Celebrating Kwanzaa

The seven symbols of Kwanzaa: unity cup, candle holder, straw mat, 7 candles, ears of corn, crops, gifts.

The seven symbols of Kwanzaa: unity cup, candle holder, straw mat, 7 candles, ears of corn, crops, gifts.

“Two birds disputed about a kernel, when a third swooped down and carried it off” (Congolese proverb)

As we approach a festive time of year fueled by tradition and joy, September Set sat down with elder Baba Lumumba, of Umoja House (DC cultural hub), to have an intergenerational exchange on the history and significance of Kwanzaa. As a native of Oakland, California, whose spirit and energy continues to be reflective of the 60’s and 70’s, Baba Lumumba describes Kwanzaa as being the first time in history when a cultural connection is made globally among Africans in the diaspora. With what began in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga in Los Angeles, California, as a seven day holiday that reclaims cultural roots, values and tradition for African-Americans, Kwanzaa has become recognizable and practiced world-wide.

Kwanzaa provides an opportunity to “tap into who we are and allow us to be ourselves”, says Baba Lumumba, who proceeds to describe it as a “powerful tool for how to live with balance and harmony based on a frame of reference that gives a firm foundation”. As a result, it has the potential for maximum political impact because it can increase solidarity at an optimum level. History has illustrated the truth in the Swahili proverb that states, “Unity is strength, and division is weakness.” We can’t recall another vehicle for Africans in the diaspora that involves guidelines that include a common language, set of values, practices and tradition that can be utilized anywhere in the world at the same time. Kwanzaa signals a new direction that empowers us to appreciate and love each other by placing value on identity and community, proving to be nourishing and beneficial.

If you’re interested in participating in Kwanzaa, don’t delay. Try joining a locally sponsored Kwanzaa event nearest you (search via your internet browser) and go. Also, feel free to host your own event. Below are some basics to help you get started:

Seven Days and Seven Principles (Nguzo Saba):

December 26th- Umoja (Unity)

December 27th- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)

December 28th- Ujima (Collective Work & Responsibility)

December 29th- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)

December 30th- Nia (Purpose)

December 31st- Kuumba (Creativity)

January 1st- Imani (Faith)

Seven Symbols of Kwanzaa:

Mkeka (Straw Mat) – tradition and history; the foundation on which all else rests

Kinara (Candle Holder)- original stalk from which we come; our African ancestors

Mishumaa Saba (7 candles)- Nguzo Saba; The seven principles firmly rooted in traditions of our ancestors

Muhindi (Ears of corn)- represents children and all the hopes and challenges attached to them

Kikombe cha Umoja (Unity cup)

Mazao (Crops)- the collective fruits of our labor; seeds sown by the children

Zawadi (Gifts)- rewards for our achievements

What to do and When to do it:

Beginning December 19th- Gather and arrange Kwanzaa symbols. Decorations should be in red, black and green color scheme.

Red- the blood of the people     Black- the collective color of all Black people     Green- the land, Africa

Arrange the symbols on a low table as follows:

  1. Spread the Mkeka

  2. Place the Kinara in the center of the Mkeka

  3. Place the Muhindi on either side of the Kinara, one ear of corn for each child, or one as a symbol of prosperity

  4. Creatively place the Zawadi, Kikombe, and a basket of Mazao on the Mkeka

  5. Place 1 Black Mishumaa in the center of the Kinara, with 3 Green on the right, and 3 Red on the left

December 26th -  January 1st

Greeting- Greet each other in Kiswhili asking “Habari Gani?” (What’s happening?) and respond with the principle for the day.

Candle Lighting Ceremony- Light one candle each day for the principle for the day, beginning with the black candle. Each day thereafter alternately light the red and then the green candles. After lighting each candle, discuss the principle of the day. The ceremony should be held at a time when family members, especially children, can participate.

Karamu (The feast)- A festive occasion held on the night of December 31st.

Economic Empowerment- In the spirt of cooperative economics, patron Black-owned businesses.

Fasting- Fast from sunrise to sunset to cleanse the body, disciple the mind, and uplift the spirit.

Zawadi (gift)- (should not be mandatory, expensive or excessive) given as follows:

  1. One gift each day, reinforcing the principle of that day

  2. One or more gifts on January 1st, the last day of Kwanzaa