Though many Americans don’t know much about Kwanzaa, it’s a beautiful holiday that all can share in. Kwanzaa, the pan-African holiday, kicks off yesterday with a weeklong celebration of African culture and values. The African Diaspora will celebrate the occasion by paying tribute to their roots and striving to lead better lives. Greetings, Kwanzaa greetings are in Swahili and English. “Habari gani?” is a traditional Swahili greeting, and the response is each of the principles, depending on which day of Kwanzaa it is. Other greetings include “Heri za Kwanzaa,” or simply, “Happy Kwanzaa!”
Kwanzaa symbols include a decorative mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed, corn (Muhindi) and other crops, a candle holder kinara with seven candles (Mishumaa Saba), a communal cup for pouring libation (Kikimbe cha Umoja), gifts (Zawadi), a poster of the seven principles, and a black, red, and green flag (optional). The symbols were designed to convey the seven principles.
Kwanzaa was established by Maulana Karenga in 1966, Kwanzaa is a holiday that honors African heritage and celebrates family, community, and culture. It takes its name from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which in Swahili means “first fruits.”
Kwanzaa’s origin lies in the 1960s civil rights and Black Freedom movements, and is a way of commemorating the African heritage of black Americans whose ethnic history was stripped away by the slave trade. Swahili is the most widely spoken African language, and was thus chosen as the language of Kwanzaa’s principles.
According to Karenga, “Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture.” It is a cultural rather than religious holiday, and can be celebrated regardless of a person’s faith tradition.
“First fruits” celebrations date back to ancient Egypt and Nubia, and commemorate the harvest.
The colors black, red, and green are part of Kwanzaa celebrations due to their special significance. Black represents the people, red is for the blood uniting all those with African ancestry, as well as the blood shed during slavery and the civil rights movement, and green is for the lush land of Africa. These colors also reflect the Pan-African movement itself.
A candle holder known as a kinara fits seven candles, each representing one of the Kwanzaa principles. The kinara is lit during Kwanzaa. Some of these items include the kinara, crops to symbolize African harvest celebrations, and corn, which represents children and the future.
It’s not tied to any religion, While the first day of Kwanzaa falls on Dec. 26 – the day after Christmas – and is celebrated during the holiday season, it is not a religious holiday. The holiday ends on Jan. 1. Although Karenga initially thought of Kwanzaa as an alternative to Christmas, he later changed his stance and encouraged African Christians and Africans of other religions to participate in Kwanzaa.
Ceremony of lighting the candles by elder leader Dr. Jeffries
Kwanzaa is rooted in seven principles, illustrated by the candles (above), and the symbols (below). These principles are known as Nguzo Saba, and each value represents an aspect of African philosophy. In his Kwanzaa 2013 message, Karenga explains the purpose of the principles. “The Nguzo Saba stand out as a clear way to walk, work and struggle in the world as African people; a way of life that begins with the respect for the relational character of human life,” he wrote. “It is a cultural way we call communitarian, i.e., community-grounded, which understands that we come into being, develop and flourish relationships. And it is a way that teaches that the hub and hinge on which the whole of human life turns is the quality of relationships.”
The principles are: Umoja (Unity); Ujamaa (Cooperative economics); Ujima (Collective work and responsibility); Nia (Purpose); Kujichagulia (Self-determination); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith.)
Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of African Heritage), 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 and reason. 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.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
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.
Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
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 hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Presents are exchanged, but at least some of the gifts should be educational. According to the official Kwanzaa website, which is maintained by Karenga, “gifts are given mainly to children, but must always including a book and a heritage symbol. The book is to emphasize the African value and tradition of learning stressed since ancient Egypt, and the heritage symbol to affirm and reinforce the African commitment to tradition and history.”
The Kwanzaa celebration observers are instructed to avoid mixing symbols of the holiday with other celebrations, such as Christmas. “First, you should come to the celebration with a profound respect for its values, symbols and practices and do nothing to violate its integrity, beauty and expansive meaning,” the official Kwanzaa website advises. “Secondly, you should not mix the Kwanzaa holiday or its symbols, values and practice with any other culture. This would violate the principles of Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) and this would violate the integrity of the holiday.
“Thirdly, choose the best and most beautiful items to celebrate Kwanzaa. This means taking time to plan and select the most beautiful objects of art, colorful African cloth, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc., so that every object used represents African culture and your commitment to the holiday in the best of ways.”
There have been several pore-kwanzaa events, in Newark, some of the photo, represent events held at NJPAC, and Essex County College. The City of Newark will be hosting a Kwanzaa celebration this Friday, December 27, 2013 at 4.30 Pm. Additionally they will be paying Tribute to Nelson Mandela. Location in City Hall, first Floor Rotunda.