Naomi Osaka has caused backlash in Africa after unveiling the controversial name of her new business venture with NBA superstar, LeBron James.
The former World No.1 – who pulled out of Wimbledon due to injury – announced this week that she was launching a media platform called Hana Kuma in partnership with LA Lakers star James.
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Hana Kuma means “flower bear” in Japanese but in one of the most spoken languages in the world, it has an altogether different meaning.
In Swahili, “Hana kuma” takes on a much more explicit meaning, in that a woman has no vagina.
The phrase has triggered an avalanche of opposition in parts of Africa – particularly Kenya – with many users calling on Osaka to reconsider.
“If you keep the name #hanakuma, the name will override the news and the stories you wish to share,” one Twitter user said.
“East Africans cannot say this even in whispers,” another user added.
The subject has dominated trending topics since Wednesday with Citizen TV, Kenya’s most watched news outlet, saying on Twitter that Kenyans were “losing their heads” over the phrase.
Swahili – a bantu language – is widely used in sub-Saharan Africa and is among the world’s 10 most spoken languages, with more than 200 million speakers.
Osaka, now ranked 43 in the world, tweeted a veiled rejoinder to the controversy on Wednesday, saying: “Prayers for all my overthinkers. We be going through it.”
Osaka’s tweet, although not specifically mentioning the Hana Kuma controversy specifically, was accompanied by an emoji of a pensive face.
Many interpreted it as a response to the Hana Kuma controversy.
Osaka said the media platform launched with James’ SpringHill company aimed to produce content “focused on stories that are culturally specific but universal”.
In 2021, the 24-year-old became the world’s highest-earning sportswoman with a fortune of $57 million, according to Forbes.
Naomi Osaka out of Wimbledon with Achilles injury
Over the weekend, Osaka pulled out of Wimbledon for the second successive year, blaming an Achilles injury.
The 24-year-old had been on the entry list despite reservations after the WTA and ATP stripped Wimbledon of ranking points, even posting footage of her rehabilitation in recent weeks.
However, Osaka left her legion of fans gutted after revealing she would not be playing Wimbledon again this year.
“My Achilles still isn’t right so I’ll see you next time”, she wrote on Twitter announcing the move.
It means Osaka will have to wait another year for a chance to add to her win tally at Wimbledon, where she has not tasted victory since 2018.
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