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Kwanzaa: The Pan-African Holiday that Shapped the Black Community

Kwaanza comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.” It is a pan-African holiday celebrated by African Americans in the U.S. from Dec.26 to Jan.1. Although many families celebrate this holiday in their own way, they have one thing in common: the love of African culture.

The seven-day holiday was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, who became a powerful individual in the black community during the 1980s and 1990s. Karenga was also an advocate for the black power movement.

The African-American holiday, which is celebrated by millions worldwide, is defined by the seven principles. Each day is dedicated to a specific one by lighting a candle on the kinara, a seven-branched candelabra. Additionally, the holiday includes the agricultural festivities of Africa called “the first-fruits celebrations,” which are: times of harvest, ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration of the good.

The “ingathering” of the people is a time for family and community members to come together and celebrate the culture. Karenga referred

to this meeting as “harvesting of the people” — to bring everyone together to harvest the nation’s most valuable fruit or product.

The third fruit celebration, “reverence,” gives thanks to the creator and creation described Karenga as a time of thanksgiving to be thankful for all of the good in life, including self-love and love of friendship, family, community, and culture.

According to Karenga, “commemoration” describes a time to honor the moral obligation to remember and praise those on whose shoulders we stand; to appreciate those who sacrificed their lives so others can live a fuller and more meaningful life. He said “recommitment” is a time to stay grounded and fully committed to our highest ideals; to remain focused on the thought and practice of our highest cultural vision and ethical values.

Lastly, “celebration of the good” is a celebration of the good in life, community, culture, friendship, and the human race. It is also a time to reflect on the history of Black Americans in this country who survived the struggles and hardships to gain freedom and attain the highest levels in life as free individuals.

These are the seven principles of Kwanzaa:


Umoja means unity in Swahili. Karenga defines this on his Kwanzaa website as: “To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.”


Or self-determination. This principle focuses on defining, naming, creating, and speaking for oneself.


Translated as “collective work and responsibility,” the principle refers to uplifting your community.

“To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together,” Karenga writes.


Cooperative economics. Similar to ujima, this principle refers to uplifting your community economically. “To build and maintain our stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together,” he writes.


Nia means purpose.

Karenga broadens on this principle with, “To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community to restore our people to their traditional greatness.”


Meaning “creativity,” Karenga defines this principle as “To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.”


The final principle translates to “faith.”

This principle encourages faith in the community and writing. “To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”



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