Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday celebrated primarily in the United States, honoring African-American heritage. It is observed from December 26 to January 1 each year.
Kwanzaa consists of seven days of celebration, featuring activities such as candle-lighting and pouring of libations, and culminating in a feast and gift giving. It was created by Maulana Karenga and first celebrated from December 26, 1966, to January 1 1967.
History and etymology
An African-American scholar and social activist, Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as the only original African-American holiday. Karenga said his goal was to "...give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society. The name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili
phrase "matunda ya kwanza
", meaning "first fruits". The choice of Swahili, an East African language, reflects its status as a symbol of Pan-Africanism
, especially in the 1960s.
Kwanzaa is a festivity 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 "common humanist principles."
Also in 1997, the first Kwanzaa stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service on October 22 at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, California. In 2004 a second Kwanzaa stamp, created by artist Daniel Minter was issued which has seven figures in colorful robes symbolizing the seven principles.
In 2008, Maya Angelou narrated The Black Candle, the first feature film about Kwanzaa.
Principles of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called "The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa", or Nguzo Saba
(originally Nguzu Saba
- "The Seven Principles of Blackness"), 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
term for tradition
. 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 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 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 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.
- 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 President George W. Bush
's 2004 Presidential Kwanzaa Message, he said that, "During Kwanzaa, millions of African Americans and people of African descent gather to celebrate their heritage and ancestry. Kwanzaa celebrations provide an opportunity to focus on the importance of family, community, and history, and to reflect on the Nguzo Saba or seven principles of African culture. These principles emphasize unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith."
In 2004 BIGresearch 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 the US population as a whole, this would imply that around 4.7 million Americans planned to celebrate Kwanzaa in that year. In a 2006 speech, Karenga asserted that 28 million people celebrate Kwanzaa. He has always maintained it is celebrated all over the world. Lee D. Baker puts the number at 12 million.
Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households with objects of art, colorful African cloth, especially the wearing of the Uwole
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 Africans 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 "What's the News?".
At first, observers of Kwanzaa eschewed the mixing of the holiday or its symbols, values and practice with other holidays. They felt that 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. To them, 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.
Evolution in Kwanzaa's observance
In 1977, in Kwanzaa: origin, concepts, practice, Karenga stated, that Kwanzaa "was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.
In 1997, Karenga changed his position, stating that while Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday, it can be celebrated by people of any race: "other people can and do celebrate it, just like other people participate in Cinco de Mayo besides Mexicans; Chinese New Year besides Chinese; Native American pow wows besides Native Americans.
Currently, according to the Official Kwanzaa Website authored by Karenga and maintained by Organization US, which Karenga chairs, "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday. And it is not an alternative to people's religion or faith but a common ground of African culture...Kwanzaa is not a reaction or substitute for anything. In fact, it offers a clear and self-conscious option, opportunity and chance to make a proactive choice, a self-affirming and positive choice as distinct from a reactive one.
Karenga's most recent interpretation emphasizes that while every people have their various holiday traditions, all people can share in the celebration of our common humanity: "Any particular message that is good for a particular people, if it is human in its content and ethical in its grounding, speaks not just to that people, it speaks to the world.
The Black Candle
, a documentary by M.K. Asante, Jr.
, narrated by Maya Angelou
, is a 2008 film about Kwanzaa. The first feature film about the holiday, the film uses Kwanzaa as a vehicle to celebrate the African experience.
- Dashiki - A shirt or suit worn during Kwanzaa celebrations
- Kufi - A cap worn during Kwanzaa celebrations
- Kaftan (boubou) - A dress worn by women during Kwanzaa celebrations
- A program to raise the faith level in African-American children through Scripture, Kwanzaa principles and culture, Janette Elizabeth Chandler Kotey, DMin, Oral Roberts University,1999
- The US Organization: African-American cultural nationalism in the era of Black Power, 1965 to the 1970s, Scot D. Brown, PhD, Cornell University, 1999
- Rituals of race, ceremonies of culture: Kwanzaa and the making of a Black Power holiday in the United States,1966--2000, Keith Alexander Mayes, PhD, Princeton University, 2002
- Interview: Kwanzaa creator Maulana Karenga discusses the evolution of the holiday and its meaning in 2004 By: Tony Cox. Tavis Smiley (NPR), 12/26/2003
- Tolerance in the News: Kwanzaa: A threat to Christmas? By Camille Jackson | Staff Writer, Tolerance.org, 12/22/2005
- Should African-Americans Celebrate Kwanzaa? By: Mike Gallagher; Alan Colmes. Hannity & Colmes (FOX News), 12/22/2004
- Is Kwanzaa a Racist Holiday? By: Sean Hannity; Alan Colmes. Hannity & Colmes (FOX News), 12/06/2005