun. (The glass used to represent the scarab in another brooch belonging to him was produced when a comet struck the Earth millions of years ago.) A few years ago, modern scientists discovered that the dung beetles actually chart their path using light from our galaxy, the Milky Way, so perhaps the beetle’s ancient cosmic significance is not as farfetched as some might assume.

The self-created and rebirth aspects come from the eggs that the dung beetle buries within that ball of dung, which the beetle rolls into a secluded spot from which the newly hatched beetles seem to emerge “out of nowhere.” As the website Dhwty’s (Tehuti’s) Learning Center explains:

“The beetle places its eggs into the clod it rolls and the new entity will stay there during its entire period of growth. When it comes to daylight from the clod we can see the fully grown-up, adult entity. That’s why the Egyptians thought that the scarab was something that comes alive from the lifeless and creates something living from the dead material. So it became the symbol of the self-creating life, the creation and renewal.”

I’m not sure if the Disney production team was being intentional about incorporating the scarab’s symbolism into the new “Lion King,” but I wouldn’t put it past them either, especially in a franchise that incorporates communication with one’s ancestors and a type of “juju” priest in the character Rafiki.

Either way, including Simba’s mane in the dung beetle’s ball adds a nice touch since this part of the film marks a turning point in Simba’s character. Soon after his hair is freed from the dung ball, Simba is reborn from a “cowardly lion” who hides from his past and his destiny into a brave young king with restored “knowledge of self” who returns to his pride and… well, you’ve had 25 years to hear the end of this story, so what have I really spoiled?

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