All about Kwanzaa

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 6/20/2013, 12:47 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 26 marks the first day of Kwanzaa, a nonreligious celebration of African culture....
All about Kwanzaa


All about Kwanzaa

Monday, Dec. 26 marks the first day of Kwanzaa, a nonreligious celebration of African culture. Kwanzaa lasts for seven days, ending Jan. 1.

Kwanzaa, which means "first fruits of the harvest" in Swahili, was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. It focuses on family, community and culture. Though gifts are exchanged and a feast is enjoyed, Kwanzaa is not to be mistaken as a substitute for Christmas. Instead, it is an affirmation of seven guiding principles, the Nguzo Saba. These principles pay tribute to our ancestors and culture while reaffirming community values.

The seven principles are:

  1. Umoja (oo-MO-jah)-Unity
  2. Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah)-Self-determination
  3. Ujima (oo-GEE-mah)-Collective work and responsibility
  4. Ujamaa (oo-JAH-mah)-Cooperative economics
  5. Nia (NEE-yah)-Purpose
  6. Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah)-Creativity
  7. Imani (ee-MAH-nee)-Faith

As with any holiday tradition, there are items used in the celebration. The most familiar symbol of Kwanzaa is the kinara, which is similar to, but not to be confused with, the menorah used in the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. The kinara holds seven candles, while the menorah holds nine.

The seven candles of Kwanzaa are called kishumaa saba-three green candles on the right, three red candles on the left and one black candle in the center. Each represents one of the seven principles. On Dec. 26, the black center candle, representing Umoja, is lit. It is then used to light the others, one per day.

Other items used in the celebration include:

Mkeka-a straw placemat or basket

Mazao-fruits and vegetables

Vibunzi/Muhindi-ears of corn, one for each child in the household

Kikombe Cha Umoja-a communal cup



The Kwanzaa feast, called karamu, takes place on New Year's Eve and includes the kukaribisha (welcoming); kuumba (remembering); kuchunguza tena na kutoa ahadi tena (reassessment and recommitment); and kushangilla (rejoicing). Celebrations usually take place in churches or community centers. Decorations should be Afrocentric, using the red, black and green color scheme. The main area should be designated for the banquet, where everyone can help themselves. This setting should include the kinara, straw mat and ears of corn.

Karamu celebrates our African heritage and should include an inspiring guest speaker, music and traditional dance. Affordable, educational or artistic gifts are exchanged and should, ideally, be handmade, using the principal of Kuumba.

A libation statement called "Tamshi la Tambiko" is recited, during which time water from the communal cup (kikombe cha umoja) is poured in the four directions-north, south, east and west-in memory of loved ones who have passed away. The cup is then passed among the group.

Kwanzaa libation statement-Tamshi la Tambiko

"For the Motherland, cradle of civilization

For the ancestors and their indomitable spirit

For the elders, from whom we can learn much

For our youth, who represent the promise for tomorrow

For our people, the original people

For our struggle and in remembrance of those who have struggled on our behalf

For Umoja, the principle of unity, which should guide us in all that we do"

For the creator, who provides all things great and small

The ceremony ends with the Kutoa Majina (calling the names of family ancestors and Black heroes) and the Tamshi la Tutaonana (farewell statement).