What type of monkey is Rafiki? The Lion King's wisest character is no baboon!

The Lion King 2019

"It means you are a baboon... and I’m not."

Rafiki is one of the Lion King's most beloved possessions, mixing whimsical quotes with bravery, leadership and a playful touch of monkeying around. 

Disney directors did a stellar job to replicate his nurtured and wise ways in the 2019 live-animation remake, giving a character we've always felt emotionally attached to an even bigger boost of life. 

Whether he's bonking Simba on the head with a stick or rhythmically chanting "squash banana" for pretty much no damn reason, it's impossible not to love a monkey who appears as coconuts as the tree he lives in.

But while Simba muffles "stupid monkey" in the film, audiences have always known that there is something a lot more special to this caring grandfather-like figure.

So, what type of monkey is Rafiki?

Robert Guillaume voice Rafiki in The Lion King (1994)

What type of monkey is Rafiki?

It is commonly assumed that Rafiki is a baboon, and you wouldn't be laughed out of an Odeon screening for thinking this considering there are troops of baboons within the franchise.

However, Rafiki is specifically a mandrill, which although very similar to a baboon, has it's own gene classification.

Mandrill populate the plains of West Africa and are distinctive through their red, blue and white facial features - just as Rafiki has.

Described as the 'world's largest monkeys', mandrills happily live off fruits and insects, meaning Rafiki would be right at home during a dinner party with Timon and Pumbaa.

Likewise, the mandrill is known to be both highly intelligent as well as shy and reclusive, which fits Rafiki's wise yet distant character in The Lion King

Who voiced the original character?

The original Lion King animation was released in 1994 with Robert Guillaume voicing Rafiki.

Robert was 35 years old at the time and had been working in TV and film since the 1960s when he arrived on Pride Rock.

Sadly, he passed away in 2017 at the age of 89 years old. Nonetheless, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and will always be known as the voice of Rafiki, starring in Lion King 2 and all related video games right up to 2004.

Who was Rafiki in The Lion King 2019?

In the 2019 Lion King remake - in cinemas now - John Kani played the role.

John is a 75-year-old actor, director and playwright who recently played T'Chaka in Marvel's Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther.

Active in the world of media and entertainment since 1965, John has an Obie Award to his name for extraordinary contribution to theatre.

John Kani

Rafiki in quotes

In Swahili, the name Rafiki means 'friend'.

A guardian and leader to the pride of both Mufasa and Simba, this mandrill's journey on The Lion King has been full of inspirational quotes.

  • The question is who… are you?


  • Any story worth telling is worth telling twice.


  • The past can hurt, but the way I see it you can either run from it or learn from it.


  • I’m not the one who is confused, you’re the one who doesn’t even know who you are.


  • Change is good…


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