The Story of Kwanzaa

The Story of Kwanzaa

Created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University Long Beach, Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community and culture.

Published December 26, 2011

Does your family celebrate Kwanzaa? According to the African-American Cultural Center in Los Angeles, an estimated 40 million people worldwide celebrate Kwanzaa, the African-American and Pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community and culture. As Kwanzaa kicks off today, brings you the backstory of the culturally-rich celebration.


Kwanzaa was created in Los Angeles in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach, during the Black Liberation movement of the 1960s.


The word Kwanzaa comes from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza,” which means "first fruits" in Swahili. Its origins date back to the first harvest celebrations of Africa. The holiday is celebrated for seven days, beginning on Dec. 26 and ending on Jan. 1. Kwanzaa is guided by seven principles and each day of the celebration a different principle is emphasized.

The Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba) are:

-- Umoja (oo-MOH-jah): Unity -- Success starts with Unity. Unity of family, community, nation and race.

-- Kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-goo-LEE-ah): Self-Determination -- To be responsible for ourselves. To create your own destiny.

-- Ujima (oo-JEE-mah): Collective work and responsibility -- To build and maintain your community together. To work together to help one another within your community.

-- Ujamaa (oo-jah-MAH): Collective economics
To build, maintain, and support our own stores, establishments, and businesses.

-- Nia (NEE-ah): Purpose -- To restore African American people to their traditional greatness. To be responsible to Those Who Came Before (our ancestors) and to Those Who Will Follow (our descendants).

-- Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah): Creativity -- Using creativity and imagination to make your communities better than what you inherited.

-- Imani (ee-MAH-nee): Faith -- Believing in our people, our families, our educators, our leaders, and the righteousness of the African American struggle.


 Karenga created Kwanzaa based on a set of principles, according to the Official Kwanzaa website:

 1. To reaffirm the communitarian vision and values of African culture and to contribute to its restoration among African peoples in the Diaspora, beginning with Africans in America and expanding to include the world African community.


 2. To introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles and through this, introduce and reaffirm communitarian values and practices which strengthen and celebrate family, community and culture. These seven communitarian African values are: Umoja (Unity), Kuji-chagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).


 3. To serve as a regular communal celebration which reaffirmed and reinforced the bonds between us as a people in the U.S., in the Diaspora and on the African continent, in a word, as a world African community. It was designed to unite and to strengthen African communities.


Decorating your home for the Kwanzaa holidays can be done by integrating traditional African items, such as African baskets, cloths and African-inspired art. The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green; black symbolizing the color of the African race, green symbolizing the land of Africa and red symbolizing the blood shed by the African people. 


To learn more about Kwanza and ways to celebrate at home and in your community, visit the Official Kwanzaa website.


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(Photo: The Record/MCT/Landov)

Written by Britt Middleton


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