In the depths of the Civil Rights Movement during the mid-1960s, an answer to cultural identity crisis came to a climax. Amongst the riots, the deaths of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all the other injustices, a new tradition to uplift and celebrate African-Americans was created – Kwanzaa. From those hard, horrible times, this holiday was created to celebrate and honor African-American and Pan-African history, culture, values and community.
This international holiday was established in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, who explains “Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.” The word Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza which means the first fruits of harvest. Much like other harvest festivals, Kwanzaa celebrates the year’s work. It is a time for each person, family and community to reflect on what was accomplished during the year, what to let go and to move forward with purpose into a new year.
The seven day holiday (December 26 – January 1) is focused around seven principles, called Nguzu Saba, which can be seen as, according to Dr. Karenga, a “fundamental, unifying value system”. On each night a candle is lit in the Kinara (similar to a menorah) in honor of each principle. In essence, the Nguzu Saba is a set guiding principles for all the year. These principles were chosen to help people find their center, identity and pride where it was once cast aside by those around them. It is a time to renew the connections of what it means to be African-American and be a part of the African heritage. Some say it is a time to remember what it means to be black. This is very similar in the celebration of the Jews during Hanukkah remembering and honoring their past and celebrating what it means to be Jewish.
1. Umoja – Unity
2. Kujichagulia – Self-Determination
3. Ujima – Collective Work and Responsibility
4. Ujamaa – Cooperative Economics
5. Nia – Purpose
6. Kuumba – Creativity
7. Imani – Faith
Celebrations vary, but usually the peak of the festival is the sixth night which falls on New Year’s Eve. A great evening of singing, dancing, drumming and feasting commemorates the principle of creativity.
Kwanzaa is more than just lighting candles and the giving of gifts. It is a driving force that unites community to honor their past, accept the present and step strongly into the future. To learn more about Kwanzaa and the impact it has had over the past forty-four years, watch The Black Candle, a documentary on Kwanzaa, or visit The Official Kwanzaa Web Site.