This year unfolds and brings to the fore the 51st anniversary of the pan-African holiday Kwanzaa, a celebration of family, community and culture. And all over the world throughout the global African community, African people will come together for seven days, December 26-January 1 to celebrate themselves and the good that they represent, create and enjoy in the world. And they will raise up and recommit themselves to practice the Nguzo Saba, The Seven Principles, which are the moral and cultural ground in which the holiday is rooted and on which it firmly and steadfastly stands. This year’s theme is “Practicing the Principles of Kwanzaa: Repairing, Renewing and Remaking Our World” which again speaks to Kwanzaa’s global reach and relevance to millions of Africans who celebrate it throughout the world African community on every continent in the world.
Kwanzaa, like the first harvest celebrations which are its mold and model, is organized around five fundamental overarching activities. Kwanzaa is first a time for ingathering of our people, a joyful coming together in various ways to reinforce the bonds between us as persons and a people and to build and rebuild relations of good, beauty and expansive meaning. Secondly, Kwanzaa is a time of special reverence for Creator and creation in deep appreciation of the beauty and bountifulness of the earth and self-conscious commitment to preserve and protect the earth which makes the harvest of good and the sustaining of life possible.
Thirdly, Kwanzaa is a time for commemoration of the past, time to pause and respectfully remember the lives, teach the lessons and raise up and recommit ourselves to honor our ancestors and the awesome legacy they left us. Kwanzaa is also a time to recommit ourselves to our highest values, the Nguzo Saba, the cardinal virtues of Maat, i.e., truth, justice, propriety, harmony, balance, reciprocity and righteous order. and all those other moral principles that ground and enrich our lives, strengthen us in our struggle and expand our consciousness and capacity to bring good in the world. Kwanzaa also is a time for celebration of the Good; the good of family, community and culture; the good of life, love, and listening gently and joyously to each other and responding accordingly; the good of sisterhood, brotherhood, friendship, marriage and all relations of good, meaning and beauty; and, of course, the expansive and enduring good of the world and all in it.
As always, it is important to remember and reaffirm that the hub and hinge on which the holiday turns and the ground and source of its ultimate meaning and measure are the Nguzo Saba, The Seven Principles. Created out of the Kawaida, African-centered philosophy of life and struggle, the Nguzo Saba were posed as a Black value system, the central set of values we needed to rescue and reconstruct our history and humanity, build and strengthen our community, and wage the successful struggle for liberation in which we were engaged. In a word, it was a communal value system that would aid us in our struggle to be ourselves and free ourselves as African people and make our own unique contribution to the forward flow of human history.
To highlight these principles, Kwanzaa was created as a seven-day holiday with each day serving as a time to focus on each of the principles. Moreover, during Kwanzaa we engage in a ceremony called “Lifting Up the Light That Lasts” which is a candle lighting ceremony. This ceremony rises out of the ancient African teaching found in The Husia that we as a people are “given that which endures in the midst of that which is overthrown” and this enduring gift and legacy are our spiritual and ethical values.
Thus, at Kwanzaa, we lift up these lasting values which light the path to building, celebrating and sustaining family, community and culture and bringing good in the world. One of the major symbols of Kwanzaa is the Mishumaa Saba, the seven candles, and each one represents one of the principles. In lighting each candle, we thus lift up the principle that represents a light that lasts. Moreover, in lifting up the light of these enduring principles, we are to think deeply about them, discuss them and recommit ourselves to them, making them an essential and vital part of our daily lives. Thus, each principle calls for and commits us to practices which strengthens us in life and struggle and aids us in honoring the ancient African ethical imperative to constantly bring, increase and sustain good in the world.
The principle of Umoja (Unity) is a call and commitment “to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race”. Kujichagulia (Self-determination) is a call and commitment “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves”. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) is a call and commitment “to build and maintain our community together and to make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together”. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) is a call and commitment “to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together”.
Nia (Purpose) is a call and commitment “to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness”. Kuumba (Creativity) is a call and commitment “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”. And Imani (Faith) is a call and commitment “to believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle”.
It is a teaching of our ancestors in the Odu Ifa that we are divinely chosen to bring good into the world and that this is the fundamental mission and meaning of human life. And during Kwanzaa we remember and reflect on this in special ways and recommitment ourselves to strive to bring good in the world, to build the good world we all want and deserve to live in, and pass this creation and harvest of good on to those who come after us. Heri za Kwanzaa (Happy Kwanzaa). And in the tradition of the ancestors, we wish for all this Kwanzaa good: all that heaven grants, the earth produces and the waters bring forth from their depths.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, Professor and Chair of Africana Studies, California State University-Long Beach; Executive Director, African American Cultural Center (Us); Creator of Kwanzaa; and author of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture and Essays on Struggle: Position and Analysis, www.AfricanAmericanCulturalCenter-LA.org; www.OfficialKwanzaaWebsite.org; www.MaulanaKarenga.org.