Rafiki lives in a baobab tree and is old and wise. 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. His tail looks broken and bent. His name means "friend" in Swahili.
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 area 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 living in it. He also points out that the spirit and values of Simba's dead 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. 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 has not met Rafiki before that point, or at the very least does not remember him.
In the sequel The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, Rafiki appears in the beginning again as the presenter of Simba and Nala's new-born cub Kiara. Later on in the film, despite protesting that Simba and Zira would forbid it, he is persuaded by Mufasa's spirit to attempt to get Zira's son Kovu and Kiara to fall in love. He tries to make the adult Kiara and Scar's heir Kovu fall in love with each other by taking them to a fantasy paradise called "Upendi" (similar to the Swahili word for "love"). Later, when Simba exiles Kovu, he was seen sighing sadly of Kovu leaving. In the end, he acts as the host of Kiara and Kovu's wedding.
Rafiki appears briefly in the midquel The Lion King 1½, and is referred to by Timon as "The Omniscient Monkey". It is revealed that it was Rafiki who taught Timon the philosophy of "Hakuna Matata". Besides appearing in the scenes he appeared in the original film, Rafiki also appears in a scene where he chats with Timon's mother and in a scene where he makes Timon go back to join his friends against Scar, albeit saying nothing but "My work here is done" after Timon goes to find Pumbaa on his own. A deleted scene from the film revealed that Rafiki was the movie's original narrator.
Role in the series
Rafiki reprises his role from the movie except that the part where he battles against the hyenas in omitted due to the fact that the hyena battle was replaced by the thug battle because of the hyenas reforming, but is now a member of the High Council of Heroes alongside Mufasa and Oogway. Rafiki joined Benny, Johnny, and Leo on request from Zeus to watch over the trio and guide them along their path to become some of the High Council's finest warriors in the war against Chernabog and Malefor, as well as Deathwing in the BJL series. Rifiki may appear in the Spongebob series should he be able to get a break from his current partnership from the BJL team for now.