The sixties was a turbulent time, especially for African
Americans. As a way of preserving African American
culture, Dr. Maulana Karenga created a cultural holiday
from December 26 through January 1.
In 1966 Kwanzaa was born out of a need for all African
Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs, to
come together and celebrate family, tradition and
Kwanzaa’s roots are derived from a Swahili term known as
“matunda ya kwanza” or first fruits. It has been the
focus of a seven day event which not only encompasses
the African tradition but is based on the Pan-African
language which is primarily spoken in Africa today.
Similar to New Years, Kwanzaa represents the passing of
one year and the welcoming of a new year to come. It is
a time of reflection in which African roots are observed
much as they were during ancient times when African
harvest or first fruit celebrations represented five
functions which included: the reaffirmation or
“ingathering” of people to bond together, giving thanks
to the creator, recognizing and honoring ancestors,
honoring cultural values and celebrating life as a
family, a community and existence as a people.
In addition, within the Kwanzaa history are Seven
Principles also known as Nguzo Seba which are part of
the seven-day celebration. When African Americans
reinforce their values rooted in their ancient culture.
The Seven Principles are as follows
Umoja (Unity) - to strive for and maintain unity
in the family, community, nation and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) - to define
ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and
speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) - to
build and maintain our community together and make our
brother's and sister's problems our problems and to
solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) - to build and
maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and
to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose) - to make our collective vocation
the building and developing of our community in order to
restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity) - to do always as much as we
can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community
more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith) - to believe with all our heart in
our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and
the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
On each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, celebrants gather to light the
candles and share their thoughts about that day's
principle. Each gathering includes discussions and
activities representing Kwanzaa's five fundamental
concepts: unity of family, friends, and community
reverence for the creator and creation, which
encompasses an appreciation of, and respect for, the
commemoration of the past, which includes honoring one's
ancestors and valuing one's heritage
commitment to the cultural ideals of the African
community, which include truth, justice, and mutual
a celebration of the "Good of Life" and appreciation for
the blessings of achievement, family, and community
The most joyous and elaborate of Kwanzaa's gatherings
takes place on December 31, the 6th day of the holiday
period. On that night, a great feast (karamu) is held.
Families and friends gather to eat, drink, sing, dance,
and read stories and poems celebrating their cultural
heritage. Everyone sips from the unity cup and many
people exchange gifts.
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