Kwanzaa (the kinara)
One of the few remaining institutions created during the Black Power phase of the Black Freedom Movement of the 1960’s is Kwanzaa. This year marks the 45th Anniversary of Kwanzaa, the African American and pan-African holiday that celebrates family, community and culture, celebrated from December 26 through January 1. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in Los Angeles, forty-five years ago by members of the Organization Us and a small gathering of family and friends. Today millions of people of African descent throughout the world community, on every continent, gather in family, community and public settings, to celebrate the holiday.
Kwanzaa is based on the harvest celebrations of Africa called the “first fruits” celebrations, which were times of ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment and celebration. Therefore, Kwanzaa is a time for ingathering of Africans everywhere to reaffirm relationships; a time of special reverence for the Creator and creation in thanks and respect; a time to commemorate the past; a time to recommit to the highest cultural standards; and a time to celebrate the Good.
Created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chair of Africana Studies, California State University, Long Beach and Executive Director of the African American Cultural Center, the remarkable growth and continued development of Kwanzaa represents a tremendous achievement not only by the holiday’s creator but its celebrants as well. For the spread of the holiday was achieved without a national public relations campaign or large-scale public events to garner mass media or governmental sanction or support.
Instead, motivated by a deep appreciation for the holiday’s life-affirming values, Kwanzaa was enthusiastically embraced by African Americans and quickly spread throughout the country by formal and informal networks of institutions, organizations, families and persons. Later, Kwanzaa was carried throughout the world African community by students, educators, world travelers, those conducting business and others returning back to their home countries.
In his book, Kwanzaa, A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, Dr. Karenga gives several reasons for the growth of the holiday. “Kwanzaa grows among African people” he said, because it “speaks to our need and appreciation for its cultural vision and life-affirming values, values which celebrate and reinforce family, community and culture; it represents an important way Africans speak our own special cultural truth in a multicultural world, and it reinforces our rootedness in our own culture in a rich and meaningful way.”
At the center of Kwanzaa are seven basic values of African culture that contribute to building and reinforcing family, community and culture. These values, called the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, in Swahili and English are: 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; and 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.
In addition, The Nguzo Saba serve year-round as a core vision and value orientation for hundreds of institutions, programs and projects in such diverse areas as education, rites of passage, family maintenance, economic development, psychological well-being, youth development and ethical grounding..
For more information on Kwanzaa contact the Organization Us or visit www.OfficialKwanzaaWebsite.org
Interview with DR. MAULANA KARENGA, CREATOR OF KWANZAA by Yussuf J. Simmonds of the Sentinel
(1) DID YOU EVER BELIEVE THAT KWANZAA WOULD HAVE BEEN ADOPTED BY SO MANY PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD?
As I have always said in answer to this question, I’m not a prophet and therefore could not have foreseen the far-reaching and continually expanding embrace and practice of Kwanzaa by so many millions of African people throughout the world African community on every continent in the world. But I created Kwanzaa with the hope and faith that it would be embraced because of its meaning and message, its vision and values which celebrate family, community and culture and call us together in good, positive and reinforcing ways. This is especially true in terms of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, the hub and hinge on which the holiday turns. People use the Seven Principles, not only during the week of Kwanzaa, but throughout the year to ground their social projects and practices, as well as to ground, direct and enhance their personal lives. Also, the holiday demonstrates its value and the reasons African people embrace it through its five fundamental activities: the harmonious ingathering of the people; special reverence for the Creator and creation; reflective commemoration of the past; profound recommitment to our culture’s highest ideals; and joyous celebration of the good.
I BELIEVE THAT THIS IS KWANZAA’S 45TH YEAR, WHAT DO YOU FORESEE FOR THE FUTURE, THE CONTINUATION AND THE GROWTH OF KWANZAA AS A CULTURAL PHENOMENON?
Each year witnesses the continued growth of Kwanzaa throughout the world African community and the remarkable thing about this is that Kwanzaa’s impressive and continued growth was not due to the media, but to African people themselves who embraced it and passed it from family to family, community to community, country to country, and generation to generation. Moreover, unlike other holidays, Kwanzaa was not established by seeking permission for its practice or petitioning for its acceptance, but was defiantly and audaciously declared as a matter of self-determination, practiced faithfully and fervently and used with emphasis on its fundamental principles as ways to ground, guide and enrich our lives. So I expect it to continue to grow and to be used, as it is now, as value orientation and value grounding, as a source of names for our children, ourselves, our organizations and projects and as a philosophical basis for our independent schools and other organizations and institutions in the world African community.
(3) WHAT LED YOU TO INTRODUCE KWANZAA 45 YEARS AGO?
I created Kwanzaa in the context of the Black Freedom Movement of the Sixties which stressed self-determination, cultural grounding and transformative struggle. My challenge, as I saw it, was to create a context for deep and ongoing conversation about our culture and history, our highest values, and the excellence and practice these demanded and to do this in the interest and advancement of the liberational work and struggle in which we were and are engaged. Therefore, I created Kwanzaa for three basic reasons. First, I created Kwanzaa to reaffirm our rootedness in African culture and thus honor our identity and self-consciously return to the upward paths of our history. Second, I created Kwanzaa to give us a time as African people all over the world to come together, reaffirm the bonds between us and meditate on the awesome meaning of being African in the world. And thirdly, I created Kwanzaa to introduce and reaffirm the importance of communitarian African values, values that stress and strengthen family, community and culture. And of course, the central values, the hub and hinge on which the holiday turns, are the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles. And they are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith).
(4) WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR LEGACY TO BE FOR COMING GENERATIONS RELATIVE TO KWANZAA?
I have organized and lived my life as an activist-scholar dedicated to recovering the ancient rich and varied resources of African culture and using it as a foundation and framework to enrich and expand our lives as a people and to aid us in our work and struggle to repair, renew and remake the world, making it more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it as the principle Kuumba teaches us. My intellectual and practical work is committed to this and I trust that my name is both my aspiration and achievement: Maulana—master teacher, timeless teacher of the good the right and the possible; Ndabezitha—constant soldier of continuing concern to the enemy and oppressor; and Karenga—self-conscious and uncompromising keeper of the African tradition. Each day I’m aware of the urgency of the hour and recognize, as taught in the Husia, that “every day is a donation to eternity and even one hour is a contribution to the future.” I have tried to keep in mind and fulfill my duty as I teach it to others and it is this: 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 in the most ethical, effective and African ways.
(5) THERE IS A COLLEGE IN NORTH CAROLINA WHERE THE OBSERVANCE OF KWANZAA HAS FALLEN OFF WITHIN THE LAST FIVE YEARS, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THAT COLLEGE COMMUNITY?
Yussuf, I do not read that as this. I would refer to the spread of Kwanzaa, not to those who may or may not practice it even as we don’t do that for Christmas or Hanukkah. And besides, the beautiful and most impressive thing is how African people have taken this holiday as a matter of self-determination, self-conscious commitment to themselves, their history, their culture and their future and used it in the most beautiful and uplifting ways.