Kwanzaa is the forrunner-prelude of Black History Month
that is the reason it is being included.
Observed by African Americans, parts of African diaspora
Cultural and ethnic
Date: December 26 to February 28
Related to Pan-African-ism
Kwanzaa (/'kw??n.z?/) is a week-long celebration held
in the United States and in other nations of the Western
African diaspora in the Americas. The celebration honors
African heritage in African-American culture, and is
observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a
feast and gift-giving. Kwanzaa has seven core principles
(Nguzo Saba). It was created by Maulana Karenga and was
first celebrated in 1966–67.
Maulana Karenga was born in Parsonsburg, Maryland, and
moved to California in 1958 where he studied at Los Angeles
City College (LACC) and UCLA. At LACC, he became involved
in campus politics, was elected the first African American
Study Body President, and was active in the civil rights,
African independence, and peace movements. He also chaired
the Los Angeles chapter of the Afro-American Association.
Karenga transferred to UCLA, earning a B.A. (cum laude)
(1963) and M.A. (1964) in political science with a special-
ization in African Studies. After a year of working on his
doctorate, he left UCLA to work in the Black Freedom
Movement. At UCLA he had begun to develop a philosophy of
radical cultural and social change called Kawaida, which
embraces some of the essential teachings of major activist
intellectuals he studied, including Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey,
Sékou Touré, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Frantz Fanon,
and Amílcar Cabral.
Karenga stressed revolution as both cultural and political,
and argued that cultural revolution precedes and makes
possible the political revolution, for it transforms
consciousness and forges the commitment to struggle. In
the context of the cultural and political transformation
called “Back to Black”, Karenga changed his European name,
“Ron Everett,” to an African name, Maulana Karenga, which
means “master teacher” and “keeper of the tradition”
respectively. In 1965 after the Watts Revolt, Karenga created
the organization, Us, (us African people), and structured it
as a cultural and social change organization, with a para-
military unit called Simba Wachanga (The Young Lions).
Us engaged in programs of political and cultural education,
organizing, institution-building and social service.
Using his expansive knowledge of African culture and languages,
Karenga, in 1965, also developed the Nguzo Saba
(The Seven Principles), as a key value system for Black life
and struggle, and in 1966, created the African American and
pan-African holiday, Kwanzaa, a seven-day holiday
(26 December—1 January) which celebrates family, community
and culture. Karenga and Us have also played a major role in
Black intellectual and political culture since the 1960’s,
including the Movements of Black Power, Black Arts,
Black Studies, Black Students, ancient Egyptian studies,
reparations, and the Million Man March/Day of Absence,
for which Karenga wrote the Mission Statement.
In 1971, Karenga was convicted on charges of assault
against members of his organization which he called
“trumped up” and “politically motivated.” Karenga has
consistently maintained his innocence and argues that he
was one of many victims of the FBI Cointelpro whose
announced efforts were to “discredit, disrupt and other-
wise neutralize” all radical Black leadership. And Us
and Karenga were cited in FBI documents as major targets
for this repression. After what he calls his
“political imprisonment,” Karenga returned to his
doctorate studies and earned one Ph.D. in political
science at United States International University (1976)
and another in social ethics at the University of
Southern California (1994). He currently is professor
and former chair (13 years) of Africana Studies at
California State University, Long Beach. He remains
an activist-scholar, chairing Us and the National
Association of Kawaida Organizations, and serving as
executive director of the Kawaida Institute of
Pan-African Studies and the African American Cultural
Center, Los Angeles.
- See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/
Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966, as the first
specifically African-American holiday,
(but see also Juneteenth). According to Karenga, the
name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase
matunda ya kwanza, meaning "first fruits of the harvest",
although a more conventional translation would simply be
"first fruits". The choice of Swahili, an East African
language, reflects its status as a symbol of Pan-Africanism,
especially in the 1960s, although most of the Atlantic slave
trade that brought African people to America originated in
Kwanzaa is a celebration that has its roots in the black
nationalist movement of the 1960s and was established as a
means to help African Americans reconnect with their African
cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation
and study of African traditions and Nguzo Saba, the
"seven principles of African Heritage" which Karenga said
"is a communitarian African philosophy". For Karenga, a
major figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and
1970s, the creation of such holidays also underscored an
essential premise that "you must have a cultural revolution
before the violent revolution. The cultural revolution
gives identity, purpose and direction."
During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said that it
was meant to be an "oppositional alternative" to Christmas.
However, as Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents,
Karenga altered his position so that practicing Christians
would not be alienated, then stating in the 1997, Kwanzaa:
A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, "Kwanzaa
was not created to give people an alternative to their own
religion or religious holiday."
Many African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in
addition to observing Christmas.
Principles and symbols
Seven candles in a candelabra symbolize the seven principles
Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven
principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba
—the seven principles of African Heritage), which Karenga
said "is a communitarian African philosophy," consisting of
what Karenga called "the best of African thought and practice
in constant exchange with the world." These seven principles
comprise *Kawaida, a Swahili word meaning "common". Each of
the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following
principles, as follows:
Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the
family, community, nation, and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves,
as well as to create and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain
our community together and make our brothers' and sisters'
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
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 hearts in our people,
our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness
and victory of our struggle.
Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a mat (Mkeka) on which
other symbols are placed: a Kinara (candle holder),
Mishumaa Saba (seven candles) mazao (crops), Muhindi (corn),
a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) for commemorating and giving
shukrani (thanks) to African Ancestors, and Zawadi (gifts).
Supplemental representations include a Nguzo Saba poster,
the black, red, and green bendera (flag), and African books
and artworks – all to represent values and concepts
reflective of African culture and contribution to community
building and reinforcement. With corn being the primary
symbol for both decoration and celebratory dinning.
A woman lighting kinara candles
Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households with
objects of art, colorful African cloth such as kente,
especially the wearing of kaftans by women, and fresh fruits
that represent African idealism. It is customary to include
children in Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give respect and
gratitude to ancestors. Libations are shared, generally
with a common chalice, Kikombe cha Umoja, passed around to
all celebrants. Non-African Americans also celebrate
Kwanzaa. The holiday greeting is "Joyous Kwanzaa".
A Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical
selections, libations, a reading of the African Pledge
and the Principles of Blackness, reflection on the
Pan-African colors, a discussion of the African principle
of the day or a chapter in African history, a candle-
lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally,
a feast (karamu). The greeting for each day of Kwanzaa
is Habari Gani? which is Swahili for "How are you?"
At first, observers of Kwanzaa avoided the mixing of
the holiday or its symbols, values, and practice with
other holidays, as doing so would violate the principle
of kujichagulia (self-determination) and thus violate
the integrity of the holiday, which is partially intended
as a reclamation of important African values. Today, many
African American families celebrate Kwanzaa along with
Christmas and New Year's. Frequently, both Christmas
trees and kinaras, the traditional candle holder symbolic
of African American roots, share space in
Kwanzaa-celebrating households. For people who celebrate
both holidays, Kwanzaa is an opportunity to incorporate
elements of their particular ethnic heritage into holiday
observances and celebrations of Christmas.
Cultural exhibitions include the Spirit of Kwanzaa,
an annual celebration held at the John F. Kennedy Center
for the Performing Arts featuring interpretive dance,
African dance, song and poetry.
The holiday has also spread to Canada, and is celebrated
by Black Canadians in a similar fashion as in the
In 2004, BIG Research conducted a marketing survey in
the United States for the National Retail Foundation,
which found that 1.6% of those surveyed planned to
celebrate Kwanzaa. If generalized to the US population
as a whole, this would imply that around 4.7 million
people planned to celebrate Kwanzaa in that year.
In a 2006 speech, Maulana Karenga asserted that
28 million people celebrate Kwanzaa. He has always
claimed it is celebrated all over the world.
Lee D. Baker puts the number at 12 million.
The African American Cultural Center claimed
30 million in 2009. In 2011, Keith Mayes said
that 2 million people participated in Kwanzaa.
According to University of Minnesota Professor
Keith Mayes, the author of Kwanzaa: Black Power and
the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition,
the popularity within the US has "leveled off" as the
black power movement there has declined, and as of 2009
between 500 thousand and two million people celebrated
Kwanzaa in the US, or between one and five percent of
African Americans. Mayes added that white institutions
now celebrate it.
The holiday has also spread to Canada and is celebrated
by Black Canadians in a similar fashion as in the United States.
According to the Language Portal of Canada, "this fairly
new tradition has [also] gained in popularity in France,
Great Britain, Jamaica and Brazil".
In Brazil, in recent years the term Kwanzaa has been applied
by a few institutions as a synonym for the festivities of the
Black Awareness Day, commemorated on November 20 in honor of
Zumbi dos Palmares, having little to do with the celebration
as it was originally conceived.
In 2009, Maya Angelou narrated the documentary The Black Candle,
a film about Kwanzaa.
Stjepan Meštrovic, a sociology professor at the Texas A&M University,
sees Kwanzaa as an example of postmodernism. According to Meštrovic,
modern society has discarded ancient traditions as racist, sexist
or otherwise oppressive, but since living in a world where nothing
is true is too terrifying to most people, "nice" and "synthetic"
traditions like Kwanzaa have been created to cope with the nihilistic,
individualistic modern society.