Kwanzaa: A Brief History

Kwanzaa was created in the United States during the Black Liberation Movement of 1966 in order to create a sense of unity and pride among African Americans. However, the idea of Kwanzaa was derived from the “Matunda Ya Kwanza” celebrations that have historically existed in many southeastern African civilizations, such as the Zulu empire. In Swahili,“Matunda Ya Kwanza” means the first fruit, and the holiday was originally celebrated during the first harvest of the year in African cultures. Kwanzaa in America is celebrated for seven days from December 25to January 1.

Each day of Kwanzaa celebrates an important value that has traditionally been honored in African culture. Unity, or “Umoja”, in the family, community, nation, and race is the principle honored on the first day. After unity, self-determination, or “Kujichagulia”, is honored on the second day. This day was very empowering for the African American community during the Black Freedom Movement, since it stressed the importance of defining and naming yourself, as well as thinking and speaking as an individual. The third day, “Ujima”, also refers to collective work and responsibility, promotion of community activism and personal support for all of those in the African American community. After learning what it means to solve problems in the community together, “Ujamaa”, or the principle of corporative economics is honored on the fourth day to motivate entrepreneurship in the African community as well. The importance of building and maintaining businesses was especially important during the 1960s as African Americans constantly faced discrimination in the workplace and suffered deep economic oppression. On the fifth day “Nia”, or purpose, is celebrated to encourage people to fulfill the mission of helping improve the living conditions of others to create a better community. The sixth day, which celebrates creativity or “Kuumba”, also reinforces the purpose of improving the community. On this day, people can rejoice in knowing they left the community better off than they inherited it by contributing in their own way. The last day, “Imani”, honors faith. This principle of faith means believing in your people with all of your heart. The seventh day also calls for an understanding of struggles endured, and why the victories of these struggles matter.

Traditionally, Kwanzaa was a holiday for African Americans to come together and celebrate African principles. This practice revives African morals and values that may have been lost to slavery. This holiday also celebrates the positive, good things that create a feeling of appreciation. Even during times of social injustice, African Americans could be thankful for their lives, and even their struggles. Kwanzaa stresses the importance of suffering and overcoming hardships. Unlike most holidays, Kwanzaa has never been religious, but rather a cultural celebration. Ultimately, the holiday was, and has always been, uplifting for the African American community.

–Courtney Woods


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