KWANZAA, The First Fruit Celebration

The Creation of KWANZAA (Kwahn-zah) — Celebrated December 26 to January 1 of every year

In 1966, KWANZAA was created by a young visionary living on the west coast who was also the founder and chairman of the Black Nationalist Organization. Dr. Maulana Karenga, a trained political and cultural scientist and a participant and theoretician of the Black Liberation Movement, postulated that significant and meaningful Black movement in the U.S. was improbable, if not impossible, without a cultural component (base). He felt that at the base of any movement must be the cultural imperative that give the people a clear and precise sense of “identity, purpose and direction.”

KWANZAA is derived from the Swahili word, KWANZA which means first fruits and is part of the phrase Matunda Ya. Dr Karenga added the extra “a” to distinguish the Afro-American from the African. The idea and conceptions of KWANZAA developed out the system of social and political thought of Kawaida (Tradition and Reason), also developed by Dr. Karenga.

The roots of KWANZAA are continental African, but the branches and fruit are distinctly Afro-American. Dr. Karenga sought to make the natural and profound connection of Afro-American people to their ancestral beginnings, therefore, KWANZAA “as a holiday of the first fruits” comes directly out of the tradition of agricultural people of Africa, who celebrated and gave thanks for harvest at designated times during the year.

Each tribe or community in Africa would come together to sing, dance, eat and drink and celebrate the harvest of the first fruits and vegetables. The would bring food they grew or items they made to give to the feast.

Although Afro-Americans are essentially an urban people and, thus, have few crops to harvest, the concept of “ingathering and celebration” formed a conceptual basis for KWANZAA.

The cultural dynamism of KWANZAA is best displayed through its progressive value base, the NGUZA SABA (the Seven Principles) and its unique absence of a dependency on mystical or spookistic distortion of the world. The NGUAO SABA was created by Dr. Karenga in 1965 and represents the “minimum set of principles by which Black people must live in order to begin to receive and reconstruct our history and lives… they are social principles, dealing with ways for relating to others and rebuilding lives and a more positive image.”

The NGUZA SABA requires an introspective confrontation of self and society, demands political action rather than non-action and emphasizes building than crippling destruction. The Seven Principles of the NGUZO SABA are listed below:

NGUZA SABA (the Seven Principles)

  • UMOJA (UNITY) –To Strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
  • KUJICHAGULIA (SELF DETERMINATION) –To define ourselves, names ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves rather than to allow others to do these things for us.
  • UJIMA (COLLECTIVE WORK AND RESPONSIBILITY) –To build and maintain our community together to make our sister and brothers’ problems our problems and to solve them together.
  • UJAMAA (COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS) –To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
  • NIA (PURPOSE) –To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
  • KUUMBA (CREATIVITY) –To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it.
  • IMANI (FAITH) –To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Suggested Reading:

  • KWANZAA A Progressive and Uplifting African American Holiday (ISBN 0-88378-012-7) by Haki R. Madhubuti
  • The KWANZAA Coloring Book by Valerie J.R. Banks Illustrated by Sylvia Woodard (ISBN 0-9622340-4-4)