Kwanzaa was created after the Watts Riots in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. It was an idea built on the concept of unity, for Dr. Karenga sought to find ways to bring together African-Americans as a community in the wake of violence. He founded US, a cultural organization, and began researching African harvest celebrations. By combining attributes from harvest celebrations of different African tribes, the Ashanti and the Zulu, Dr. Karenga was able to create what we now know today as Kwanzaa.
What Do People Do on Kwanzaa?
Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which is Swahili for “first fruits”. On each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, which begins the day after Christmas on December 26, the family gathers together and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara, or the candleholder, and discusses one of the seven principles, called the “Nguzo Saba”. On the first night, the black candle in the center is lit and the principle of Umoja or “unity” is discussed. Each night provides an opportunity to learn more and discuss the importance of Kwanzaa. These principles represent important values of African culture and emphasize the importance of both building and reinforcing community among African-Americans. The holiday ends with the Karamu, an African feast on December 31. Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in their own way; however the holiday usually includes songs, storytelling, African drums, dances and traditional meals.
What are the Seven Principles?
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 of our struggle.
Also, Mazao, the crops; Mkeke, the placemat; Mishumaa Saba, the seven candles; Vibunzi, the ear of cor,; Kikombe Cha Umoja The Unity Cup; and the Kinara are all important symbols of Kwanzaa.
Do We Give Gifts?
Gifts, also known as Zawadi, are another important part of the Kwanzaa celebrations. Meaningful handmade gifts are often encouraged during this holiday, with items that will allow the recipient to reflect on these principles in their lives and seek to grow and develop postiviely. Gifts are given on the seventh night, when the principle Imani is discussed.