Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday in honor of African traditions and culture. It is celebrated between December 26 and January 1 every year. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Dr. Maulana Karenga created the Kwanzaa festival in 1966 based on several harvest celebrations to bring African-Americans together and to give those African descent a time to remember and celebrate their culture.
Kwanzaa celebration includes dances and songs, African drums, poetry reading, storytelling, a traditional meal, and ends with the exchange of gifts and a feast. On each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, a candle on the Kinara (special candleholder) is lit, along with a discussion on one of the seven principles or Nguzo Saba.
THE SEVEN PRINCIPLES
The Nguzo Saba, created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, are values of African culture which help in building African-American community. Each candle of Kwanzaa represents one of these seven principles:
- 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.
THE SEVEN SYMBOLS
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There are also seven symbols in Kwanzaa:
- Mazao (The Crops) - Mazao symbolizes the rewards of collective and productive labor and the African harvest festivals.
- Mkeka (The Mat) - Symbolizes history, culture, tradition, and foundation.
- Kinara (The Candleholder) - This is symbolic of roots or ancestry.
- Muhindi (The Corn) - Each ear of the corn symbolizes a child in the family and the future hopes of every family.
- Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles) - Symbolizes the Nguzo Saba or seven principles which African people should live by to attain better lives. The black candle symbolizes Umoja (unity), the three green candles represent Nia (Purpose), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), and Imani (Faith), while the three red candles are symbolic of Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), and Kuumba (Creativity).
- Kikombe Cha Umoja (The Unity Cup) - This is symbolic of the foundational principle and the practice of unity. The Kikombe Cha Umoja is a special cup that is used for libation (tambiko) ritual during the Karamu feast on the sixth day of Kwanzaa.
- Zawadi (The Gifts) - Giving meaningful gifts to reward commitments kept and accomplishments.