symbols of Kwanzaa
Symbols of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a celebration that focusses on traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement. It was established in America in 1966 by Dr Maulana Karenga, and since that time it has come to be observed by more than 18 million people worldwide.

A word meaning “first fruits of the harvest” in the African language Kiswahili, Kwanzaa lasts from 26 December to 1 January, and is based on seven guiding principles, one for each day of the festival’s observance:

Unity, umoja, stressing the importance of togetherness for the family and the community.
Self-determination, kujichagulia, requiring that common interests are defined and decisions are made in the best interest of family and community.
Collective work and responsibility, ujima, reminding individuals of their obligation to the past, present and future, and that they have a role to play in the community, society, and world.
Cooperative economics, ujamaa, emphasising collective economic strength and encouraging individuals to meet common needs through mutual support.
Purpose, nia, encouraging people to look within themselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community.
Creativity, kuumba, making use of creative energies to build and maintain strong and vibrant communities.
Faith, imani, focusing on honouring the best of a people’s traditions, and helping individuals strive for a higher level of life for humankind by affirming self-worth and confidence in the ability to succeed and triumph in righteous struggle.

As seen in the illustration, seven symbolic objects have come to be associated with the observance of Kwanzaa: the mkeka, the straw mat on which all other objects are placed; the mazao (fruits and vegetables), which symbolize the harvest origins of the holiday; the kinara, which is a candle holder for the mishumaa, the three green, three red and one black candle that represent the nguzo saba, or seven priniciples; muhindi, ears of corn representing the children in the house and community; kikombe cha umoja, the ‘unity cup’ and zawadi, gifts for the children, which should always include a book and a heritage symbol.