Practicing the seven principles of Kwanzaa

By Titilayo Bediako
Contributing Writer


Kwanzaa is an African American holiday that was created in 1966 by a professor in California named Dr. Maulana Karenga. He saw things in the African American community that bothered him. He saw Black people growing up not knowing about their rich African history and culture.

Karenga felt that when his people did not know about the great work their people had done and continue to do, it led to them not feeling good about themselves and those who looked like them, which led to them doing terrible things.

He studied to learn everything he could about his African heritage. He created Kwanzaa as a time where African Americans could celebrate the very best of people of African descent.

Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that means “first” and stands for the first fruits of the harvest. Swahili is a language spoken by many African people. Karenga understood that Africans had celebrations after the harvest, a time when people collect all the crops they have planted.

African people around the world have large harvest festivals that last from three to 14 days.
During the celebration, Africans praised the Creator who helped with their great abundance of food. Then they would honor the African Ancestors who led the example for those of us following in their footsteps. At the celebration, there was singing, dancing, drumming, storytelling, great food and fun for all.

Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1. It is based on a seven-principles value system. Principles are values that we believe in and live by.

The first principle of Kwanzaa is Umoja, which means Unity. Unity focuses on African Americans working together with their families and with their community to make life better for all their people.

The second principle of Kwanzaa is Kujichagulia. Kujichagulia means Self-Determination.   Self-Determination means to believe in yourself and to be powerful in mind and in body. It means to only do things that make a person strong, and not to do things that hurt yourself.

The third principle of Kwanzaa is Ujima, which means Collective Work and Responsibility. It means that African Americans work with each other. This includes sharing all the work and treating each other like sisters and brothers, whether we are blood relatives or not. This means to give your best and to do your part.

Ujamaa is the fourth principle of Kwanzaa, which means Cooperative Economics. This means to learn as much as we can in school to create our own resources, which include businesses, food, schools, books, computers, cars, bicycles, and all the things that a people needs to live and be happy.

Nia is the fifth principle of Kwanzaa, which means Purpose. Purpose means to always have a reason behind everything we do. Purpose means to study about our ancestors who made great sacrifices, which included giving their lives so that life would be better for all African Americans. Our purpose as Black people should make life better for those coming behind us so they will be able to make their lives better from our examples.

Kuumba is the sixth principle of Kwanzaa, which means Creativity. Creativity is all of the things we do that show our great talents and our ability to be great. This includes the way we learn, the way we dance, the way we draw, the way we comb our hair, and the way we give our best to everything we do to make ourselves better.

Imani is the seventh principle of Kwanzaa, which means Faith. Faith means to believe in ourselves, our parents, our mwalimus (teachers), other mwafunzis (students), and the Creator. Having Faith allows us to believe that we can and will give and do our best at everything we do. When we have Imani and give our best, we create Black Excellence.

The colors of Kwanzaa are red, black and green. There are seven candles, and one candle is lit each of the seven days. After the candles are lit, libations are poured and the ancestors are honored.

On each day of Kwanzaa, the family talks about the principle of the day. They talk about how they have practiced the principle and how they will practice the principle in the coming year.  Kwanzaa songs are sung, poetry is read, and inspiring words that uplift African people are encouraged.

The greeting during Kwanzaa is a question. “Habari Gani?” (“What’s the news?”) is asked each time you greet a person during Kwanzaa.  The response is the principle of the day. For example, on the first day of Kwanzaa, when you greet a person with ‘Habari Gani?” The answer is “Umoja.” Or on the fourth day of Kwanzaa, when someone asks, “Habari Gani?” the response is, “Ujamaa.”

On the last day of Kwanzaa, January 1, many fast; this means eating no food all day. As the sun goes down, a person only eats fruits, nuts, vegetables and juices. The fast represents cleansing the mind and spirit for the New Year.

There used to be a tradition in the Twin Cities that various organizations would come together to celebrate Kwanzaa, which really helped to build community and bring about Umoja (unity). That no longer happens. Unfortunately, among those who do celebrate Kwanzaa, the word is not spread throughout the community, so for many there is a void in terms of Kwanzaa.

It is important for the sake of our community and our children to come together around Kwanzaa all seven days and to share and celebrate the greatness of African American people.

Titilayo Bediako welcomes reader responses to tbediako@aol.com.