Kwanzaa - A Celebration of Heritage
By: Laura Walker
Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. It is celebrated through singing, speaking, dancing and reciting traditional. Kwanzaa is built on seven principles that are commonly known as "Nguzo Saba". These principles are:
Kwanzaa was developed from elements of the African heritage. The African celebration of Kwanzaa was a ceremony of appreciation for the "first fruits of harvest". The four elements that made up the original African meaning of Kwanzaa were unity, awareness of ancestry and heritage, recommitment to traditional values, and reverence for creator and the creation.
The modern celebration of Kwanzaa lasts seven days, from December 26 to January 1. Each of the seven days of the celebration is dedicated to one of the seven principles. Each day one candle is lit that represents each principle.
Day 1 - middle candle - Black - Umoja - Unity
Day 2 - innermost red candle - Kujichagulia - Self-determination
Day 3 - innermost green candle - Ujima - Collective Work and Responsibility
Day 4 - middle red candle - Ujamaa - Cooperative Economics
Day 5 - middle green candle - Nia - Purpose
Day 6 - outermost red candle - Kuumba - Creativity
Day 7 - outermost green candle - Imani - Faith
There are many symbols of Kwanzaa. The Kwanzaa candelabra is called a kinara. The straw mat that the kinara is placed on is a mkeka. Ears of corn are also placed on the mat, one to represent each child in the household. They are called the vibunzi (or muhindi). A fruit basket is placed on the mkeka, and is called the mazao. The unity cup is also placed on the mkeka, and is called the kikombe cha umoja. The seven candles that are placed in the kinara are called the Mishumaa Saba. Finally, all the gifts are called the zawadi and are traditionally given on Imani - the last day of Kwanzaa.
On the evening of Kuumba (December 31) there is a feast called Karamu. This is the main focus of Kwanzaa where cultural expression is encouraged. This is practiced to bring all participants closer to their African roots. The program for the Karamu generally involves a welcome, a remembrance of ancestry, a reassessment of situations, a recommitment to values, a rejoicing, a farewell statement, and a call for greater unity.
The last day of Kwanzaa, or "Imani", focuses on honoring traditions and reaffirming self worth through gift giving. Gifts are often made rather than bought because Kwanzaa emphasizes creativity or "kuumba" - one of the seven principles.
The point of Kwanzaa is not one of gift giving or religious celebration, but a commemoration of heritage and togetherness. Family and friends should find Kwanzaa to be a time of sharing and pulling together. The guiding principles teach values we tend to lose in a more modern and solitary society. Since the original ideas were to bring forth the harvest, the guiding principles bring people together to remind us how important we are to each other.