What is Kwanzaa?


Photo by Photo Courtesy of Brooklyn Nation

Karamu Celebration

By Madissyn Moore, Reporter

Have you heard about Kwanzaa? Do you know anyone who celebrates it? The Bear Truth put out a poll on Instagram asking how many people celebrate Kwanzaa and out of 34 people, no one did. If you don’t know what it is and haven’t heard of it, this article is for you!

Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African holiday created in 1966 by a college professor, Dr. Maulana Karenga, after the Watts riots. This holiday was created to celebrate African heritage and culture. It was meant to bring the African race together annually to bring a sense of unity despite possible discord among us.

Unlike Christmas, Kwanzaa lasts for 7 days: December 26th to January 1st. There are 7 principles, each celebrated on its own day. These principles are called the Nguzo Saba. Each principle is listed in order: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba and Imani. 

Umoja: The first day of Kwanzaa celebrated is Umoja, which means unity. People who celebrate Kwanzaa try not to argue or cause conflict that can not be solved. According to Dr. Karenga, it means “to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.”

Kujichagulia: The second day, Kujichagulia, means self-determination. It is a day to look within yourself and be confident in who you are and where you come from. A day “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves,” Dr. Karenga said. It emphasizes our freedom to be who we want to be, not what a slave owner or society tells us we are.

Ujima: The third day, Ujima, means collective work and responsibility. On this day, we need “to build and maintain our community together and to make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.”

Ujamaa: Ujamaa is the fourth day and means cooperative economics. On Ujamaa, our businesses come together and support one another and our community. This really targets black-owned businesses. Dr. Karenga dedicated this day for Africans “to build and maintain our stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.”

Nia: The fifth day, Nia, means purpose. According to Dr. Karenga, that day is time “to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.”

Kuumba: The sixth day means creativity. Historically, African-Americans’ and Pan-Africans’ creativity was blocked; they weren’t given the opportunity to explore it. Kuumba is a day to indulge in our natural creative abilities, and whether that’s through music, dance, art, or poetry, we shine a light on it.  We need “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: Imani is the last day of Kwanzaa and means faith. On the last day, we emphasize our faith in our people and that we’ll rise into more than just our history or what society depicts the African-Americans/Pan-Africans should be. Dr. Karenga devoted this day for us “to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our leaders, our teachers and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

Similar to the Hanukkah tradition, with each passing day one candle is lit, representing the seven principles. The candles are three different colors: black, red, and green. Black represents the people, red represents our struggle, and green represents the future and hope. The black candle is lit during Umoja, the red candles are lit on Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, and Kuumba, and the green candles are lit on Ujima, Nia, and Imani. 

On Imani, the last day, a huge feast is held, called the Karamu, to bring communities and families together. People gather in a commonplace for the feast dressed in their best African-styled clothing (dashikis, etc). Some gatherings have fun activities for kids and adults to participate in.

Friends and family gather for Karamu last year in Wisconsin.

Kwanzaa is a special holiday celebrated around the world. There are so many aspects to Kwanzaa and it is important to be well-versed in many cultures and traditions different from your own.