During the height of the Black freedom movement in 1960s Los Angeles, Maulana Karenga designed a Black holiday, Kwanzaa, that was modeled after West African harvest festivals on the African continent and used Swahili words and phrases. (Swahili is a lingua franca and mother tongue primarily spoken along the eastern coast of Africa.)
Every day a candle is lit to celebrate one of the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba, over the course of the cultural holiday, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. and hits its crescendo with a feast, or karamu. “Habari gani” or “What is the news?” is a standard Kwanzaa greeting and the answer is the principle of the day.
Nguzo Saba: The Seven Principles
The Nguzo Saba (the seven principles) and their meanings are listed below in their original wording from 1966. Posters of the seven principles are often on display for Kwanzaa, alongside other trimmings. Umoja is celebrated on Dec. 26, Kujichagulia on Dec. 27 and so on until the end of the holiday on Jan. 1.
To strive for and maintain unity in family, community, nation, and race.
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
To make out collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
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.
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Kinara — Candleholder
Represents Black people’s connection to the African continent.
Mishumaa Saba — Seven Candles
Represent the principles or values Black people should live by.
Muhindi — Corn
Represents the future or children.
Mazao — Crops
Represent African harvest celebrations.
Mkeka — Mat
Represents tradition and history.
Kikombe Cha Umoja — Unity Cup
Represents togetherness, both the principle and practice.
Zawadi — Gifts
Represent the sacrifice and bond of parents and their children’s achievements.
Bendera — The Liberation Flag
Represents Black people around the world, the struggle for freedom and a prosperous future.