The Origin of Kwanzaa
In 1966 Kwanzaa became the first African-American holiday. Its founder, Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, believed that African Americans needed a holiday that celebrated their roots from Africa and their future in America. Kwanzaa, is a seven day celebration from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, established to coincide with harvest time in Africa. It is intended to bond African Americans together and encourage the practice of seven principles for meaningful living.
The word kwanza is a Swahili word meaning "first fruits of the harvest." For the holiday an extra "a" was added to make the word Kwanzaa; giving it 7 letters, one letter for each of the 7 principles. The names for each of the seven principles, the objects, and decorations are Swahili words. The language of Swahili was selected because most people in Africa, no matter what other language or dialect they speak, are also able to communicate in Swahili.
The Seven Principles
Each day of Kwanzaa focuses on one of the seven principles, known as Nguzo Saba. Activities and discussions center around the principle of the day and a candle is lit on the kinara. Often an adult will greet a child with the Swahili question, "Habri gani?" meaning "Whatís the news?" the child then responds with the name of the principle for the day.
- Umoja, meaning unity, is the first principle. Families share their thoughts and feelings with each other. They help each other and offer assistance to other African Americans who may need their help.
- Kujichagulia is self-determination. Children are encouraged to make decisions for themselves and African traditions such as music, clothing styles, and crafts are studied.
- Ujima means collective work and responsibility. Families work together to improve their lives, perhaps working around the house or taking on a project together.
- Ujamma is cooperative economics. African Americans build and support businesses owned by African Americans. Families may collect the pocket change from each member to buy something special for the family, or they may all contribute toward the purchase for a shared need.
- Nia, the fifth principle, is purpose. Each person considers their own future and how best to plan for it. Children are encouraged to think about what occupation they would like when they are grown.
- Kuumba means creativity. On this day everyone tries to create something unique. People may try a craft, create a new dance, write a poem, or any other activity for self-expression.
- Imani or faith is the last principle. It emphasizes the African Americansí belief: in their lives as positive and productive; in their past, their ancestors; their present, themselves; and their future, the children and who they will become.
Each day of Kwanzaa African Americans light one candle on a kinara, a wooden candle holder. The kinara itself represents their ancestors and it holds seven candles, one candle for each of the seven principles. The candles are called mishumma and the middle candle, which is the first candle to be lit, is black. Three red candles are placed on one side of the kinara and three green candles are placed on the other side.
The black candle represents the rich color of African American skin. The red candles symbolize the struggles of their people and the green candles symbolize the hope for a prosperous future. The candles are lit each night in alternating colors working from the inside out. After the first black candle is lit on the first night, the red candle closest to the black one is lit for the second night. The third night the inner most green candle is lit, and so on.
The mkeka is a straw mat. It represents unity, a firm foundation, and tradition. On the mkeka families place a variety of fruits and vegetables, or mazao meaning crops, to remember the earthís abundance during the traditional African harvest time.
They also place ears of corn, called muhindi, on the mkeka. One ear of corn for each child in the family is placed on the mat. Children are central to the Kwanzaa celebration because they represent the future of African American culture. Even families without children usually place an ear of corn on the mkeka to show their concern and responsibility to the children in their community.
The Giving of Gifts
At Kwanzaa time gifts are given to children to show love and as a reward for work well done. Traditionally these gifts, zawadi, are handmade and educational in nature. Zawadi often include hand-crafted dolls or necklaces. Books and heritage items are also given.
Kwanzaa usually includes a harvest feast called karamu held on the sixth or seventh day of the celebration. The feast begins when someone spills a few drops of the drink from the kibombe cha umoja, or the unity cup. These few drops represent the struggles of their African ancestors.
Then each person takes a sip from the cup. By sharing a drink from the same cup, family and friends reinforce the importance of unity within their own family and the larger community.
Crafts for Kwanzaa
A Kwanzaa Match Holder
Store matches for lighting the kinara safe and close by with this strike and match holder.
You will need:
- one small pill bottle, baby food jar, or individual jam jar
- red, black, and green felt
Remove the lid from the jar and save it for another project or discard it. Cut a strip from each color of felt wide enough to cover one third of the jarís height and long enough to circle the outside of the jar one time with a little overlap in length.
Glue each strip of felt around the jar placing red at the top, black in the middle, and green at the bottom to match the pattern of the benara ya Taifa, the flag sometimes used during Kwanzaa celebrations.
Cut a circle of sandpaper the same size as the bottom of the jar. Glue the sandpaper to the bottom of the jar with the rough side out for striking the matches. Once all the glue has dried, fill the jar with wooden matches and place it within easy reach of the kinara, but out of the reach of small children.
Be sure that when the kinara is lit, that an adult does the lighting or supervises the lighting.
Hint: If the jar you are using is plastic, place a strip of masking tape down the side and a square of masking tape on the bottom. Glue will not stick to plastic but it will hold on the masking tape.
Memory Minders for Kwanzaa
Make one Memory Minder for each person in your family to give as a Kwanzaa gift. Also, make a Memory Minder for yourself.
You will need:
- 1 file folder per Memory Minder
- 1 sheet each of 12"X 18" red and green construction paper per Memory Minder
- 8 - 10 quart size zip closed plastic bags per Memory Minder
- black yarn
- hole punch
- indelible black marker
Use the scissors to trim the tab off the file folder. Open the folder and glue the red construction paper to the outside of the folder. Leaving the folder open, glue the green construction paper to the inside. Let the glue set for a moment, but before it dries completely close the folder. Trim off any extra colored paper around the edges.
Using the hole punch make two holes in the back cover of the folder, one hole near the top and one near the bottom. Next stack the quart size bags for one Memory Minder together. Punch two holes in both corners of the bottom of the bags.
Cut a piece of yarn long enough to wrap twice around the fold of the Memory Minder with enough extra to tie a bow. Thread the yarn through the bottom hole of the folder, one hole in the plastic bags, the second hole of the plastic bags, and the top hole of the folder. Bring the two ends together in the middle outside of the fold and tie a bow.
Trim the ends of the bow and dip each end in glue and allow them to dry. This will keep the yarn from unraveling.
With the black yarn and glue, or using the indelible black marker, create designs on the front cover of the Memory Minder. If you would like, label each Minder with the name of the person you intend to give it to. On the inside cover of the Memory Minder write a short note telling who the gift is for and who it is from with the indelible marker.
Each bag in the Memory Minder is now ready to hold one yearís worth of Kwanzaa memories. People can store cards, copies of poems, chants, and songs, photographs, and drawings in the bags.
Books for Children
- My First Kwanzaa Book by Deborah M. Newton Chocolate - An easy to understand text, follows a little boy through his holiday celebration. The book includes a more indepth explanation of the book in the back. Very nice for children ages 2-7. (amazon.com has it)
- Seven Candles For Kwanzaa by Andrea Davis Pinkney - An explanation of the principles and symbols of Kwanzaa are explained in an easily comprehensible text. Appropriate for children ages 5-9. (amazon.com has it)
- The Complete Kwanzaa: Celebrating Our Cultural Harvest by Dorothy Winbush Riley - A full explanation of Kwanzaa with celebration ideas, poems, and readings. Detailed text is wonderful for children ages 10 and older. (amazon.com has it)
- Kente Colors by Deborah M. Newton Chocolate - A beautifully illustrated book with a rhythmic text which explains the significance of kente colors even to the youngest readers. The author's note in the back gives further information about the importance of the kente cloth. Interesting for children ages 1-8. (amazon.com has it)
- It Takes A Village by Jane Cowen-Fletcher - This book which emphasizes the African tradition of resposible community care for children fits well with Kwanzaa's focus on children and community support. (amazon.com has it)
- Anansi The Spider: A Tale From The Ashanti by Gerald McDermott - Anansi is a central character in African folk tales and this book is a wonderful introduction to this traditional figure. Beautifully illustrated it is appropriate for children ages 2-8. (amazon.com has it)
- Anansi And The Moss-Covered Rock retold by Eric A. Kimmel - In this traditional tale children enjoy hunting for the little deer who tricks Anansi and appears on almost every page. This tale is uproariousl funny to a certain age group. Children ages 3-9 will enjoy this book. (amazon.com has it)
- Zomo The Rabbit, A Trickster Tale From West Africa by Gerald McDermott - A prominent character in African folktales, Zomo hunts for wisdom in this story which is expressively illustrated. Appropriate for children ages 2-8. (amazon.com has it)
- The Official Kwanzaa Web Site - has a message by the founder of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga, and information about this celebrationís customs and traditions.
- What Is Kwanzaa? by the Kwanzaa Information Center gives an excellent history and explanation of this holiday. It also has a page on the Principles of Kwanzaa.
- Kwanzaa An African-American Celebration - describes the holiday, the customs, and principles behind it. This site also has a nice list of links.
- Everything About Kwanzaa - If you've never celebrated Kwanzaa and would like to do so, this site is a great place to start. It includes a definition of Kwanzaa, the basic observed customs, suggestions, and explanations.
- Kwanzaa by Billy Bear's Playground has arts and crafts, coloring pages, and games for Kwanzaa.
- What Is Kwanzaa? by Kids Zone - includes an explanation of this celebration and a description of ways to celebrate. Recipes are also included.