THURSDAY, DECEMBER 26: Learn the seven principles and gather in the name of unity—for the seven-day commemoration of Kwanzaa.
Each year, Kwanzaa founder Dr. Maulana Karenga publishes an annual message. Now in his late 70s, these messages are heart-felt appeals to rediscovering and reclaiming African values that can contribute to the wellbeing of the whole world.
In his 2017 message, he stressed the universal themes of care for each other and our planet. Karenga wrote, in part:
An African American and pan-African holiday, Kwanzaa is—in both conception and practice—a world-encompassing celebration. It is world-encompassing in that it is practiced by millions of Africans throughout the global African community. And it is world-encompassing in its roots in ancient African agricultural celebrations and their concern with the earth and their conception of humans interrelated with the world and their responsibility to it.
In his 2018 message, he wrote:
We chose the Nguzo Saba (the 7 Principles) to serve as an overarching framework for the way we lived our lives, did our work and waged the struggle for liberation and other good in the world. These principles focus first on family, community and culture, but they also have an expanded meaning and message for the work we do and the struggle we wage in society and the world. Thus, we must constantly think deeply about them, discuss them, share them and make them a vital and greatly valued part of our daily lives.
The first principle of Umoja (Unity) calls for a cultivated sense of relatedness and mutual respect, of togetherness in the work and struggle for a shared and inclusive good in our families, communities, society and the world, and for a sense of oneness and responsibility for each other’s good and the well-being of the world.
His 2019 message will appear just before Kwanzaa begins in the festival’s official website.
ORIGINS OF THE FESTIVAL
To mark the half-century anniversary of the holiday, in 2016, Smithsonian Magazine described Kwanzaa as “one of the most lasting innovations of United States black nationalism of the 1960s.” The Chicago Defender described the arrival of this festival in Chicago half a century ago.
Created by Karenga in the mid-1960s as the first completely African-American holiday, Kwanzaa celebrations honor African heritage and culture. Though originally associated with the black nationalist movement, as Karenga today points out that Kwanzaa emphasizes connecting Africans of the Diaspora with their native roots and highlighting the universal themes in those ancient cultures that can build a healthier global community.
Specifically, Kwanzaa’s “seven principles” call to mind what Karenga refers to as a “communitarian African philosophy.”
Did you know? “Kwanzaa” is from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, or “first fruits of the harvest.”
KWANZAA’S SEVEN PRINCIPLES
Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a principle, resulting in a total of seven Kwanzaa principles. The principles, though they may vary slightly in spellings, consist of: Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kumbaa (creativity); and Imani (faith).
Kwanzaa urges participants to maintain unity in family and race, to define themselves, to build community and profit together, and to always do what is possible at the moment. (Wikipedia has details.) Symbols and decorations aid in the unity of Kwanzaa observances, such as a decorative mat (mkeka), corn, a seven-candle holder (kinara) and a communal or unity cup. Often, an African feast—known as Karamu—is held on the sixth day of Kwanzaa, and gifts (zawadi) are exchanged on the seventh day.
Did you know? The proper greeting for Kwanzaa is “Joyous Kwanzaa.”
Household celebrations for Kwanzaa often include children, as do public Kwanzaa ceremonies.
Teachers and parents: You’ll find a couple of kid-oriented resources from Scholastic.com. First, there’s a lesson plan on discussing Kwanzaa’s principles and, then, there’s a second plan that also features a mancala game.
Community gatherings may include music, drumming, dancing, libations and the reading of the principles. Artistic performances, storytelling and ritual candle-lighting are also common.
In its nearly half-a-century of observance, Kwanzaa has spread in popularity throughout the United States and into Canada.