Is the annual celebration of Arican American heritage lasting for seven days from 26th of December to the 1st January. Based on African harvest festival traditions each day has an importance, a principle. Revisiting the language of the ancestors.

The celebration evolved in the 1960’s in response to the Watts Rebellion. After WWII about half a million African Americans went to the West Coast cities to get away from racism and discrimination only to find themselves ghettoized in the Watts neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Their dreams were thwarted and the community erupted on 11th August 1965.

Kwanzaa was started by Maulana Karenga who studied African culture and languages and set up a value system called the Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles). This laid the foundation for Kwanzaa, each day to celebrate one of the principles. This is like other Midwinter festivals, harvest festivals, the shortest day and coming spring celebrations carried out worldwide. The beauty of Kwanzaa is that it can be celebrated by all religions and those with none.

Principles and Symbols

These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Kiswahili word meaning “common”. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles:

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ 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 hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed: a Kinara (candle holder for seven candlesticks), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles), mazao (crops), Mahindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) for commemorating and giving shukrani (thanks) to African Ancestors, and Zawadi (gifts). Supplemental representations include a Nguzo Saba poster, the black, red, and green bendera (flag), and African books and artworks – all to represent values and concepts reflective of African culture and contribution to community building and reinforcement. Ears of corn represent the children celebrating and corn may be part of the holiday meal.

Kwanzaa is celebrated by 500,000 to 2 million people in America, mainly African Americans. The beauty of Kwanzaa is that it encompasses the notion of regeneration of winter and preparing for spring, of coming together as a community and embracing people of all faiths and of none and without being a religious cermony itself.

It also embraces a different way of running the economy, Ujamaa. Setting up a local economy by Black people for Black people is not new in America. Around 1900 Maggie Lena Walker had suggested something similar in Richmond Virginia. Also, this had taken place in the Greenwood District in Tulsa and sadly sparked the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921. Both these models were based on capitalist economics, the market economy, nonetheless they did address the inequalities faced by African Americans.

Ujamaa had a different economic model. It was based on the political and economic theory of Julius Nyere and was the basis for the Arusha Declaration of socialism and self-reliance through co-operatives. Nyere founded the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in the early 1950’s that eventually led to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) to independence on 9th Decemeber 1961. With that he wanted to disconnect with the economic models of colonialism, unsurprising given that colonialism of Germany then Britain exploited Tanzania’s people and resources, impoverishing the local population with 1000’s of deaths.


Official Kwanzaa Website

Dr Maulana Karenga Official Website

Wikipedia definition of Kwanzaa

Black Past Maulana Karenga

Black Past on the Watts Rebellion

Human Relations Area Files on Winter Solstice Celebrations Around the World

University of Pennsylvania African Studies Centre: Kwanzaa

After so many black lives lost, we need Kwanzaa more than ever this year by Michael M Twitty Guardian 26th December 2014

Bring Out the Kwanzaa Kinara by Melonyce McCafee

Ending Mass Unemployment and Poverty by Howard Richards in Pressenza International Press Agency 7th June 2020

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