Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, in 1966. Following the Watts riots in Los Angeles, Dr. Karenga searched for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. He founded US, a cultural organization, and researched African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations. Karenga combined aspects of several harvest celebrations, such as those of the Ashanti and those of Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.
Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in their own way, but celebrations include songs, dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry readings, and a traditional meal. On each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles called the “Nguzo Saba” are discussed. These principles are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African-Americans. An African feast, called a “karamu” is held on December 31st.
Here are the Seven Principles:
–Unity: (Umoja) To strive for unity in the family, community, nation, and race
–Self-determination: (Kujichagulia) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves
–Collective Work and Responsibility: (Ujima) To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together
–Cooperative Economics: (Ujamaa) To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together
–Purpose: (Nia) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness
–Creativity: (Kuumba) To do always as much as we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it
–Faith: (Imani) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle
To see what foods are served at Kwanzaa, click here.