December 26th marks the beginning of an annual Pan-African holiday known as Kwanzaa (derived from the Swahili for “first fruits”). You may be surprised to know that Kwanzaa was conceived in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a noted Black American scholar and activist. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, he wanted to instill a spirit of unity and cultural self-discovery among Blacks in America. Kwanzaa was an invitation to learn about their rich and diverse history and heritage and share it with the next generation. Over the years, the tradition has grown globally in popularity.
Each day of Kwanzaa emphasizes one of seven principles, or Nguzo Saba in Swahili, representing traditional values of African culture. A candleholder known as a kinara holds seven candles; three red, three green, and one black candle placed in the center, representing symbolic colors of African heritage.
Nguzo Saba – The Seven Principles (Everyone Can Aspire To)
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.
“This is our duty: to know our past and honor it; to engage our present and improve it; and to imagine a whole new future and forge it in the most ethical, effective and expansive ways.”
— Dr. Maulana Karenga
Learn more online:
What Kwanzaa means for Black Americans (The Conversation)
On Flag Day Remembering The Red, Black and Green (NPR)
Watch this film: “The Black Candle”
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