7 Guiding Principles and 7 Symbolic Symbols of Kwanzaa

18 December 2022
By Sarah Angela Almaden
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Each year, millions of African-American and Pan-African communities Celebrate Kwanzaa from the 26th of December through the 1st of January. This seven-day Celebration is not associated with any particular religion; instead, this holiday is a celebration to honor African history and traditions, at the same time unite African-American and Pan-African communities.

Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of African studies at California State University, created Kwanzaa in 1966 to strengthen and unite the African American community in the wake of the tragic Watts Rebellion.

According to Dr. Karenga, the idea behind Kwanzaa is inspired by the South African first fruits celebrations, and the name Kwanzaa is derived from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means "first fruits." It is also important to note that Dr. Karenga intended the name Kwanzaa to be spelled with an extra “a,” so that the name would have the symbolic seven letters.

The ideas and themes behind the seven-day Kwanzaa celebration are rooted in Swahili. And each day of the cultural event is centered around one of its seven principles , which at the same time highlights important values of African culture.

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    The seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa are known as Nguza Saba. ​​

    Dr. Karenga developed the seven Kwanzaa principles (written in Swahili and English) to honor African traditional family values and reconnect Black Americans to their African heritage.

    1.Umoja or Unity

    To stay united in the family, community, and nation

    2.Kujichagulia or Self-determination

    To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves

    3.Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility

    To build and maintain our community together and make our community’s problems our problems and to solve them together

    4.Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics

    To create and maintain African-American owned businesses and to profit from them together

    5.Nia or Purpose

    To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness

    6.Kuumba or Creativity

    To do always as much as we can to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it

    7.Imani or Faith

    To believe with all our hearts in our people and the righteousness and victory of our struggle

    There are seven core symbols gathered and used during Kwanzaa rituals.

    Each of the primary symbols of Kwanzaa serves as a symbol of the African history that helped shape the culture and customs that are found throughout Africa and the African diaspora.

    1.Kikombe cha umoja or the Unity cup

    Represents the unity of the family and the community

    2.Kinara or Candleholder

    Represents the African ancestors that hold the family and community

    3.Mishumaa saba or the 7 candles

    Represents the seven principles and values of Kwanzaa;
    • -3 red candles represent the struggle

    • -3 green candles represent the environment and a hopeful future

    • -1 black candle presents the people of African descent

    4.Mazao or the Crops

    Represents the fruits and the crops of African harvest, recognizing productive and collective hard work

    5.Muhindi or the Corn

    Represents the children and the future generation

    6.Zawadi or Gifts

    Represents the labor and love of the family and the community

    7.Mkeka or a Kwanzaa mat

    Represents the history, tradition, and foundation on which everything is based upon

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