“matunda ya kwanza”
Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African holiday that celebrates family, community, and culture. Celebrated from 26 December through 1 January, its origins are in the first harvest celebrations of Africa from which it takes its name. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, a Pan-African language that is the most widely spoken African language.
Kwanzaa Celebration Season
26 December through 1 January
Kwanzaa is a 7-day festival celebrating the African American people, their culture, and their history. It is a time of celebration, community gathering, and reflection. A time of endings and beginnings. Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and continues until New Year’s Day, January 1st.
The first-fruits celebrations are recorded in African history as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia and appear in ancient and modern times in other classical African civilizations such as Ashantiland and Yorubaland. These celebrations are also found in ancient and modern times among societies as large as empires (the Zulu or kingdoms (Swaziland) or smaller societies and groups like the Matabele, Thonga, and Loved, all of southeastern Africa.
Kwanzaa builds on the five fundamental activities of Continental African “first fruit” celebrations: ingathering; reverence; commemoration; recommitment; and celebration.
Reaffirming and Restoring Culture
Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture. It is, therefore, an expression of recovery and reconstruction of African culture which was being conducted in the general context of the Black Liberation Movement of the ’60’s and in the specific context of The Organization Us, the founding organization of Kwanzaa and the authoritative keeper of its tradition. Secondly, Kwanzaa was created to serve as a regular communal celebration to reaffirm and reinforce the bonds between us as a people. It was designed to be an ingathering to strengthen the community and reaffirm common identity, purpose, and direction as a people and a world community.
Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles.) These seven communitarian African values are Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).
This stress on the Nguzo Saba was at the same time an emphasis on the importance of African communitarian values in general, which stress family, community, and culture and speak to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. And Kwanzaa was conceived as a fundamental and important way to introduce and reinforce these values and cultivate an appreciation for them. It is a time for family, community, and friendship- a time of ingathering of the people to reaffirm the bonds between them;- a time of special reverence for the creator and creation in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness, and beauty of creation;- a time for the commemoration of the past in pursuit of its lessons and in honor of its models of human excellence, our ancestors;- a time of recommitment to our highest cultural ideals in our ongoing effort to always bring forth the best of African cultural thought and practice; and- a time for the celebration of the Good, the good of life and of existence itself, the good of the family, community and culture, the good of the awesome and the ordinary, in a word the good of the divine, natural and social.
Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach, author and scholar-activist who stresses the indispensable need to preserve, continually revitalize, and promote African American culture. Finally, it is important to note Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one, thus available to and practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together based on the rich, ancient, and varied common ground of their “Africanness”.
The N’GUZO SABA
(The Seven Principles)
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
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 solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
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.
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
May You and the World be filled with Divine purpose and a renewed heart for Peace and Spiritual Prosperity; A Year Filled with “Enough” and the Spirit of the true meanings of the N’Guzo Saba and the Challenge of Your Revolutionary Self to Change the World where needed.
There is a traditionally established way of celebrating Kwanzaa. We should therefore observe these guidelines to make our Kwanzaa the most beautiful and engaging one and to keep the tradition. Without definite guidelines and core values and practices there is no holiday. Kikombe cha Umoja – The Unity Cup
First, you should come to the celebration with a profound respect for its values, symbols and practices and do nothing to violate its integrity, beauty and expansive meaning. Secondly, you should not mix the Kwanzaa holiday or its symbols, values and practice with any other culture. This would violate the principles of Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) and thus violate the integrity of the holiday.
Thirdly, choose the best and most beautiful items to celebrate Kwanzaa. This means taking time to plan and select the most beautiful objects of art, colorful African cloth, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. so that every object used represents African culture and your commitment to the holiday in the best of ways.
THE KWANZAA FEAST OR KARAMU The Kwanzaa Karumu is traditionally held on December 31st (participants celebrating New Year’s Eve, should plan their Karamu early in the evening). It is a very special event as it is the one Kwanzaa event that brings us closer to our African roots. The Karamu is a communal and cooperative effort. Ceremonies and cultural expressions are highly encouraged. It is important to decorate the place where the Karamu will be held, (e.g., home, community center, church) in an African motif that utilizes black, red, and green color scheme. A large Kwanzaa setting should dominate the room where the karamu will take place. A large Mkeka should be placed in the center of the floor where the food should be placed creatively and made accessible to all for self-service. Prior to and during the feast, an informative and entertaining program should be presented. Traditionally, the program involved welcoming, remembering, reassessment, recommitment and rejoicing, concluded by a farewell statement and a call for greater unity.
Below is a suggested format for the Karamu program, from a model by Dr. Karenga.
Introductory Remarks and Recognition of Distinguished Guests and All Elders.
Cultural Expression (Songs, Music, Group Dancing, Poetry, Performances, Unity Circles)
Reflections of a Man, Woman and Child.
Kuchunguza Tena Na Kutoa Ahadi Tena (Reassessment and Recommitment)
Introduction of Distinguished Guest Lecturer and Short Talk.
Tamshi la Tambiko (Libation Statement)
It is tradition to pour libation in remembrance of the ancestors on all special occasions.Kwanzaa, is such an occasion, as it provides us an opportunity to reflect on our African past and American present. Water is suggested as it
holds the essence of life and should be placed in a communal cup and poured in the direction of the four winds; north, south, east, and west. It should then be passed among family members and guests who may either sip from
the cup or make a sipping gesture.
For The Motherland cradle of civilization.
For the ancestors and their indomitable spirit
For the elders from whom we can learn much.
For our youth who represent the promise for tomorrow.
For our people the original people.
For our struggle and in remembrance of those who have struggled on our behalf.
For Umoja the principle of unity which should guide us in all that we do.
For the creator who provides all things great and small.
. Kikombe Cha Umoja (Unity Cup)
Kutoa Majina (Calling Names of Family Ancestors and Black Heroes)
Tamshi la Tutaonana (The Farewell Statement)
The Symbols of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa has seven basic symbols and two supplemental ones.
Each represents values and concepts reflective of African culture and contributive to community building and reinforcement.
The basic symbols in Swahili and then in English are:
Mazao (The Crops)
These are symbolic of African harvest celebrations and of the rewards of productive and collective labor.
Mkeka (The Mat)
This is symbolic of our tradition and history and therefore, the foundation on which we build.
Kinara (The Candle Holder)
The Kwanzaa candles and harvest This is symbolic of our roots, our parent people — continental Africans.
Muhindi (The Corn)
This is symbolic of our children and our future which they embody.
(The Seven Candles)
These are symbolic of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, the matrix and minimum set of values which African people are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs.
Kikombe cha Umoja
(The Unity Cup)
This is symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity which makes all else possible.
There are two supplemental symbols, they are:
These are symbolic of the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by the children.
Bendera (The Flag)
The colors of the Kwanzaa flag are the colors of the Organization Us, black, red and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. It is based on the colors given by the Hon. Marcus Garvey as national colors for African people throughout the world.
Lighting The Kwanzaa Kinara
First Day of Kwanzaa
On the first day of Kwanzaa the black candle is lit, representing the first principle of Kwanzaa – Umoja (oo-MOH-jah): Unity.
Second Day of Kwanzaa
On the second day the black candle is again lit, as well as the farthest red candle on the left. This represents the 2nd principle of Kwanzaa – Kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-goo-LEE-ah): Self-Determination.
Third Day of Kwanzaa
On the third day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, and then the farthest right green candle. This represents the 3rd principle of Kwanzaa – Ujima (oo-JEE-mah): Collective work and responsibility.
Fourth Day of Kwanzaa
On the fourth day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, and then the farthest right green. Then the next red candle on the left. This represents the 4th principle of Kwanzaa – Ujamaa (oo-jah-MAH): Collective economics.
Fifth Day of Kwanzaa
On the fifth day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green, the next red and then the next green candle. This represents the 5th principle of Kwanzaa – Nia (NEE-ah): Purpose.
Sixth Day of Kwanzaa
On the sixth day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green, the next red, the next green and then the final red candle. This represents the 6th principle of Kwanzaa – Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah): Creativity.
Seventh Day of Kwanzaa
On the seventh day the black candle is lit, then the farthest left red, the farthest right green, the next red candle, the next green, the final red and then the final green candle. This represents the 7th principle of Kwanzaa – Imani (ee-MAH-nee): Faith.
On the seventh and final day of Kwanzaa all candles in the Kinara are lit. When the night is done, the family takes one last drink from the Unity cup and the candles are extinguished. Kwanzaa is now a part of your New Year.