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Celebrating Kwanzaa: 'First Fruits'

An African-American holiday celebrating the Nguzo Saba (seven principles) and the Karamu (feast).

KWANZAA, the African-American cultural holiday conceived and developed by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, was first celebrated on Dec. 26, 1966.

Kwanzaa, a celebration of family, community and culture, is held Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, with each day focused on the Nguzo Saba (the seven principles).

Derived from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits," Kwanzaa is rooted in the first harvest celebrations practiced in various cultures in Africa.

Kwanzaa seeks to enforce a connectedness to African cultural identity, provide a focal point for the gathering of African peoples and to reflect upon the Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles, that have sustained Africans.

Africans and African-Americans of all religious faiths and backgrounds practice Kwanzaa. By the 1990s Kwanzaa was celebrated by over 18 million blacks in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa.

The Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles) are:

Umoja - Unity
[oo MOH jah]

To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.

Kujichagulia - Self Determination
[KOO jee cha goo LEE ah]

To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves instead of being defined, named created and spoken for by others.

Ujima - Collective Work and Responsibility
[oo JEE mah]

To build and maintain our community together. To make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems to solve together.

Ujamma - Cooperative Economics
[oo JAH mah]

To build and maintain our own businesses and profit together from them.

Nia - Purpose
[NEE ya]

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

Kuumba - Creativity
[koo OOM bah]

To always do as much as we can in any way that we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it.

Imani - FAITH

[ee MAH nee]

To believe with all our hearts in our GOD our people our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

The Symbols of Kwanzaa

The symbols of Kwanzaa include:

  • The corn/crops (mzao) which represents the historical roots of African-Americans in agriculture and also the reward for collective labor.
  • The mat (mkeka) lays the foundation for self- actualization. The candle holder (kinara) reminds believers in the ancestral origins in one of 55 African countries.
  • Corn/maize (muhindi) signifies children and the hope associated in the younger generation.
  • Gifts (Zawadi) represent commitments of the parents for the children.
  • The unity cup (Kkimbe cha Umoja) is used to pour libations to the ancestors. Finally,
  • The seven candles (mishumaa saba) remind participants of the severl pinciples and the colors in flags of African liberation movements -- 3 red, 1 black, and 3 green.

The Karamu

The Kwanzaa Karumu (feast) traditionally is held on Dec. 31. Delicious African American delicacies are prepared during the Kwanzaa feast. Traditional African, Caribbean and South American recipes add the spice.

The Karamu is a communal and cooperative effort where ceremonies and cultural expressions are highly encouraged. Prior to and during the feast, an informative and entertaining program should be presented involved a welcoming, remembering, reassessment, recommitment and rejoicing, concluded by a farewell statement and a call for greater unity.

Often those holding a Karaum will adorn the venue where it is held (e.g., home, community center, church) in an African motif that utilizes black, red, and green color scheme. And a large Kwanzaa setting should dominate the room where the karamu will take place.

Happy Kwanzaa 2012!

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