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12.23.20 | Arts & Culture

Learning From the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is an annual African American and Pan-African holiday that brings people together globally to celebrate their cultural and ancestral roots. The holiday, created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, derives its name from the Swahili phrase “matunday ya kwanza,” or “first fruits,” and was inspired by the harvest traditions of the Ashanti and Zulu. In honor of this culturally-rich event, today we’re exploring more of the holiday’s history and traditions.

The History of Kwanzaa

Dr. Karenga created Kwanzaa after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. As a major figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Karenga saw the celebration as a way to bring African Americans together as a community and to uplift Black Power. While the holiday began as a radical alternative to mainstream denominations, in a 1997 address, Dr. Karenga revised his stance so as not to alienate practicing Christians. Today, many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa alongside their own religious holidays. 

The celebration of Kwanzaa takes place across a period of seven days from December 26 to January 1. Families gather to light the Kwanzaan candelabra, the Kinara, which holds seven candles, one for each night. The seven candles correspond to the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba. There are numerous other celebratory symbols and traditions in addition to the lighting of the Kinara.

The Seven Principles, Nguzo Saba

The Seven Principles, or Nguzo Saba, are reflective of important values in African culture. When lighting the Kinara each night, families reflect upon the principle that corresponds with that day. Nguzo Saba includes the following:

Umoja, or unity, means to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia, or self-determination, means to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

Ujima, or collective work and responsibility, means to build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.

Ujamaa, or cooperative economics, means to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia, or purpose, means to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba, or creativity, means to always do 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, or faith, means to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

As strong believers in the power of community and the collective, we at Sage Collective believe there is much to be learned from Nguzo Saba. To learn more about Kwanzaa, you can visit the website created for the holiday by Dr. Karenga here.

Two African American people wearing batik fabric hold a gift together that says Happy Kwanzaa
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