Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Culture and UnityDec 26, 2020 08:00AM ● By Kassidy Garland
Kwanzaa was established in 1966 by the chairman and professor of Black Studies at California State University, Dr. Maulana Karenga. At this point in time, the Black community wanted to come together. After the Watts riots in LA, Dr. Karenga looked for ways to do that. Kwanzaa was created using the traditional harvest celebrations of the Ashanti and Zulu peoples. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits.”
Kwanzaa is celebrated by different families using African drums, storytelling, traditional meals, song and dance. The holiday is celebrated from December 26 to January 1 and centers around seven principles. These principles are called the Nguzo Saba which translates to seven principles in Swahili.
Unity: Umoja (oo-MO-jah)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo-GEE-mah)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo-JAH-mah)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Purpose: Nia (nee-YAH)
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Creativity: Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah)
- 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.
Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee)
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory to our struggle.
During the week-long celebration, seven candles are lit on the Kinara. The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. The candle-lighting ceremony allows for a celebration of each of the seven principles. The black candle is the first to be lit, and, for the following six nights, a candle is lit from left to right and a different principle is discussed.
The mkeka is a mat that is placed on a table. It is typically made from straw or cloth and comes directly from Africa. It is meant to express history, culture, and tradition. On the mkeka there is a stalk of corn that represents fertility and symbolizes that through the reproduction of children, the future hopes of the family are brought to life. The Kinara is also placed on the mkeka. On December 31st, there is an African feast called Karamu.
On the final day of Kwanzaa, meaningful gifts called zawadi are exchanged. These, usually handmade gifts, are meant to encourage growth and success. Kwanzaa was created to celebrate and appreciate the struggle of the Black community, while simultaneously uplifting the success and achievements. Kwanzaa is not meant to be mixed with different cultures as it is supposed to represent the culture and community of Black people.