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Kwanzaa Founder Explains a New Take on an Ancient Festival
By Charlie Keenan

Maulana Karenga
Photo courtesy the Official Kwanzaa Web site

The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

Try your hand at pronouncing the Seven Principles. You’ll see that Swahili words aren’t that hard to say.

1. unity/umoja (oo-MOH-ja): working toward a family and community that holds together

2. self-determination/kujichagulia (koo-jee-cha-goo-LEE-yah): define yourself and speak out for yourself

3. collective work and responsibility/ujima (oo-JEE-mah): helping out others

4. cooperative economics/ujamaa (oo-JAH-ma): helping and building stores and businesses together

5. a sense of purpose/nia (nee-AH): setting goals that help the community become better

6. creativity/kuumba (koo-OOM-bah): making the community better and more beautiful than before

7. faith/imani (ee-MAH-nee): believing in each other

To read more about Kwanzaa from Golier Online, click here.

Kwanzaa is a holiday observed by the African community worldwide from December 26 to January 1. The name comes from matunda ya kwanza, Swahili for “first fruits,” or the harvest celebrations of ancient Africa.

Maulana Karenga, an African-American scholar and activist, created the holiday in America in 1966. There are now more than 28 million people of African heritage in all of the continents who embrace Kwanzaa to celebrate family, community, and culture.

“Kwanzaa stresses the importance of our sowing the seeds of goodness everywhere,” Karenga says.

Kwanzaa is celebrated in lots of ways. Participants use rituals, dialogue, narratives, poetry, dancing, singing, drumming, and feasting during the holiday. A central ritual is the lighting of the seven candles (mishumaa)—one each day for the Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba). These are: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba), and faith (imani). (See pronunciation guide).

The first candle to be lit is black in color, signifying the people. Next are three red candles, which relate to their struggle. Last to be lit are the green candles, which symbolize the hope and future that come from the struggle.

Kids can learn a lot from following Kwanzaa, says Karenga. “The most important benefit children can get from Kwanzaa is an increasingly greater commitment to family, community, and culture through embracing and practicing the Seven Principles,” he says.

To read more about Kwanzaa from Golier Online, click here.