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Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday celebrating family, community and culture. To fully ingest, appreciate, and understand the root and core values of Kwanzaa; one must conceive the profound tone of its spirit, which is its concern with values.  In this article we will explore the history, foundation, principles and symbols of Kwanzaa. 

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga to introduce and reinforce seven basic values of African culture promoting family, community and culture among African American and African people.  Dr. Karenga is a professor of African Studies at California State University, author of several books including “The African American Holiday of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community & Culture”, and scholar-activist whose life work has been to stress the need to preserve, revitalize and promote African American/African culture. 

The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Kwanzaa builds on 5 activities of first fruit celebrations including:


  1. Ingathering- The gathering of people to reaffirm the bonds between them
  2. Reverence- A time of reverence for the creator and creation
  3. Commemoration-A time for seeking the past in pursuit of its lessons, progressive human excellence,  and acknowledgment of our wise ancestors
  4. Recommitment-Recommitting to our highest cultural ideals always bringing fourth the BEST of African cultural- thought and practice
  5. Celebration- Celebrating the good. The good of family, community and culture; the good of all things amazing and ordinary; the good of the divine


Kwanzaa’s values are called the Nguzo Saba which in Swahili means “The Seven Principles.”  The Nguzo Saba are the heart and soul of Kwanzaa.  These principles are not only the foundation and building blocks for community; they also seek and serve to reinforce and enhance them. The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa (Swahilli/English) are:


  1. Umoja/Unity-To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race
  1. Kujichagulia/Self-Determiniation-To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves
  1. 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
  1. Ujamaa/Cooperative Economics-To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together
  1. Nia/Purpose-To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness
  1. Kuumba/Creativity-To always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful than we inherited it
  1. Imani/Faith-To believe with all of hearts in our people, parents, teachers, leaders; and the righteousness and victory of our struggle



Kwanzaa has seven basic and two supplemental symbols.  Each represents values and concepts reflective to African culture:


Mazao (The Crops)

These are symbolic of African harvest celebrations and of the rewards of productive and collective labor.


Mkeka (The Mat)

This is symbolic of our tradition and history and therefore, the foundation on which we build.


Kinara (The Candle Holder)

This is symbolic of our roots, our parent people -- continental Africans.


Muhindi (The Corn)

This is symbolic of our children and our future which they embody.


Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles)

These are symbolic of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, the matrix and minimum set of values which African people are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs.


Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup)

This is symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity which makes all else possible.


Zawadi (The Gifts)

These are symbolic of the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by the children.


The two supplemental symbols are:


Bendera (The Flag)

The colors of the Kwanzaa flag are the colors of the Organization Us, black, red and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. It is based on the colors given by the Hon. Marcus Garvey as national colors for African people throughout the world.


Nguzo Saba Poster (Poster of The Seven Principles)



Although Kwanzaa is officially celebrated from December 26 – Jan 1, let us be a people of consistency and growth.  Let us be a people of continual elevation of mind, spirit and body.  Let us not be a people of crisis; but a people of good character-dwelling in a place of continual blessings in eternal pursuit of higher consciousness and unity of family, community

and culture.


Nicole Resheka Tatum


Nicole Resheka Tatum author of Poetry Passion Purpose available at, strives to bring the "Good News" of the strides of African Americans by writing informative articles and extraordinary poetry that empowers Blacks to actualize the greatness that our forefathers fought and died for. As we discover the truth we eliminate excuse.






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Comment by Just Me Magazine, Inc. on March 26, 2013 at 3:25pm

Nice article.

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