Kwanzaa Honors First Harvest, Recognizes Seven Principals

The seven symbols—a mat, crops, unity cup, candle holder, seven candles, corn and gifts—arranged on an African cloth.

Many people are familiar with the holidays that are celebrated at this time of year, such as Christmas and Hanukkah, but for some, Kwanzaa is virtually unknown. Kwanzaa, celebrated annually from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, is a relatively new holiday when compared with other celebrations that occur during December. It was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, chair of The Organization Us—which founded the holiday—and The National Association of Kawaida Organizations.

Kwanzaa was created for several reasons, including “to reaffirm and restore African-Americans’ rootedness in African culture, to serve as a regular communal celebration to reaffirm and reinforce the bonds between us as a people, and to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba, or the Seven Principles,” according to the official Kwanzaa web site, www.

Much like Christmas and Hanukkah, Kwanzaa is celebrated in recognition of an historical event. The holiday’s origins are in the first-harvest celebrations of Africa, which occurred in both ancient and modern times. The word “Kwanzaa” is derived from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits.”

Kwanzaa’s principles originate with the five fundamental activities of first-fruit celebrations—ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment and celebration.

Seven Principles
The Nguzo Saba are “seven basic values of African culture that contribute to building and reinforcing family, community and culture among African-American people, as well as Africans throughout the world African community,” according to the web site.

“These values stand at the heart of the origin and meaning of Kwanzaa, for it is these values that are not only the building blocks for community, but also that serve to reinforce and enhance them,” stated the web site.

The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa are Umoja, or unity—“to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race”; Kujichagulia, or self-determination—“to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves”; Ujima, or collective work and responsibility—“to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together”; Ujamaa, or cooperative economics—“to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses to profit from them together”; Nia, or purpose—“to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness”; Kuumba, or 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 we inherited it”; and Imani, or faith—“to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”

Seven symbols are used in specific celebration procedures during Kwanzaa—Mazao, Mkeka, Kinara, Muhindi, Mishumaa Saba, Kikombe cha Umoja and Zawadi.

Symbols and Celebration
An African cloth is spread on a table in a central place in the home. Next, the Mkeka, or mat, is placed on the cloth, and the other symbols are placed on it. The Mkeka is “symbolic of our tradition and history, and, therefore, the foundation on which we build,” according to the Kwanzaa web site.

Next, the Kinara, or candle holder, is placed on the mat, and the Mishumaa Saba, or seven candles, are inserted in the Kinara.

The candle holder is “symbolic of our roots, our parent people—continental Africans,” the Web site continues.

The seven candles are black for the people, red for their struggle and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. Each candle represents the seven principles of Kwanzaa, which are a “matrix and minimum set of values that African people are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image, and according to their own needs,” according to the Kwanzaa web site.

Candles Represent Principles
The black candle represents Umoja, and is placed in the center of the candle holder. The three red candles, representing Kujichagulia, Ujamaa and Kuumba, are placed to the left of the black candle. The three green candles represent Ujima, Nia and Imani, and are placed to the right of the black candle.

The black candle is lit on the first day of Kwanzaa, Dec. 26, and the remaining candles are lit afterward, from left to right, on each day of the celebration.

“This procedure is to indicate that the people come first, then the struggle, and then the hope that comes from the struggle,” states the Kwanzaa web site.

Next, the Mazao, or crops, and at least two ears of corn, or Muhindi, are placed on the mat. The corn is symbolic of children and the future they embody, and the crops are symbolic of the African harvest celebrations from which the holiday originates, and the rewards of productive and collective labor.

Community and Unity
Corn is placed on the mat whether or not there are children in the immediate family, because adults in African tradition are considered to be immediate or social parents of the community’s children.

Next, the Kikombe cha Umoja, or the unity cup, is placed on the mat, and is used “to pour libation to the ancestors in remembrance and honor of those who paved the path down which we walk and who taught us the good, the Tamshi and the beautiful in life,” according to the Web site. “Then African art objects and books on the life and culture of African people are also placed on or next to the mat to symbolize our commitment to heritage and learning.”

Zawadi, or gifts, must include a book to emphasize the African value and tradition of learning, and a heritage symbol, which reinforces the African commitment to tradition and history. Gifts are mainly given to children, and are symbols of the hard work and love of the parents, and the commitments that are made and kept by the children.

Jan. 1—The Day of Meditation.
Jan. 1, the last day of Kwanzaa, has historically been, for African people, “a time of sober assessment of things done and things to do, of self-reflection and reflection on the life and future of the people and of recommitment to their highest cultural values in a special way,” states the Web site.

The last day of Kwanzaa is a day of self-reflection on a personal level. It is suggested that one ask the following three questions: “Who am I? Am I really who I say I am? Am I all I ought to be?”

This day is designated for those who celebrate Kwanzaa to recommit themselves to the highest ideals of what it means to be African.

One should maintain a quiet, thoughtful and humble attitude toward themselves and their neighbors.

The number seven is found throughout the celebration of Kwanzaa—seven symbols, seven candles and seven days. Even the word “Kwanzaa” is seven letters long.

This repetition of the number seven occurs for two reasons.

Kwanzaa is based on Southern African first-fruits celebrations, which have seven days. The length of the holiday is also intended to stress the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles, which were created by Karenga.

Who Can Celebrate Kwanzaa?
While Kwanzaa is an African holiday created for African people, others can celebrate, just as non-Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

“Any particular message that is good for a particular people, if it is human in its content and ethical in its grounding, speaks not just to that people, it speaks to the world,” states the official Kwanzaa Web site. “The principles of Kwanzaa and the message of Kwanzaa have a universal message for all people of good will. It is rooted in African culture, and we speak as Africans must speak, not just to ourselves, but to the world.”

Local Kwanzaa Celebration
The Sigma Theta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. will present its 10th annual Kwanzaa celebration on Dec. 26, at the Franklin A. Powell Sr. Park, beginning at 6 p.m.

The celebration will feature performances by quadrille dancers, the Love City Pan Dragons and the Love City Leapers. A community elder is honored each year, and this year’s honoree is Donald Christopher Sr.

Oswin Sewer Sr. was chosen by the sorority as a guest speaker for the event.

“He was chosen because of his willingness to support us in our previous Kwanzaa programs, and for helping us with the history and other information about Kwanzaa,” said Lucinda Parsons, president of the Sigma Theta Omega chapter.

The seven principles and symbols of Kwanzaa will be explained, and the seven candles will be lit at the celebration.